I’ve often wondered who plans and designs cemeteries. How do they start? Does someone have a grand vision, buy a field and wait for people to come to buy their plots as and when they’re needed? And when the space runs out, what then? Buy an adjacent field and expand? In Croatia recently, we stopped by Varaždin cemetery to see the results of the make-over it received back in the early 1900s. Its keeper, Herman Haller, had a vision. His legacy lives on in what is billed as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe. Read more
As a child in the 1970s, I remember June as an ambiguous time. Crowds would come down from the North to commemorate the death of Wolfe Tone, the founder of the United Irishmen and the ‘first leading light of Irish republicanism’. The laying of the wreaths by balaclava’d men was something I never got to see. I knew of it because my dad, a member of the Garda Siochána, was always on duty. I remember it as a series of Sunday commemorations ending in the one closest to June 20, the date Wolfe Tone died.
An account of the history of the commemorations dates it back to the 1800s, with various peaks and troughs depending on the popularity of the republican movement. The 1970s and early 1980s saw heavy traffic.
At home for Christmas, I stopped by to see the graveyard to see the place where it all happened.
It’s an odd little graveyard, with a mix of older headstones toppling over and new, more recent plots dressed for Christmas and well-tended. The five flag poles have memorial plaques at the bases, four of them noting the executions of republicans Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett, and Joe McKelvey, all executed as retribution for the killing of TD Sean Hales by the anti-treaty IRA in 1922. In a fascinating turn of fate, the execution order was signed by Kevin O’Higgins. Rory O’Connor had been best man at his wedding the previous year. Such was the madness of that era. There was something quite eerie about seeing the word executed, particularly repeated as it was four times.
There’s a small side gate from the main road and as you wander in the pathway, you’ll see a marker for Private Duffy who died in 1918. Curious to know more, I searched for him online and found this:
Duffy, Walter. Reg. No. 10675. Rank; Private, Leinster Regiment, Depot. Died home, July 7, 1918. Born Naas, Co. Kildare.
While there was just the one poppy cross and no flowers, the gravestone itself was in remarkably good shape. And I wondered.
Next to the ruined church, to the left of the five flagpoles, there’s a replica of the dock from which Wolfe Tone gave his final address after pleading guilty to the charges brought against him. In it, he asked for death by firing squad but was sentenced to death by hanging. Historians seem to be in agreement that Tone died from a penknife wound of his own making. And yet he’s buried in consecrated ground, unusual for those who committed suicide in those days.
In this small graveyard, nestled between the villages of Clane and Sallins, lies a chapter of Irish history that includes in its list of visitors those who come to remember. The group, the Wolfe Tones, have immortalised the graveyard in song. The words, written by Thomas Davis after he visited the grave in or around 1843 and found it unmarked but guarded by a local blacksmith who wouldn’t allow anyone to set foot on it.
The origins of words and phrases are as fascinating as the words themselves. Some say the term the kiss of death grew from Mafia lore where, if the Don kissed anyone on the lips, it was time for them to sort out their will. More likely though, it refers to Judas betraying Jesus when he identified Him by kissing Him (Matthew 26: 47–49). Read more
I was in Paris many moons ago and didn’t care for it much. I have only vague recollections of being there, no lasting memories other than a rather poor impression of the city and its people. This has been fed over the years by the somewhat stereotypical generality that all Parisians are rude and arrogant and not at all helpful. Read more
Modesty aside, I think I have a fairly decent vocabulary. I can’t lay claim to knowing every word in the dictionary but I could make an educated guess at the meaning of most. Yet I’d never heard of a charnel house. Let alone one in Naples.
Sitting in a hotel room on a Sunday morning in Geneva, it seemed as if my plans for the day were doomed. To get to where I wanted to go, I’d have to take a train out of the city and then double-back by bus (the only route). I’d just discovered that both Richard Burton and Alistair MacLean were buried about half an hour by car outside the city in the village of Céligny, but in the few hours I had before dinner with some friends, I wouldn’t have time to make the trip. Read more
I’ve often wondered where the bitches and the bastards are buried. Those nasty people who beat their spouses, molest their kids, kill their mates. In all the cemeteries I’ve been to, I’ve never seen a gravestone marked with ‘Here lies the b______, may they rot in hell’ or even anything approximating it.
A dead man here. Another one there. This one in his 60s. The other in his 80s. Beloved father, husband, son. An inevitability. Yet to see the markers of 211 dead RAF men, all of whom died within a few years of each other. Some on the same day, at the same time even, and none older than 36. That’s not inevitable. That’s war. Read more
Some people celebrate their birthdays in style. Some ignore them completely. Others still, like my mate GB in Malta, visits a cemetery. He’s not fussy about which one; as long as he gets to a cemetery on the day, he’s happy. He’s been doing it for years; he says it’s life-affirming. Read more