The iconic roof of the new museum opened near the entrance of Dublin’s Glasnevin cemetery, soars heavenwards; and below, a marble wall reflecting a Celtic cross.
The history of the burial ground goes back to the time of the repressive Penal Laws of the eighteenth century. They restricted the public performance of Catholic services, so Irish Catholics with no cemeteries of their own in which to bury their dead, conducted a limited version of their own funeral services in Protestant churchyards or graveyards. Then during a funeral in 1823, a Protestant sexton reprimanded a Catholic priest for performing a limited version of a funeral mass. The following outcry prompted the renown Irish politician Daniel O’Connell, to push for the opening of a burial ground in which both Irish Catholics and Protestants could give a dignified burial to their dead.
The outcome was Glasnevin Cemetery, consecrated and opened to the public for the first time on 21 February 1832. Besides the great and the good interred at Glasnevin, nearly 800,000 people have been buried in Glasnevin. Sadly, many are in unmarked mass graves due to the death toll from the Great Famine of the 1840s.
With so many people interred, interest in Glasnevin has resulted in the new museum designed by A&D Wejchert & Partners Architects and opened in 2010. Inside, the small, permanent exhibition includes a scrolling screen, displaying the names of everyone buried there; it takes some 10 hours to complete. Visitors can also search for their ancestors on the cemetery’s database, which covers the entire history of the cemetery.