There are crowds flocking to the cinema this week in Dublin, but it’s not for the latest blockbuster. Instead, they are queuing up to see a documentary about a cemetery.
|Brendan Behan's funeral arriving at Glasnevin Cemetery|
23 March 1964
One Million Dubliners tells the story of Glasnevin cemetery, where 1.5 million people have been buried since it opened in the nineteenth century. The current living population of Dublin is 1.2 million. As was noted in the documentary, Glasnevin is regarded as the ‘national cemetery’ though it has never officially been given that title. Many leaders from Irish political and cultural life have been buried there: Michael Collins, Éamon de Valera, Charles Stuart Parnell, Brendan Behan, Countess Markievicz, Luke Kelly. And many of these figures attract their own pilgrims, just like the grave of Jim Morrison in Paris.
The Irish Photo Archive is of course full of images of Glasnevin Cemetery, due to the funerals of some of the icons listed above. We feature the funeral of Éamon de Valera, and his beloved wife Sinead. The crowds that turned out for Brendan Behan’s funeral 50 years ago showed the affection the nation had for him. We weren’t around early enough for the 1916 Rising, but we do have images from the funerals of Senator Margaret Mary Pearse, Padraig’s sister, and Kathleen Clark, the wife of Thomas. There’s also the funerals of Sean McBride, founder of Amnesty International, and his wife, Maude Gonne, the love of WB Yeats’ life.
|Onlookers at Éamon de Valera's funeral grabbed every vantage point they could find|
2 September 1975
One Million Dubliners, produced by Underground Films, not only tells the story of Glasnevin cemetery but also probes into how people approach death, the rituals of mourning, and the needs of those left behind. It manages to delicately deal with the issues of stillborn babies and cremation while also injecting humour through Valentine’s Day tributes to Michael Collins. The main interviewee, Shane Mac Tomais, the cemetery historian, is the highlight of the documentary, with his own intelligence, good humour and storytelling abilities shining through. There is a bittersweet twist to the tale at the end, but One Million Dubliners is one documentary you should make time in your life for.