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September 2012

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The final parade....

The final parade...

Shirley Lanigan visits a quiet and poignant place


In the Gardens Open 2012 booklet, I noticed one place that has eluded me for years - the Grangegorman Military Cemetery in Dublin. The thought of visiting came up several years ago, but it opened only on a restricted basis back then. Driving through the Phoenix Park recently, the garden came to mind and as it is situated just outside the Park walls, on Blackhorse Avenue, I made the detour. You could easily miss it. The cemetery sits anonymously behind a stone wall at the top of the winding lane that is the rural end of Blackhorse Avenue. But in the wall is a big navy and gold wrought iron gate. It was enticingly ajar. I slipped in, past the gatehouse and through another blue and gold gate, into the cemetery proper.


Grangegorman Cemetery was opened in 1876 to accommodate the deceased soldiers of Marlborough Barracks across the road, today known as McKee Barracks. It was where members of the British armed forces were buried in Ireland. The older and more elaborate graves, at the front, tell of nineteenth century Dublin military families who fought in far-flung places like the Crimea. There are a large number of soldiers who died in Ireland, as a result of injuries suffered in World War I. It is intriguing that there are also New Zealanders who died here during that war. Similarly fascinating are the graves of two RAF men ‘known only to God' who died in World War II.


Soldiers are buried here who died during the 1916 Rising. This quiet garden cemetery is described as the place where the people who fought on the wrong side of Irish history were interred. Cared for by the OPW on behalf of the War Graves Commission, the memorials are lined out in groups under mature weeping ash trees, between large oaks and sweet chestnuts, sprawling holly trees, huge purple beeches and lightly clipped yews.


In front of many of the headstones there are small rose bushes and clumps of bergenia, salvia and campanula. Expanses of lawn rise and fall between each set of stones. The organisation of the place is unclear. There are grouped sets of headstones that appear random to the outsider. It has a sort of attractive haphazard feel that doesn't quite match with its being a military place.


A young couple carrying a spent bunch of flowers with them was leaving as I arrived. Apart from them, I had the place to myself for the half hour or so spent walking between the memorials, ducking in under trees to see what the inscriptions on the stone underneath read. This is a ghostly, poignant place, much more than a garden, an almost-forgotten garden of remembrance.



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