One day in Glasnevin Cemetery, 30 September 1917
By John Gibney & Georgina Laragy
One hundred years ago, on September 30th 1917, Thomas Ashe was buried in what would become known as the ‘Republican plot’ of Glasnevin Cemetery. The Kerry-born Ashe had died tragically after being force-fed on hunger strike. But his was not the only funeral to be held at Glasnevin on that day. In this specially-written feature for Century Ireland, historians John Gibney and Georgina Laragy examine the lives and deaths of the six other people interred in the cemetery for what they reveal about the realities of everyday life for Dubliners in 1917.
The most famous funeral to take place in Dublin's Glasnevin Cemetery is, arguably, fictional; that of Paddy Dignam ('as decent a little man as ever wore a hat') in James Joyce's Ulysses. Yet if Dignam's funeral is the most famous, then following on from it is the succession of public and increasingly political funerals that, for many, define the significance of the cemetery as a ‘national’ site of mourning. Massive public processions go back to Glasnevin's origins as Prospect Cemetery, with the reinterment of John Philpot Curran and the funeral of the cemetery’s founder Daniel O'Connell, both of which provided a template for subsequent processions to Glasnevin. From the 1860s onwards these became increasingly politicised nationalist and republican funerals, most famously those of of Charles Stewart Parnell in 1891 and Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa in 1915. All would follow a similar pattern; a lying in state, followed by a lengthy and invariably well-disciplined procession along a circuitous route, stopping off at locations associated with the deceased. This is exactly the pattern adopted on 30 September 1917, when Glasnevin Cemetery hosted one of the major political funerals of the revolutionary period: that of Thomas Ashe, the Kerry-born cultural activist, piper, teacher, and republican leader. A key figure in both the Irish Volunteers and the IRB, Ashe had led the most successful engagement of the Rising outside Dublin, when Ashbourne RIC barracks was captured by the Fingal Volunteers. Imprisoned thereafter, on his release in 1917 he was rearrested for a seditious speech in Longford and, on 25 September, died in the Mater Hospital after being forcefed whilst on hunger strike.
Having left Dublin City Hall at just before 2pm on Sunday 30 September, an enormous cortege made its way to Glasnevin for the funeral at 3.45pm. Like Patrick Pearse's famous speech at the graveside of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa in August 1915; the terser, shorter oration delivered by Michael Collins' at Ashe's graveside two years later, mere feet from O’Donovan Rossa’s grave, was equally a sign of things to come. Thomas Ashe's funeral can thus be seen as a milestone in the struggle for independence.
Ashe was buried in the area later known as the republican plot (or as it was originally dubbed, the ‘patriots plot'). The origins of this can be traced to the purchase of a prospective grave for the Manchester Martyrs in 1867; it eventually became the single most famous area in Glasnevin Cemetery. The push to develop a dedicated memorial space for republicans gathered pace after the Easter Rising, the funeral of Thomas Ashe copperfastened its development. Yet by the time Ashe had been laid to rest at 3.45pm on 30 September six other families had laid loved ones to rest that day. This single day functions as a microcosm, highlighting that certain groups have been airbrushed from Irish history as polemical debates about the Irish revolution have taken precedence. There is no shortage of those who, to paraphrase E.P. Thompson, have fallen prey to the enormous condescension of posterity. Glasnevin Cemetery predates the Easter Rising by 84 years, and the lives of the vast majority of those interred were unremarkable individuals who have slipped under the historical radar. In the last 15 years or so, social history has emerged as a valued and valuable dimension of Irish history, recently exemplified by the groundbreaking Cambridge Social History of Modern Ireland (eds E. Biaginia and M. Daly, 2017). In light of Ireland’s social history then, the day on which Ashe was buried offers an opportunity to explore Edwardian Dublin through a different lens, and highlight the depth of experience that existed during Ireland’s revolutionary period.
The first recorded funeral on 30 September 1917 was at 10.30am, when Augustine Dumay of 9 Belgrave Park, Rathmines, had been buried in Glasnevin, having died of diabetes on 28 September. She was the wife of one Leon Dumay, a 'master hairdresser' (according to the 1911 census) who later became a prominent member of Dublin's French community. Both she and her husband were French; a reality reflected on her headstone, which was inscribed in French. Delving into the available online records (census returns, and civil registrations of births, deaths and marriages), along with those of Glasnevin, we can learn a number of things both about this family, and the wider population of Dublin among which they settled. By looking at their various addresses, Leon’s occupation and their ethnicity, we can see how one family’s identity opens a window into 20th century Irish city life.
In 1901 the Dumay's were living at 32 Mountpleasant Square, a second class terraced house in Rathmines which they shared with another family. At this time they kept both a servant and a boarder. By 1911 they had moved up in the world slightly, renting the entire house at 12 Mountpleasant Square, this time having only a domestic servant living with them and their three daughters. Their eldest daughter was 19-year-old Berthe who had been born in France. Her 17-year-old sister Marie Louise was born in Dublin, so the Dumay's had arrived in Dublin circa 1892. Immigration may have been dwarfed by emigration in Victorian Ireland but it did happen, especially with regard to the practitioners of skilled crafts and trades, especially those related to consumer culture. Dubliners were however, the least likely Irish people to emigrate, and 75% of immigrants to Dublin in this era were Irish themselves, often from neighbouring counties in Leinster. That said, the vast bulk of non-Irish immigrants to Dublin were British (much of this British immigration was related to the British military presence); the Dumay's were an exotic rarity, living, like may other non-Irish migrants in a comparativey affluent area - the outlying township of Rathmines - that may have helped to sustain Leon Dumay's livelihood.
The records of civil registration, and Glasnevin's own archives reveal that in 1895, three years after their emigration to Dublin, the Dumay’s lost a little girl, Elizabeth, who was also buried at Glasnevin Cemetery; the family presumably could not afford to purchase their own family plot, and she was buried in a different section of the cemetery. When Augustine died in 1917 she was buried in a different grave, one which eventually came to hold the bodies of both her husband Leon (who died in 1944) and youngest daughter Jeanne (who died in 1969). When Augustine died in 1917 the family had moved from Mountpleasant Square to Belgrave Park, electoral registers for 1913 show Leon was the owner occupier living at 41 Charleston Road, Belgrave Park. Jeanne’s address when she died in 1969 was the same, suggesting she maintained ownership of the house after her father passed away. The ability to purchase such a large property, and maintain ownership from at least 1913, suggest a degree of upward social mobility from their arrival in 1892, as well as an ability to maintain that position through both national and international upheaval throughout the twentieth century.
Aside from the family themselves, one can get a tentative sense of the world in which they lived, in terms of their relationships with others. Through the social categories of individuals used in the census, we can allude to the professional, ethnic and social networks in which the Dumay’s may have moved. In 1901 and 1911, when the children were still small, the Dumay household included servants both of whom were from Co. Wexford. This suggests that girls from rural Ireland may have availed of a social network, rooted in their home towns and villages outside Dublin, in order to secure domestic service employment in the capital. Leon, Augustine and their three daughters were also members of a 270-strong French community living in Dublin in 1911, with over 900 French nationals living throughout the country. Many French people worked in the hospitality industry, as chefs, waiters, and in other occupations. Dumay’s husband as a master hairdresser, was also part of the service industry and a consumer culture that was emerging in Edwardian Dublin. In 1911 there were 300 hairdressers in Dublin. The majority were from Ireland as might be expected, but the remaining 34 made up something of a melting pot; there was one Indian, one Dutch, one Hungarian, one Austrian and two Russian hairdressers, along with a number of German, French and UK-born hairdressers in Dublin. The two Russians were part of large group of Russian migrants, approximately 4,000 in 1911, many of whom were Jewish and who likely came to Dublin in the late 19th and early 20th centuries following the pogroms in their home country. Alongside the Russian Jews, if one extrapolates from the fact that there was a single Indian-born hairdresser working in Dublin, were there others of Indian birth in Dublin in 1911? The answer is a resounding yes: there were over 1,100 Indian-born people living in the city at this time. However, unlike the Russian population who differed from the Irish in terms of religious and ethnic identity, many of those born in India were protestant (Church of England or Ireland) and had 'Anglo' names, which suggests that they may have been born in India while their parents travelled or worked as part of the British Empire, perhaps with the British Army, the Indian Civil Service, or even the earlier East India Company.
The Dumay’s also hosted a ‘boarder’ on census night in 1901: a 19 year old French man by the name of Lucien Delorine. His occupation was also listed as ‘hairdresser’; he may have been apprenticed to Leon. As well as the geographic network that is suggested from the two Wexford servants the Dumay’s employed, the presence of a young French hairdresser in the house in 1901, suggests continued links with their homeland of France. By 1911 Lucien had moved out of both the Dumay household and also away from Ireland.
These different avenues of research demonstrate how the atypical identity of an individual buried in Glasnevin Cemetery can lead to wider discoveries about family, geography, occupation and ethnicity. By pursuing these various lines of inquiry, we have tentatively explored who worked in the consumer and service industries, and the extent to which Dublin was a cosmopolitan city, and a destination for migrants, on the eve of the First World War.
Ironically, only the first and last burials on 30 September - those of Dumay and Ashe - were marked with headstones (and Ashe's headstone, which also bears the names of Peadar Kearney and Piaras Béaslaí, was a much later addition). The remainder were unmarked, which was by no means uncommon. At 11.10am Michael Byrne, a 62 year old tramdriver of 20 Goldsmith St, near Eccles St in the north inner city, was buried, having died of pneumonia, again on 28 September. While his family had purchased the plot, the fact that the grave was unmarked suggests that there were limits to their spending power. The Dublin economy had contracted during the Victorian era: in 1841 33% of the male workforce were employed in manufacturing dropping to 20% by 1911. As manufacturing and industry appeared to contract, Dublin’s population expanded, and casual and unskilled labour became increasingly important. While most areas of industrial occupation witnessed a decline, the transport sector had increased to over 15% of the male workforce; and the creation and expansion of the tram network from the 1870s onwards was a crucial part of it. Details about the Byrne family are inevitably sparse, but a tramdiver was a relatively skilled occupation, an income and economic status which presumably facilitated the purchase of the grave. But a headstone was a luxury that Byrne's widow Margaret and her surviving children could not afford. Monumental sculpture was beyond the reach of many.
The remaining four individuals buried in on 30 September, all came from a lower social strata demonstrated by their burial in Glasnevin's poor ground - areas reserved for those unable to pay for the purchase of a grave. Indeed three of those buried on 30 September (all children) were interred in the same plot, highlighting the lack of expenditure on children’s burials during a time of high infant mortality. This multiple burial also reveals the absence of a private, individual or family burial space that reflected in death the crowded tenements in which those children and their families had lived. The records for such burials on poor ground were sparser; the time of burial was not recorded, for instance. The notorious poverty of Dublin's tenement slums in this era went hand in hand poor sanitation and appalling infant mortality rates. Long running calls for tackling Dublin's slum conditions were postponed due to the outbreak of the First World War, which only worsened the conditions in many of the Dublin's slums. Ongoing food and fuel shortages were part of Dublin’s wartime experience. The British Army’s demand for animal fodder, and restrictions on brewing and distilling from the summer of 1916 onwards, limited supplies of animal feed. This had an adverse impact on milk supplies, an important source of nutrition for children; consequently, infant mortality rates increased after 1916. While none of the children were listed as having died of malnutrition, the increased poverty of the war years may have created underlying causes - specifically malnutrition - that hastened their deaths.
Two of the four children, each listed as a 'labourers child' died from diarrhoea: two year old Bridget Clynes of Taylors Lane off James St, a 'labourers child' died of diarrhoea in Dr Steevens Hospital on 26 September; diarrhoea was also listed as the cause of death for two month old John James Murphy, whose family (according to Dublin City Council's electoral rolls) occupied the 'top front room' of 82 Bride Street, though the certified cause of death was 'enteritis' that had lasted 14 days. There are discrepancies between the causes of death listed in Glasnevin's registers and those that were certified. Four month old Ellen Whelan of 81 Townshend St, another 'labourers child', died of pneumonia (listed as whooping cough in the registers) on 29 december, while 10 year old Peter Conroy of 24 Temple St died of in the Hardwicke Hospital on 26 September; the certified cause of death was diphteria and heart failure, but was recorded in Glasnevin's records as croup. He was listed in the burial registers as a 'soldiers child'; his father, Henry, had been listed as a 'general labourer' on the 1911 census, which also recorded that all five of Henry and Elizabeth Conroy's children had lived up to that point. At some point Henry Conroy joined the British Army, as the outbreak of the war offered employment to many from Dublin's slums who would otherwise have been condemned to the irregular and precarious life of a general labourer (though we cannot be certain of his precise motivation for enlisting). Separation allowances provided sustenance to families in poorer districts of the city throughout the war years. Joining the colours ensured a degree of security for a family, but at obvious personal risk for the father. Henry Conroy may have survived the war; he does not seem to be listed amongst the war dead recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Before Thomas Ashe was laid to rest in the culmination of a sustained piece of political theatre, Glasnevin Cemetery facilitated the burials of a hairdressers wife, a tramdriver, and four children from Dublin's notorious tenements. Each individual and their families can be reconstructed to reveal a different layer of the capital's social structure. In that sense, 30 September 1917 was no different to so many other key days in the Irish revolution. For those interested in political history it offers an example of a momentous occasion remembered and memorialised during the subsequent years and the recent Decade of Centenaries. For those interested in social history, it provides a window on to the often forgotten individuals who constituted the Irish population for whom the rebels claimed to fight. In time, nationalist heroes came to dominate our history, but the emergence of social history alongside our political history, provides a depth of understanding about the Irish historical experience.
John Gibney is Education and Outreach Officer at Glasnevin Cemetery Museum. Georgina Laragy is Glasnevin Trust Assistant Professor of Public History and Cultural Heritage at Trinity College Dublin. The research on which this article is based was funded by the Irish Research Council. The authors would like to thanks Lynn Brady and Conor Dodd for their assistance.