With a few spare hours to spend before the DHO Summer School, I decided to revisit Glasnevin Cemetery and check out the new interpretive centre. As you may remember from my earlier post, there was a grand, but damp ceremony staged to reopen the refurbished crypt of Daniel O’Connell late last year. When there I was impressed by this swoopy modernistic centre being built to welcome visitors to Glasnevin. Well, it opened a few months back and I finally got a chance to visit it.
A little background, to prove I actually visited the centre and took in a little of the knowledge they are dispensing. Glasnevin is a non-denominational cemetery that was opened in 1832 and is the largest cemetery in Ireland. Think Pere Lachaise in a less rolling and less forested surrounding. There are over one million souls buried in Glasnevin.
The new interpretative centre backs on the cemetery walls on Finglas Road. The cemetery itself is surrounded by high walls and even features watchtowers at the corners. The need to protect the inhabitants of the cemetery stems from the nineteenth century grave robbers that preyed upon the bodies of the deceased. The centre is a stunning new addition to the cemetery. The design, although modernistic does seem in harmony with the surroundings, the horizontal expanse fitting in well with the long walls surrounding the cemetery. The building is squat, and although a large edifice, the glass and stone sits well amongst the stone grave markers. There is a €6 entry fee to the museum. This seems a bit high given the paucity of exhibition content offered. There are basically two floors of things to see. On the lower floor (where you start) the theme is a journey under the ground of the cemetery proper…rather like a trip through the catacombs in Paris. The exhibits are well done, but brief. A short widescreen interpretative video is presented to establish the context of the cemetery within Irish history. There is an attempt to allow the guest to connect with the individuals buried in the cemetery through a collection of individual artefacts. The mood of the visit is established with lots of running water and a message relating to the multi-demoninational aspect of the cemetery is presented.
Taking an elevator to the first floor you get to play with some touch screens that take you through the life of Daniel O’Connell. Underneath a wall of windows that face the cemetery are a series of additional screens that choose from a select set of individuals buried at Glasnevin presented as a longitudinal timeline visualisation. As a visitor you can choose to explore biographies by choosing individual names using trackballs (remember those). Additionally (and I think this is rather cool) the timeline morphs into a social network visualisation of the person (node) of interest. Essentially the presentation presents a virtual community of the deceased, but allows you to explore the web of that society. Quite interesting.
The museum ends there. You proceed down the stairs to the ground floor and sandwiched between the two exhibit spaces is the obligatory museum shop and a lovely cafe. It’s a pleasant surrounding, but I am not sure that I have seen this level of heritage management at a cemetery. Quite fascinating.
The day was a fine one and I had a chance to tag along with one of the guided tours of the cemetery itself. Our guide was a very perky sort (in a positive sense) and expressed a wonderful enthusiasm for the history and the people buried in Glasnevin. She took us on a wide ranging tour of the grounds as well as Irish history and how much of it is bound up with the notable individuals buried here. The cemetery itself is a huge space and there are a number of very different spaces within it. Many of the spaces are wonderfully tree-lined in a way similar to Pere Lachaise. Many of the monuments are being restored by the Office of Public Works in Ireland and all in all this creates a very relaxing and specially spiritual environment. Obviously wandering in a cemetery is not for all people, but for those of us that find rooting in historical presence, Glasnevin is a very special place.