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Some of Joe Lynch’s earliest memories are of helping to keep St Canice’s Graveyard in Finglas in good nick.
“I was born and raised in that cottage,” says Lynch, pointing beyond the graveyard’s entrance, towards two small cottages at the corner of Wellmount Road and Finglas Road.
“I was wheeled around here in a wheelbarrow and then when I got to four years of age a paintbrush was put in my hands,” he says.
His father was caretaker at St Canice’s. His grandfather, too. He can trace back his family’s involvement in the graveyard five generations.
Keeping the graveyard well maintained was a point of pride for him and his family, Lynch says.
But since the graveyard was taken over by Dublin City Council 10 years ago, standards have slipped, he says. “We’ve asked the council, give us back the maintenance of the graveyard.”
Dublin City Council were contacted on Friday regarding how often they maintain the graveyard, but had not responded by the time this was published.
“That is total neglect as far as I can see,” says Linda Emmett, the lord mayor of Finglas and member of the Finglas Historical Society.
She points to a flat tomb, which is overgrown with ivy. The burial details are difficult to make out.
Surrounding the tomb are layers of vines, the same kind that cover about a third of the graveyard like a carpet. Sunken graves and truncated gravestones lie hidden beneath, ready to trip unexpecting visitors.
Lynch says he has asked the council to control the weeds numerous times. “What the council are using on us is this is biodiversity,” Lynch says.
But it’s not an open field, he says. “This is a graveyard. It’s a place of rest and the people that are buried here deserve every dignity,” he says.
Lynch says he has asked numerous times for an old tree to be cut down for fear it might fall during a storm and damage surrounding headstones.
“A branch that was hanging over from this side fell and smashed a headstone belonging to a guy who worked on the crown jewels in England,” says Lynch.
The graveyard is still open to visitors. Burials still occur here – although not at the rate they once did. The last was four years ago.
Families though still have loved ones buried here, says Lynch. It can be difficult for people to find their ancestors’ graves, and walking around can be treacherous.
“You see the likes of this,” says Lynch, stepping carefully over weeds to a cluster of vine and pulling away at it to clear what looks like a stone underneath. “That’s a headstone.”
Philomena Byrne Murphy, of the Finglas Historical Society, is walking alongside. “That’s sad to see that people who grew up in Finglas that their last resting place is like this,” she says.
History of the Graveyard
St Canice’s Graveyard lies just to the west of the dual carriageway that cuts through Finglas.
It holds a crypt for the local esquires, the Maffett family – now cemented in, says Lynch, to guard against grave robbers. There are chest tombs for the deceased reverends and bishops, and plain headstones for the commoners.
The graveyard was used by both Protestant and Catholic families, says Emmett, the lord mayor. It reflects the changing history of Finglas.
Says Murphy, of the historical society: “A lot of gentry lived here over the years and they owned lots of the big houses.”
Long before the gentry galloped up however, St Canice’s was the site of an abbey. Finglas at the time was an important place of monastic learning.
The original abbey is gone. But the ruins of the Church of St Canice, built in the 10th century or 12th century, remain – with vines running through them.
“That graveyard is over 1,000 years old,” says Emmett. “It’s an important part of Finglas and its history.”
At one end of the cemetery at Wellmount Road is a nethercross, an old Celtic cross, weathered by the elements, its stone surface seeming to wear away at the touch.
“That stone is from the Wicklow Mountains,” says Emmett.
The cross was hidden during the Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland in the 17th century, and only found again a couple of centuries later, says Lynch.
Word had spread that Cromwell was coming through Finglas, says Lynch. People feared he and his soldiers would, as they had done elsewhere, smash up anything to do with Catholicism.
It was split into four pieces. “They buried it for approximately 167 years,” says Lynch.
Lynch says that old folk tales went around about the existence of a cross, and a local Reverend Walsh wondered if they were true.
“He got a search team and he found the cross and he decided to place it here,” says Lynch. The base, however, was never found.
The trio believe that there is an opportunity here, that the graveyard could be a hub for the local history of Finglas.
Lynch says there’s not enough local history being taught around here. “This is the message that we want to get out. That it’s a place to be proud of and this place here is the burial place of our relatives,” says Lynch.
Emmett, the lord mayor, wants to see the old church ruins, which date back from the 10th century, restored and used as a local history museum.
The ivy, if it spreads more and spreads more, may undermine the church’s structure, she says. “We want to work to protect the abbey.”
Emmett says that the Finglas Historical Society and Tidy Towns have had a lot of support from Dublin City Council through the years.
But they’d like to see the Office of Public Works step in to ensure the history of St Canice’s is not only preserved but celebrated.