Council Aims to Take Over Historic Quaker Burial Site – but Its Plans for the Land off Cork Street Are Unclear

Dublin City Council plans sometime in the future to acquire the old Quaker burial site on Cork Street from a housing charity, said a council official in an area meeting on Wednesday.

The number of people buried in the quiet empty green space near the austere and red-brick James Weir Home for Nurses is unknown, but estimates ranged from the hundreds to the thousands.

Kieran Rose, a retired council planner and local resident, has been pushing for the state to take custody of the burial grounds and building, to preserve it. “It’s one of the most important historical sites in the city. It has about 4,500 burials of Quakers in it.”

The Quaker burial grounds have been neglected, he says, and should be restored and kept up by the National Monument Service.

At the moment, the idea is that the old Weir Home would be turned into social housing by the Peter McVerry Trust, a housing and homelessness charity.

While one councillor says the area needs more affordable housing, another said at last Wednesday’s meeting of the South Central Area Committee said she would like to see it come back to life as a community space given the scarcity of those in the neighbourhood.

What’s the Plan?

The Weir Home is hugely important to Irish medical history and Irish social history, says Rose. “In dealing with epidemics over the 19th century and up to 1950.”

Meanwhile the Quaker site is relatively unknown to locals and neglected, he says. “Largely because of the Quaker tradition of not having headstones.”

Up until 1855, the Quaker community didn’t allow its members to put any kind of markers on their graves, Quaker historian Rob Goodbody has said. “The general feeling was that it was the community that mattered, not the individual.”

The Weir Home and the burial grounds are currently owned by the Health Service Executive (HSE), said Bruce Phillips, the council’s South Central Area manager, at the meeting last Wednesday.

But Peter McVerry Trust is in talks with the HSE, the council, the Housing Agency and the Department of Housing about acquiring the entire site, the building and the burial plot.

It plans to put 19 apartments in the Weir Home, said Francis Doherty, the charity’s spokesperson, on Friday.

A spokesperson for the HSE said that the HSE Mental Health Services vacated the building in late 2021.

At the meeting, Phillips suggested that there had been a preliminary agreement struck. “The Peter McVerry Trust have agreed to pass on the cemetery at a nominal value to the city council,” he said.

But Doherty said Peter McVerry Trust hasn’t confirmed what portion of the site, if any, it would transfer to the council. “No final details have been worked out as regards the purchase, transfer and any future division of the site.”

Councillors asked why the council cannot directly acquire the burial grounds from the HSE.

This chain of the HSE selling it all to Peter McVerry Trust, which would sell just the grounds to the council, is just the clearest way to do the transaction, said Phillips, at the meeting.

Peter McVerry Trust would not ask for payment from the council for the transfer of the cemetery, said Doherty on Tuesday. “We cannot sell or profit from State funded housing projects nor would we seek to.”

The Grounds

At the meeting, councillors also asked what the council is planning to do with the grounds.

Rose, the planner and local resident, says that part of the burial ground is now used as a surface car park and the rest hasn’t been preserved as a historical site.

“It’s an incredibly awful way to treat a very historic burial ground,” he said.

The western wall of the burial grounds underwent preservation works in 2021, after a programme of preservation works was prepared, said a spokesperson for the HSE on Tuesday.

Dublin City Council should use the grounds as a heritage or exhibition space, says Rose. “That would explain the Quaker burial ground and Quaker history in the Liberties.”

Darragh Moriarty, a Labour Party councillor, said he would like to see the grounds used as a walkway through to the future development on the Marrowbone Lane Depot Site.

“I think that would be really good linkage to have,” he says. “There’s no permeability going straight through to get towards Marrowbone Lane, Pimlico and so on. The more ways we can open that up, the better”

A walkway would need to be sensitively done, he says. “It is a graveyard, it is a resting place.”

There should also be a plaque or history information boards to mark the Quaker burial site, he says.

Quaker House Dublin said they could not respond to queries in time for deadline.

Michael Pidgeon, a Green Party councillor, said the burial ground looks roughly the same size as Weaver Park, and it’s next to the council’s Marrowbone Lane Depot site, which the council has had plans to redevelop for homes and sports pitches.

“That’s really positive, if that’s something the council can come into ownership of, I think that’s huge for me,” he said. “It’s a big space.”

Máire Devine, a Sinn Féin councillor, said of the burial ground: “We could make so much of it in this unique spot along Cork Street just on the tourist trail.”

But it was a problem that Quakers in Dublin hadn’t been involved in discussions around the land transfer, she said.

“There’s no involvement of Dublin Friends of the Quakers, in informing them or liaising with them,” said Devine.

She asked for a meeting with Peter McVerry Trust, the HSE, Quakers, the Housing Agency, the council and the Department of Housing so there can be clarity on what is happening with the grounds and the building.

“It’s just such a precious part of Dublin 8 and we need to make sure it’s managed and run and protected and valued,” she said.

Phillips said a meeting wouldn’t be appropriate as there is an ongoing legal process ongoing around the acquisition. “And I wouldn’t want to jeopardise that in any way.”

After the transfer of the property, then a meeting could be held, he said.

“We all acknowledge that it’s a precious building, and it’s a fantastic resource to have in the area, and that we will do everything in our powers to make sure that everybody is consulted and that your request is fulfilled,” said Phillips.

In The Future

Phillips, the South Central Area manager, said the council had assessed the old Weir Home building that sits beside the burial ground.

“And we felt that it would be better that Peter McVerry Trust would acquire the building directly from the HSE, for their uses, rather than the city council,” he said.

Still, Devine, the councillor, and Rose, the local planner, said they would like the building brought back as some kind of community space.

Rose said that the building would deliver very few apartments, and that there are other new housing developments on Cork Street.

Moriarity, the Labour Party councillor, says long-term, affordable or public homes would be a good use for the space.

“There’s a lot of private accommodation, particularly [built to rent] down there, lots of student accommodation, so I think bringing a bit of a mix, in terms of a social mix, affordable or just public housing mix, to that street would be good,” he says.

The Weir Home building, which dates from 1900, was once a place to live for nurses working in Cork Street Fever Hospital across the road, the complex now known as Brú Chaoimhín, which is still used by the HSE.

It could have a cultural use, or become a museum, said Rose. “We’ve a huge shortage of community spaces in the Liberties currently, and I think that that would be a more cost-effective way to retain the building.”

That would require less renovation than turning it into homes, he said. “To be of any quality, in terms of size, I don’t think it will be cost effective. I think the conversion with proper fire safety, with proper disability access,” says Rose. “It will be probably quite difficult to convert it to apartments basically.”

Later on the phone, Devine said she had asked during other council meetings whether the building could be used as a nurses’ or medical museum, community space, and accommodation.

“It’s got such a depth of history that I think we need to respect that,” she says.

There are so many hospitals nearby that it would make sense as a museum to mark the area as a medical quarter, she says. “Open it up, and be imaginative about it, and attract schools, children, education, tourists, visitors to it.”

Doherty, the Peter McVerry Trust spokesperson, said it’s hard to determine whether the building is appropriate for something other than housing.

“No one has sought to carry out an appraisal for same, and no entity has put forward a formal proposal and costing for an alternative use,” she said.

A masterplan for community spaces in Dublin 8 is needed, he said. “We are aware of the lack of community, social and civic amenity spaces in Dublin 8. This is something that is raised repeatedly with councillors for the area.”

“It is also important to note that the decanting of this property has been flagged for many years and that time would have given other entities time to engage with the HSE and prepare and propose alternative uses,” he said.

Author:

Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

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