Historical Liberties Quaker Burial Ground To Be Restored

A historical burial ground in the heart of The Liberties, where generations of Dublin’s Quaker community are buried, is to be restored to its former glory under a new community monuments fund.  

The site of the old Quaker graveyard at Cork Street, adjacent to the former Weir Nurses Home, is currently in the ownership of the Health Service Executive (HSE). However, discussions are currently underway between the HSE, the National Monuments Service (NMS) and Dublin City Council (DCC), with a view to restoring the burial ground, on a phased basis. 

According to a recent letter sent by Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Malcolm Noonan T.D., to local Labour Party Senator, Rebecca Moynihan and seen by The Liberty, the restoration will now go ahead, next year. The idea of restoring the graveyard was first mooted in August 2019, but the project has been stalled by various delays, not the least being the current Covid-19 Pandemic.    

According to the letter, the Quaker graveyard is a recorded monument under the National Monuments Acts 1930 to 2014. On foot of the ongoing discussions between the various representative bodies, the HSE commissioned a condition assessment and conservation report of the graveyard, last year. This is in line with best practice as a first step in managing such a heritage site.  

A preliminary, focused phase of conservation works is now planned with the assistance of the department’s Built Heritage Investment Scheme funding through DCC. The letter goes on to say that the schedule of works for a procurement process for more extensive conservation, is now underway and that the project is being front-loaded for applications under the 2021 grant schemes. 

The letter continues with Minister Noonan drawing attention to his department’s recently announced Community Monuments Fund, supported by the July Jobs Stimulus. The main aims of this fund are the conservation, maintenance, protection and presentation of local monuments and sites of historical importance. 

The fund will enable conservation works to be carried out on monuments, which are deemed to be significant and in need of urgent support. It will also support works to provide better public access to monuments and to improve their presentation, as well as building resilience to enable them to withstand the effects of climate change. 

Retired town planner and local resident, Kieran Rose, is anxious to have the graveyard restored. He says that what is currently a green space, is actually the historic Quaker burial ground, a final resting place for many of Dublin’s Quaker community over a number of centuries. Rose goes on to say that the cemetery has been sadly overlooked, over the years and is now in a dilapidated condition. 

Local Sinn Fein Councillor, Criona Ni Dhalaigh, has also been pushing this agenda. “For me, it is about actually preserving it and showing it some tender, loving care”, she says. “In my opinion, no graveyard should ever be neglected, It’s a place of rest”, she adds.  

According to Rob Goodbody, a Quaker historian, The Liberties and the south-western part of the city were industrial areas and so quite prosperous. Famous Quaker families at the time included Bewleys, café owners and tea and coffee merchants, Jacobs, biscuit manufacturers and Joseph Fade after whom Fade Street is called. There was a Quaker graveyard on St, Stephen’s Green but it was small and soon filled to capacity. The Quaker community then bought land on Cork Street in the 1690’s and established a new burial ground on the current site. 

Over time, the Quaker population in The Liberties catchment area fell and from the 19th century onwards, people moved out to the new suburbs of Churchtown, Rathfarnham and Monkstown. This resulted in a decline in the use of the graveyard and was the start of its subsequent deterioration. 

It is unclear how many people are buried in the Cork Street cemetery. “It would be hundreds”, says Goodbody. He’s tried to look at the records but, unfortunately, they don’t always have enough information to tally.  

The burial ground has 17 visible headstones, with dates inscribed from 1848 to 1860, most of which are lying horizontally on the grass. Up until 1855, Quakers were not allowed to put any kind of markers on their graves, according to Goodbody. The Quaker ethos, at the time, was that it was community rather than the individual that mattered, with headstones only being erected at a later date, he explains. 

Rose says that there needs to be a survey conducted and that steps should be taken to preserve and take custody of the site. “The Quaker history is very much un-documented and is not properly understood”, he explains. An additional, historical, barrier to maintaining the burial ground was the sale of the graveyard by the Quakers to the old Cork Street Fever Hospital (now Bru Chaoimhin) at the end of the 19th century, in order to build the Weir Nurses Home.   

Also included in the new proposals, is the possible integration of the graveyard into the development project for the 4.6 hectare site in nearby Marrowbone Lane, where DCC has plans to re-develop its large depot.  

“We have a duty of care for this burial site for posterity”, says Rose. “It could start with simple measures like restoring the wall, as was done at St. Catherine’s Lane, off Thomas Street”, he adds.  

According to Goodbody, there should be as little done with the space as possible, beyond tidying it up and preserving its history in keeping with the ethos of Quaker burial grounds. 

“There was never, back at that time, much of a tradition of visiting graves and things like that”, he says. “Graveyards were well kept, the grass was trimmed, but that was about it. You respected the dead by leaving the ground unbuilt on and well-tended”, he concludes.