The history and mystery of Goldenbridge Cemetery

Number 8, St. Vincent Street West in Inchicore, Dublin 8, in the heart of The Liberties is home to Goldenbridge Cemetery, a place rich in history that you may pass day to day and not question what it is or was. What’s the story? 

Old gravestones at Goldenbridge Cemetery. Photo: Instagram / @richmondbarracksdublin

Under the Penal Laws in Ireland, a set of laws enacted in the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish Catholics faced severe restrictions. Among these restrictions was the prohibition against being buried in Catholic cemeteries. When Catholics in Ireland passed away, their final resting places were limited to Church of Ireland cemeteries.

Moreover, the full Catholic graveside rites, which were an integral part of the Catholic funeral tradition, could not be performed for the deceased. Instead, only prayers from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer were allowed. 

However, the arrival of Catholic emancipation in the early 19th century brought about substantial changes. Catholics in Ireland and the United Kingdom sought greater rights and equality through a political and legal process known as “Catholic emancipation”.  

As a result of this newfound religious freedom and following the passing of the ‘Act of Easement of Burial Bills, 1824’, the Catholic Association purchased three acres of land at Goldenbridge.  This purchase was significant in Irish history because it was the first Catholic cemetery in Ireland since the Reformation, which had occurred centuries before.

Goldenbridge Cemetery was opened by Daniel O’Connell in 1828.  This cemetery was significant not only as a place of eternal rest but also as a representation of the general advancement of religious equality and tolerance. 

Goldenbridge Cemetery’s vital role in the Catholic community began with the first burial taking place on October 15, 1828. A mortuary chapel was built on the grounds of the cemetery in 1835 to better meet the requirements of the Catholic community.

Funeral rituals and other religious rites were held in this chapel, which was built to resemble a Roman temple. It eventually developed into a significant hub for Catholic religious practises in the area. Vaults were built underneath the chapel where men and dogs would stay to keep the cemetery safe from body snatchers who might try and dig up a corpse to try and sell them to people studying anatomy and medicine. 

A tour taking place at Goldenbridge Cemetery. Photo: Instagram / @experienceglasnevin

The chapel also had an interior staircase leading to the roof, so that the guards could see what was going on around them. Goldenbridge Cemetery also had high walls and railing to help keep the body snatchers out. 

The last prominent burial in the cemetery was that of W. T. Cosgrave in 1965.  W. T. Cosgrave was a revolutionary.  He was the first President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State and was one of the most influential politicians in the 20th century. 

Sadly, Cosgrave’s grave was vandalised in 2014, along with approximately 25 other graves but they were restored in 2016 and the cemetery was reopened in 2017, offering new burial plots. The sale of these burial plots and storage of urns, and the income that is derived from this is used to maintain and conserve Goldenbridge Cemetery. 

Today, visitors can now take tours of the first non-denominational burial ground in Ireland through grounds mostly unspoiled since the 19th century. Through guided tours, visitors get to learn about the cemetery’s unique history, including the vaults, the guards/watchmen and their hounds, along with learning about the body snatchers who wanted to dig up and sell bodies to science. Prices for the tour range from €8 – €10 per person.  

Goldenbridge Cemetery symbolises a turning point in Irish history when Catholics gained greater religious freedoms and the ability to honour their deceased loved ones in accordance with their faith. 

Check out the video below for more on the Goldenbridge Cemetery:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *