WINTER 2014 / VOL. 14 ISSUE 1
Cemetery Project Establishes 
Limerick’s Social History 

Special to The Irish American Post

The first in a series of projects aimed at documenting the social history of Limerick through one of the country’s largest cemeteries has been completed. 

Limerick Mayor Kathleen Leddin officially launched an online, searchable database of 70,000 people buried at Mount St. Lawrence Cemetery, reflecting the work by staff from Limerick City Archives in conjunction with the History Department of Mary Immaculate College. The organizations have spent two years manually transcribing thousands of handwritten records of those buried at Mount St. Lawrence Cemetery between 1855 and 2008. The records include the name, age, address and grave location of those buried in the 164-year-old site.

Other projects underway include an illustrated publication outlining the social history of Limerick City through public submissions of photographs and stories relating to those buried in the cemetery. The book will be launched in April, 2014, as part of a major conference on cemeteries, which is being organized in conjunction with Limerick being named Ireland’s first City of Culture next year.

Meanwhile, work is presently underway to develop a publicly-available online map of all burial plots at Mount St. Lawrence Cemetery. Students and academics from the Geography and History Departments of Mary Immaculate College are working together with Limerick City Archives on the project.

Of the project, Mayor Leddin acknowledged the work of Limerick City Archives and Mary Immaculate College in creating "a lasting and precious record of Limerick’s social history."

"Our cemeteries and the stories surrounding those who are buried there contain vital links to our past and therefore, it is important that these stories and the final resting places of our citizens are documented, " she said. "This project represents the first in a series of projects aimed at making it easier for members of the public, both at home and abroad, to locate information relating to their deceased relatives," Leddin added.

Mount St. Lawrence graveyard, located in the South Liberties, has been the primary place of burial in Limerick City for all strata of society since its opening in 1849. Its development was initiated as burial ground capacity elsewhere in the city was placed under pressure following cholera epidemics in the 1830s and the Great Famine in the 1840s. An extension to Mount St. Lawrence was opened in 1960. The management of the cemetery was transferred from the Church to the Limerick City Council in 1979.

Mount St. Lawrence contains plots reserved for particular groups, including religious and diocesan graves and the Republican plot. One of the largest is the Good Shepherd Plot where 241 women who had passed through its reformatory for girls, industrial school and Magdalene asylum on Clare Street were buried. They were unmarked until a campaign resulted in the erection of markers listing by name the women interred there.

Commenting on the newly launched online database of burials at the cemetery, Jacqui Hayes, Limerick City archivist, said: "The records contain the names, addresses at time of death, ages, position of the grave and dates of death of all those buried in the cemetery. This information makes them an invaluable resource for those conducting genealogical research on the Limerick area."

She also indicated that the records offered a unique tool for those conducting research into the social history of Limerick and mortality rates for all ages in Limerick City and its environs for over a century and a half.

"The address of the deceased gives an indication of the footfall of various institutions including the mental hospital and the County Infirmary. These are invaluable in the case of Limerick Union Workhouse whose admissions records are no longer available," Hayes said. This feature of the records reflects the political and consequently geographical changes which took place in the city of Limerick, for example the renaming of the streets over time, she concluded.

For Hayes, this project has been more than merely an academic study, but one with a personal side, feeling that the deceased came alive for her as she organized the archive.

"Cemeteries are about people, all sorts of people and each one of them gets a line in the burial register. They all have history whether they lived in the lanes of Limerick and couldn't afford a headstone or were a former merchant or mayor of the city. They are all recorded in the cemetery," she pointed out.

Hayes regularly visits the actual cemetery and walks among the plots, noting names she transcribed earlier. "It’s amazing to get the location of the grave from the register and then find it physically in the cemetery. It gives me a sense of respect for the lives they lived and a real sense of the past being very close," she said.

These are emotional experiences, especially with the Good Shepherd plot, where the Magdalene girls are buried. "It is now quite a beautiful spot with each girls name inscribed in a series of large slabs. It’s a simple dignity, having your name recorded. But prior to 2005, there was only a single marker noting that the plot of the former inhabitants of the Magdalene Laundry," Hayes added.

Mount St. Lawrence’s separate Republican plot also has a story to tell, said Hayes. "To provide a focus for Republican commemorations. Dunlin had set an example in 1901 with the funeral of Irish Republican leader. James Stephens. Buried at Mount St. Lawrence were Limerick mayors George Clancy and Michael O’ Callaghan, along with citizen Joseph Donohue, all killed by the Black and Tans in the notorious "Curfew Murders" on March 7, 1921.

There are 21 people now buried in the Mount St. Lawrence Republican plot, including a few wives, The last burial was 1968. Those buried in the Republican plot were not always interred there when they died but were exhumed and re-interred there at a later date, according to Hayes.

Among other famous personalities buried at Mount St. Lawrence include 65 mayors of Limerick. There are a number of additional burials from the Republican era, such as IRA fighter Sean South who died in an attack on a Royal Irish Constabulary post in 1957. Among Limerick politicians are Jim Kemmy and Donacha O’ Malley; as well as Michael Hogan, the Bard of Thomond, and Maurice Lenihan who wrote the classic History of Limerick

There are also deceased athletes representing the strong tradition sport in Limerick, including those noted in rugby, Gaelic games, horse racing, soccer and rowing. They include Pa Healy, Limerick's greatest sportsman, who excelled in rugby, boxing and rowing; and the Hartys, among of the greatest horse-racing families in Ireland. 

"There are many ordinary individual buried there who all had interesting stories in their own right," Harley agreed, indicating that Mount St. Lawrence its is still an active cemetery, although burial numbers are now relatively low.
 
 
The book on the project will be published by Limerick City Archives (15 euro) with a launch date set for April 25, 2014. Books can be ordered via O Mahony's Bookshop (www.omahonys.ie) beginning on April 26. An online searchable database may be viewed at www.limerick.ie/cityarchives.


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