Meeting of Wednesday 27 November 2019
Speaker; Michael Cooney, Probus Vice-President. Topic: “Grave Matters”
Having made a superb job of arranging a programme of speakers throughout the year, Michael filled the last slot in the 2019 calendar himself. The title of his talk was a play on words as he shared with his fellow Probians fascinating snippets of information gleaned on guided tours of Glassnevin cemetery in Dublin and Belfast City Cemetery. In the 19th century both Belfast and Dublin grew rapidly as people moved into the cities in the wake of the Irish famine, drawn by need to escape rural poverty and the lure of paid employment in factories. Death rates were high, and cemeteries were soon overflowing. At times things were so bad that corpses were laid on the surface of the ground and simply covered with earth. The City Cemetery is thought to contain over a quarter of a million bodies, many in unmarked graves. In Dublin there are some 30.000 Celtic crosses dating from the 1860’s. Michael illustrated his talk with some 20 photographs of headstones grand and modest, each with a story about the person they were erected to commemorate. These included a memorial to Samuel Scott, a 15-year-old lad who fell to his death from the gantry in Harland and Wolff during the building of the Titanic. Another is to Richard Kane, Grand Master of the Orange Order and a fluent Irish Speaker. Rinty Monaghan who died in 1984 was the undefeated world flyweight boxing champion. In Glassnevin an elaborate headstone in the form of an angel sheltering four little ones beneath its wings marks the resting place of a mother and her four children poisoned by eating sewage-contaminated mussels. These and many more in the same vein, all added up to an surprisingly engrossing bit of social history. Michael was thanked for his talk by Probus Honorary President, Bob Lingwood.