St James's Graveyard is of considerable historical and cultural significance which is of great value to local residents and visitors alike. It is among the oldest and most historic graveyards in the city. As a site of significance in Dublin 8, this conservation project looks to restore the graveyard as a place of repose and reconnection to relatives and ancestors.
"A graveyard is primarily a place of burial and has special associations for those whose families are buried in its soil. A graveyard also contains the story of a community, giving us 'life stories in stone' of those people who lived and worked in our city in the past."
St James’s Church and Graveyard is located on James’s Street, Dublin 8 and comprises about 1.5 acres. St James’s Graveyard is a wonderful cultural asset for the city, but one that is not well known, being largely inaccessible to the public for a number of decades. It slopes steeply downward to the north – the patch of green can be seen from the north quays, rising above the top right hand corner of the Guinness site. It is a terrain largely unchanged since Viking times. The graveyard is surrounded by a high stone wall and its gravestones circle the church around three sides. The church and graveyard is listed as a National Monument on the Record of Monuments and Places for Dublin by the National Monuments Service.
Officially closed for burials in 1954, it is the largest of the old cemeteries in Dublin’s inner city with over 500 extant memorials, the earliest of which dates to 1627. The graveyard fell into practical dis-use, allowing vegetation to establish, making the site difficult to access and which caused damage to the memorials.
In 1988 FÁS cleared the site of dense weeds and brambles and conducted a grave site survey, creating an accurate map of the graveyard showing the exact location of all graves and tombstones. They discovered the earliest recorded headstone from 1627 and found two stones which are likely to have been part of the medieval church. In all, the survey mapped 705 tombstones and recorded around 500 headstone transcriptions. There was extensive damage caused to the graveyard by vegetation which had gone untended since it was refurbished by FÁS. Click here to see the documents, photographs and site map created by FÁS and St James’s Development Association.
Acquired by Dublin City Council in 2009, work commenced to steadily recover and restore the site so that it could once again be opened to the public. The project to conserve the graveyard to the former church of St James has been ongoing since 2010 when Dublin City Council commissioned Bernard Seymour Associates to conduct a feasibility study on site. The context for the feasibility study arose from the Liberties Local Area Plan, which identified the site as a “significant redevelopment site”. It envisaged that St. James’ Graveyard, which is a site of considerable historical and cultural significance, could be recast as a vibrant city park. This study involved open public consultations, a careful uncovering of all the graves and monuments and rubbish removal in order to investigate the topography, ecology and archeology of the site, and extensive historical research. Since that time several phases of specialist conservation work have been undertaken, by Carrig Conservation International, to a high level of skill and sensitivity to preserve the more complex memorials and to undertake the clearance of the vegetation that had engulfed the graveyard.
The feasibility study also examined the graveyard as an accessible amenity within the context of the wider Liberties area. There is considerable historical, archaeological and ecological value already embedded within the site. It is a genealogical resource with emotional and spiritual connections to the descendants and communities who have links with those interred there. The feasibility study proposed a graveyard master plan to develop and integrate the church and graveyard into the urban fabric of the Liberties.The feasibility study offered up a master plan to build an elevated walkway around the graveyard, however due to the archaeological disruption it would have caused to the remains on site, this plan did not go ahead and a new approach needed to be considered.
Since the feasibility study in 2014, St James’s church was bought by Dr Pearse Lyons, president and founder of Alltech, whose grandfather John Hubert Lyons, who died in 1948 lays buried in St James’s Graveyard. Alltech have developed the church as a visitor centre and micro distillery, the Pearse Lyons Distillery, which opened to the public in 2017. Pearse Lyons Distillery has undertaken considerable work in guiding repairs to the memorials in the southern portion of the graveyard in the area of high ground around the church.
In 2017 a call for tender was sent out for the conservation of the graveyard. This was awarded to Howley Hayes Architects in 2018, who are now developing the masterplan for the conservation of St James’s Graveyard. Dublin City Council, together with Howley Hayes Architects, have began the conservation programme of the many monuments and grave markers in the site. The project is part of a wider effort to facilitate public access to this historic place. Read more about the conservation plans here.