BURIALS & GRAVES
Catholics and Protestants, bishops, earls, scholars, brewers, distillers and the ordinary people of Dublin all lie together in St James’ graveyard, a testimony to its long and varied history.
The first reference to a burial in St James's Graveyard was in the will of Walter Segyne or Soggyn, proved in 1495, in which he asked to be buried 'in the church of St James without the city'. The earliest legible headstone recorded dates from 1627.
In 1987 to 1988 FÁS and the St James's Development Association sponsored a programme to restore St James's churchyard and record the headstone descriptions. During the work, 705 memorials were uncovered, 537 of which had inscriptions which were legible. These headstone inscriptions give valuable information not only on those buried in the graveyard but also on local history.
The burial records indicated that, between the period 1742 to 1836, the number of people who were interred in this burial ground amounted to 30,000. Well over that number must have been interred over the centuries, the vast majority of whom would not have been commemorated with a memorial. There is an estimated 60,000-100,000 burials on site.
A photographic survey with transcriptions of the headstones at St James's Graveyard have been catalogued by the Historic Graves Project which can be found here. A document featuring all the gravestone transcriptions completed by FÁS and can be downloaded here.
Featured below are some of the notable graves found in St James's Graveyard and a brief text from St James's Graveyard feasibility study on burials and tombs on site.
This section will be updated on-goingly as works on site unfold.
A group of burials of note are those of the ‘Channel Row nuns’; a courageous community of Dominican nuns who preserved to live a religiously observant convent life from 1717 onwards, through a period of strict enforcement of the Penal Laws. Their convent was located in Channel Row (now Brunswick Street), north of the Liffey, and it was there that they lived and maintained a chapel and also ran a boarding school for some time. They endured significant persecution and poverty during the 18th century and are remarkable for their tenacity. Following almost a century in the city centre, they moved to Clontarf and then Cabra, where the community survived into the 20th century. The main founder of the convent, and its first superior, was Mother Mary Bellew and she and the other nuns of Channel Row were buried in St James’s graveyard until approximately 1776, at which time a plot in Mulhuddart was acquired.
There are a number of eminent churchmen whose burials are recorded as being in St James’s graveyard. These include Redmond MacCarron (or Caron), a Franciscan scholar who wrote treatises in support of loyalty to Charles II following the Restoration and who died in 1666, with 2,000 people reputed to have accompanied his remains to the graveyard; Dr Richard Lincoln, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin from 1757 until his death in 1762 and Dr Stephen MacEgan, Bishop of Meath, a Dominican Father who was instrumental in bringing the Dominican nuns to Channel Row who did in 1756. An interesting exchange recorded in 1867 describes futile attempts at that time by the contemporary Dominican Provincial, Dr. Russel, to find Dr. MacEgan’s tomb in order to record the inscription.
The person dispatched to the graveyard with this job had no success, despite having many tombs cleaned, and reported that, “...the ruthless hand of the bigot has defaced many inscriptions which have had emblems of Catholicity on them. I could only find three head-stones in the church-yard dedicated to priests…”. He also mentions the recent construction of the new church, describing how, “all the tombs and head-stones which were within 30 feet, all around the walls, were torn up and buried beneath a gravel-walk round the church grounds. I have been told by some of the labouring men who worked at the church, that the head-stones of three priests, near the church, were buried, along with many others, under the gravelwalk round the church…”.
Historic accounts also record the burial of several important members of Irish society, including Henry Rochfort whose family were the Earls of Belvedere. He died in 1665, leaving a pregnant wife, and stipulating in his will that if the child was a girl that she should receive an additional 300 pounds over and above the 1200 formerly limited unto her by his deed of settlement. Another was Sir Stephen Rice, a Privy Councillor and Baron of the Irish Exchequer (despite being a member of a prominent Catholic family), who died in 1714. There was also James Macdonnel, son of Sir Randal Macdonnel, third Baronet of Moye who captained a ship in the service of Charles II, subsequently joined king James’s army, accompanied him to France and was eventually attained (his estate granted to Charles Campbell). James would have been fourth baronet, but for the attainder. He died, unmarried, in 1728.
It is also recorded that two brothers of the political philosopher Edmund Burke, both of whom died in infancy, are buried in St James’s. His father, Richard, asked in his will to be buried there but it is not known if his wishes were fulfilled. Edmund Burke, who supported the American Revolution and spoke out against that of the French, is himself buried in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire.
In addition to these esteemed members of society, the less privileged also found their way into the graveyard. In 1861, it was reported that Roman Catholic paupers were buried in Glasnevin Cemetery and that Protestant paupers were buried in St James’s churchyard, with the guardians defraying the expenses.
One of the most significant burials, and monuments, in the graveyard is that of Sir Toby (Theobald) Butler (d.1721), who framed the Articles of Limerick and became Solicitor General for Ireland. The inscription is in Latin, and was translated by the Irish builder as follows:
This bust is a likeness of Sir Theobald Butler, an Irish Lawyer | an honour to the laws, his name and his country, invested, not exalted, with the equestrian dignity. An advocate, Judicious, | upright, polished, eloquent, excelling in the native and his | legal dialect, not in partial Justice, not in search of favours, | not in flattering language, but in weight of arguments, innate | force of genius and a consummate knowledge of the laws. A man | whom eloquence, an unsullied faith gravity tempered with much | humour and affability, whom a sincere and virtuous course of | life, and a mind the guardian of virtue, sagacious to unfold | the intricacies of the law have raised to the summit of fame, | and might also, were it not for his religion, have raised him | no doubt to that of fortune. He died age 70 the 11th March, inferior only to death. James his |eldest son erects this monument to his most worth father.
The following anecdote about Sir Toby Butler features in the reminiscences of the actor John O’Keefe: “When I was a child, I saw the famous Sir Toby Butler, a favourite lawyer of his time, his powers of oratory being great, but he always drank his bottle before he went to the courts. A client, very solicitous about the success of his cause, requested Sir Toby not to drink his accustomed bottle that morning. Sir Toby promised on his honour he would not. He went to the court, pleaded, and gained a verdict. The client met him exulting in the success of his advice, when, to his astonishment, Sir Toby assured him that is he had not taken his bottle, he should have lost the case. ‘But your promise, Sir Toby?’ I kept it faithfully and honorable, I did not drink a drop - I poured my bottle of claret into a wheaten loaf and ate it. So I had my bottle, you your verdict, and I am a man of my word”. This monument was restored in 1876-77 by the architect William Fogarty, of Limerick and Dublin.
A monument erected by Alderman Mark Rainsford/Ranford in 1693 was recorded in 1825, as being present in the chancel of the 1707 church - the monument, evidently pre-dating the construction of that church. Later in 1900, the same monument is recorded as being in St James’s church, this being a reference to the current building (1859-1861). It appears therefore that the monument was moved and replaced several times since its original erection. Another large monument is described in 1825 as follows: “At the lower end of this immense tract of hallowed ground, is a large sarcophagus of grey marble, with panels inserted in the ends and sides, on one of which is an inscription to the memory of Sylvester Costigan, Esq.
The renowned C18th sculptor John van Nost is reputed to have designed one of the memorials in the graveyard; dated 1780, for a William Henry Wall. His other works include the Statue of George II in St. Stephen’s Green (1754-57) which was destroyed by landmine in 1937 and the statues of Justice and Mars on the piers of the gate leading to the Upper Castle Yard in Dublin Castle (1753).
Excerpt taken from Feasibility Study by Bernard Seymour Landscape commissioned by Dublin City Council 2010
There are six different types of memorials found in St James's Graveyard: Wall mural/monument, Chest tomb, Table tomb, Obelisk, Headstone and Free-standing cross.
In June 2017 Carrig Conservation along with Dublin City Council Survey and Mapping Division undertook a condition survey and measured survey for two ‘At Risk’ Monuments in the graveyard - Memorials ‘384’ and ‘391’
Learn more about these memorials and view the two 3D models which were created here.
The headstone inscriptions give valuable information not only on those buried in the graveyard but also on local history. For exmaple the memorial to Rev. John Ellis, Vicar of St James's for 35 years and St Catherine's for 12 years, commemorates his youngest son William, Governor of Patna in Bengal, India. He was killed in 'Ye bloody massacre' there in October 1763.
Other interesting memorials include that of the Rev. Richard Connolly, Curate of St James's, who died of fever while administering to famine victims in 1848. The tomb of John Bonham of Dublin, died 29th January 1781, contains the motto 'VITAM DUCE BNAM' - Lead a good life. It was propably after him that Bonham Street, off Bridgefoot Street, was called.
A headstone commemorates Edmund Lawless, Staff Surgeon R.N, who took part in the Crimean War and was captured by the Russians. He was later to become Medical Superintendent of St Patrick's Hospital. He died in March 1879.
The gravestones of the ordinary people often revealed more about the times with occupations and addresses being listed on many gravestones. There are many indications of the high infant mortality rates in earlier centuries – siblings and parents often being interred with their infant brothers or sisters or children.
[excerpt taken from St James's Graveyard and Associations by FÁS - download the full text here]