CUSTOMS & ASSOCIATIONS
The graveyard was one of the most commonly used by Catholics during Penal times and burial records indicate that over 30,000 people of all religions were buried tere during the period 1742-1836, which suggests a much greater number over its entire history. Much resentment was caused by the ability of the Protestant clergy to greatly increase their income by collecting monies for burial from Catholics, to whom they did not minister. One account, reputedly told by Daniel O’Connell in 1823, described an argument regarding the freehold of St. James’s and whether the minister would be allowed to sow turnips and other vegetables there. O’Connell is said to have remarked that he doubted whether such an occupation would be as productive as sowing Papists, as this was worth nearly £2000 a year to the minister.
A custom is still remembered in the area, of carrying a coffin around the fountain on James’s Street three times prior to burial in the graveyard. This was done in order to recite the burial prayers, as Catholic priests were not permitted to officiate at burials within Protestant burial grounds. Another custom dating from the time of the Penal Laws involved placing a piece of clay in the coffin prior to it leaving the house of mourning, so that the prayers meant for the graveside could be said there and then.
George Petrie drawing of the fountain on St James's Street 1810
Camino de Santiago
It was recorded by the Rev. Whitelaw that the Pope, on St James’s Day, offered up a Pontifical Mass for the repose of the Catholic souls buried in St James’s graveyard, in a similar vein, there was a popular tradition that there was an ancient interchange held between the churches of St James in Dublin and of St James in Compostela, and that the souls of those buried in Dublin would benefit from the prayers said in Spain. St James’s Gate is traditionally the Irish starting point for the Camino pilgrimage, an association that lasts to this day. Read more about St James's Graveyard and it's association with the Camino de Santiago here.
Feast of St James
The feast of St. James, on the 25th July, was traditionally celebrated in James Street opposite the church and the graves would be decked out in garlands and white paper decorations. Contemporary accounts describe it as being considered an essential site to see in the city. It has also been documented that in Scotland in the Middle Ages, graveyards were commonly used to host markets and fairs, this tradition continuing into the 19th century in one particular case.
In 2018, to honour St James’s Feast Day on 25th July, Pearse Lyons Distillery decorated the graves surrounding the church with paper decorations and hope to continue its tradition in the years to come.