THE HISTORY OF
ST JAMES'S GRAVEYARD
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.
- FÁS Survey, 1988
HISTORY OF ST JAMES'S GRAVEYARD
St James’s Graveyard is a national monument, associated with the former St James’s Church, which was originally founded in the 12th century. The graveyard, in the ownership of Dublin City Council is the largest of the old Dublin city cemeteries. The surviving memorials date in the main to the period between the 1750s and 1950s, the earliest recorded inscription is dated 1627 and there are some burial rights still extant.
Historic shot of St James's spire by Lawrence
The large burial ground encloses the church on three sides, and comprises one and a half acres. The main part is on the north side, and, apart from a level terrace on which the 19th century church is sited, slopes steeply to the north.
The cemetery of St James is likely to be contemporary with the church, that is, in use from the late 12th century onwards. The first recorded burial is that 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 detailed FÁS survey located a headstone of 1627, while two worked medieval stones were recovered from the cemetery, and could have originated from the medieval church. These are now located in the Representative Church Body Library.
The FÁS graveyard survey mapped 705 tombstones, and recorded c. 500 inscriptions. The FÁS surveys can be found here. The burial registers, which begin in 1742, end in 1989 with a single burial in the period from 1976. In excess of 30,000 recorded burials are listed, and this does not include the likely medieval, unrecorded, interrals. Many of the more recent burials are also unmarked. It is estimated that approximately over 100,000 burials are located on site.
Along with Bully’s Acre in Kilmainham and St Kevin’s in Camden Row, it was the burial ground most used by Catholics in Penal times. There was a burial custom, to carry the coffin three times around the sundial in front of the churchyard and three times before burials, to recite the burial prayers, as Catholic priests were not allowed to officiate at burials within Protestant churchyards. You can read more about these customs and associations here.
The earliest burials are listed with the occupant’s name and address. The addresses vary from nearby Watling Street to Moore Street and Marlborough Street. These headstones can tell us a lot about the social history of Dublin. On average, there were two to three burials per day. The parish records for St James’s up to 1900 are available on irishgenealogy.ie. More information on genealogy can be found here.
See the links below to read more about the historic background of the church and parish, it's customs and associations and archaeological setting.