Dublin’s neglected cemetery

Sabrine Donohoe

The annual budget of Dun-Laoghaire-Rathdown cemeteries, according to a Freedom of Information request to the County Council. Credit: Sabrine Donohoe

Deansgrange cemetery in South Dublin has lacked maintenance for several years, despite an increasing annual budget, according to a Freedom of Information request made to Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

The annual budget towards the maintenance of Deansgrange, Shanganagh, and Kilgobbin cemeteries has been increasing since 2012. Excluding staff wages, the budget reached €552,000 this year.

The budget allowance exclusive to Deansgrange cemetery was €1.1 million last year including staff wages, according to staff member at Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council Anne Kinsella.

Meanwhile, the public toilets in Deansgrange were closed mid-2018 and have remained closed since.

“In mid-2018 it was decided to close the toilets located at the back of the workmen’s yard due to the ceilings becoming unsafe,” said Kinsella.

“The delay in addressing the condition of the public toilets was and is down to money. The last 10 years saw our budgets drastically cut and we have had to prioritise works as our budgets allow. We did install modern toilets at the tea rooms [the ‘Tranquil Tearooms’ near the main entrance of the cemetery] in 2010,” she added.

A total of seven gravediggers are employed by the Council, with one staff member leaving over the past year. The gravediggers work 44 hours per week, not including over-time for incomplete duties.

“Their duties include digging and filling in graves, gardening, grass cutting, hedge trimming, laying chippings on graves, filling up graves that have sunk and any other general maintenance that is required,” said Kinsella.

Areas behind large trees and in between grave plots, however, contain dead plants, weeds, dead Christmas wreaths, rubble, and some rubbish.

Fine Gael Councillor Patricia Stewart, a regular visitor to the cemetery, disagrees with the broadness of its lack of maintenance.

“As someone who attends Deansgrange cemetery regularly, I can say that it has actually shown a great deal of improvement over the past few years. There has been a huge amount of clearance of ivy and weeds in many of the areas near the Tranquil Tearooms.

“It is true, however, that there are areas where there is plenty of room for improvement. The team who look after the cemetery have plans to extend the scope of recent clearances but there isn’t an open purse to do much more than they are at present,” she said.

“The biggest problem that this cemetery has is that many of the graves are quite old and the families of those buried there are no longer alive, or have moved away, and the graves are not being maintained. To fill in a collapsed grave is difficult and very costly.”

Councillor Stewart praised the staff who have cleared weeds and planted daffodils in the public grass areas of the cemetery in a post on Twitter:

“Congratulations to the staff at #DeansgrangeCemetery for the great work they are doing clearing and maintaining the grounds. Beautiful spring displays near the #TranquilTearooms,” she tweeted recently.

Councillor Stewart said that the Council plans to turn Deansgrange cemetery into a “Cemetery-Park” and renovate two of the chapels.

Glasnevin Cemetery is of much larger capacity, with approximately 1.5 million people buried there to date compared to 150’000 people buried at Deansgrange cemetery. The cemetery operates under a Trust which encompasses four other cemeteries: Goldenbridge, Newlands Cross, Dardistown, and Palmerstown.

Yet according to the Grounds Manager of Glasnevin Trust Philip Ryan, the annual budget to maintain Glasnevin cemetery is €80,000.

The Trust gains a surplus from trades in grave sales, burials, florist, and monument works, which is used to run and invest in the organisation.

An equal number of seven groundskeepers are employed at Glasnevin cemetery, who work 49 hours per week excluding overtime. Four to six workers tend to the cemetery at all times.

The gravediggers at Glasnevin cemetery maintain the graves that they bury for one year after burial.

“We decide each year on the priority projects and try to fund them the best we can. We do manage to supply the staff with all the machinery, products and personal protective equipment necessary to maintain the cemeteries to a high standard,” said Ryan.

Together with Mount Jerome, the Deansgrange and Glasnevin cemeteries are the largest in Dublin.

Green Party Councillor Ossian Smyth who works in the Deansgrange area and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Cemeteries Manager John McCann were unavailable to comment at the time of publication.

Sabrine Donohoe

Image Credit: Sabrine Donohoe