Martello Media Ltd: Glasnevin Cemetary Museum

Mark Leslie

Narrative Architect

Martello Media Ltd

4 Islington Avenue, Sandycove, Co. Dublin

Dublin, Ireland
Museums+Heritage 2011, International Award THEA Outstanding Achievement Award 2011

City of the Dead


Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, is Ireland's national necropolis. It combines the roles of Paris's Pere Lachais, and Washington's Arlington Cemetery. Many of Ireland''s greatest artists, writers, soldiers, patriots and leaders lie amongst the 1.2 million ordinary people buried here.  In the 1820's when Ireland was still a part of the United Kingdom, only the established Anglican Church had the right to operate burial grounds in Ireland. The Roman Catholic majority paid punitive taxes for the privilege of burial. They were also forbidden to pray over their  graves.

The founding of Glasnevin as a non-denominational cemetery by Daniel O'Connell in 1832 was a milestone for civil rights in Ireland. In the 19th Century Daniel O'Connell was a global colossus involved in causes such as national independence in Europe and South America, the abolition of slavery in America, and civil rights for the Irish, Jews and peasants in India. As a rebuke to the British government O'Connell insisted that Glasnevin would not be a Catholic cemetery, but be open to people of ls"all religions and none''.

The diversity and importance of national figures buried at Glasnevin makes it a place of pilgrimage. The popularity of organized guided tours, and the numbers searching out the locations of significant graves, convinced the Glasnevin Trust (which has operated the cemetery since the time of O'Connell) that a visitor centre was needed to compliment a five year long euro;20 million programme of restoration of the cemetery's mausolea and funerary sculptures. In 2010 the Glasnevin Museum opened in a striking new building designed by AD Wejchert Architects.

The City of the Dead is an immersive exhibition in the basement of the Museum.  Visitors descend through evocative layers of earth into the Well of Memory.  Interesting inscriptions from throughout the cemetery are recorded on the wall. A network of stone drains was built in the 19th century to curtail the spread of cholera. One of these was unearthed during the construction of the building. It has been retained as a water feature. A screen scrolls the names of every single person interred at Glasnevin. The dead are also invoked by names, dates, and personal mementoes embedded in the Reflections wall. Visitors can learn about the motivation of the founder and his followers in the O'Connell Circle.  Visitors sit on coffins in the Audiovisual Space to watch a panoramic overview of the history of the site.

Grave Matters presents a cross section of the ground, illuminating burial practices in the 19th Century.  Issues such as grave digging, ls"body-snatching' for medical schools, multiple burials in single plots and cholera control can all be explored on interactive screens built into the top of grave slabs. Glasnevin has kept meticulous multiple entry records of every single burial, from the lowliest pauper to the greatest statesman. Visitors can discover the medical, economic, social and historical value of these records in the Archive Vault. This information is a gold mine of social, medical and demographic information.

An interactive wall allows visitors to investigate the disparate funerary rites and afterlife expectations of the multicultural range of people buried here. Visitors can listen to the colourful anecdotes of Glasnevin's gravediggers in the Yew Grove. In the 20th century Glasnevin adopted cremation alongside burial. A gallery presents a worldwide history of cremation. On the upper level visitors can browse a digital database of the cemetery's archive. The record books recorded the name, age, next of kin, street address, family status, cause of death and precise location of every burial.

The Milestone Gallery has been designed to house a succession of special centenary exhibitions on key figures buried at Glasnevin, such as Parnell, Collins and De Valera. The large-format touch table can be reused in future exhibitions. The inaugural exhibition is on Daniel O'Connell - ''The Man Who Discovered Ireland''. It highlights the importance of O'Connell's vision to the development of Ireland as a modern country with a stable parliamentary system. O'Connell invented the modern concept of the political party as a mass movement. It also celebrates O'Connell's role as a global figure. O'Connell was the precursor and the inspiration for figures such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  He invented the ideology, slogans and tactics used by non-violent political agitators to this day. As Europe's leading anti-slavery campaigner, he collaborated with and encouraged Barak Obama's hero, Frederick Douglass, who was known as ls"The Black O'Connell' of the United States. As a result the Glasnevin Museum has already become a place of pilgrimage in Ireland for Black Americans.

The Milestone Gallery also houses Milestone Lives - a ten-metre-long interactive timeline table recording the lives of two hundred of the most interesting people buried at Glasnevin, and how all these individuals interconnect.  The information starts with a summary paragraph on each person, so that users can judge whether they wish to drill down to either a potted pictorial biography or a comprehensive one. A map shows how to find each person's grave.

The table has been devised in such a way that information relating to significant people buried in the future can be added. All the multimedia information from future Milestone exhibitions can also be stored within it.

The final space, the Prospect Gallery offers a breathtaking panorama of the cemetery, along with information on its marvelous array of funerary monuments and historic graves to be seen from this strategic vantage point.  The Prospect Gallery is also used for a wide range of traveling and temporary exhibitions, to allow individuals, community and special interest groups to take ownership of the Glasnevin Museum.

Glasnevin is a pioneering cemetery museum. It uses modern database technology to bring to life the burial records of seven generations and 1.2 million people. In doing so it traces whole the social, historical, political and artistic development of Ireland as a modern country.

It was a challenge for the Glasnevin Museum to strike a balance between providing historical information in an educational, informative and entertaining way, whilst respecting the dignified atmosphere expected by grieving families in Ireland's busiest operational cemetery.  In 2011 the Museum won a UK Museums and Heritage Award, as well as the Grand Prix of the Digital Media Association, for the interactive software on the site. In 2012 the project won a THEA Outstanding Achievement Award from TEA  the (Themed Attraction and Entertainment) Association in California. 

Glasnevin's founder Daniel O'Connell, arguably the greatest Irishman who ever lived, would surely be pleased!


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