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Dublin: 10°C Friday 7 May 2021

Double Take: The Dublin square that was once one of the city's most crowded graveyards

It’s beside one of Dublin city centre’s busiest streets.

26886644815_2bbe07b1eb_z Source: William Murphy/Flickr

IF EVER YOU’VE walked along Jervis Street, it’s likely that you’ve passed Wolfe Tone Square.

With dozens of shops and restaurants just metres away, the mostly vacant site is roughly 145ft in width and 221ft in length. 

Now an open area, Wolfe Tone Square (formerly St Mary’s Churchyard) was once used as a graveyard for the adjoining St Mary’s Church, where Wolfe Tone himself was baptised and where Arthur Guinness wed in 1793.

googlemaps Source: Google Maps

According to Wolfe Tone Park Community, an initiative established to protect the park, the graveyard became so over-crowded by the mid-1800s that “in order to make room for others, bodies were taken up in a state of putrefaction, to the great and very dangerous annoyance of the city.”

Among those buried in the graveyard was Lord Norbury, who was known as the ‘Hanging Judge’. According to AnOige.ie, Lord Norbury (born John Toler) “was Ireland’s most hated man in the 1700s” as he had a reputation for condemning prisoners to be hanged.

The website states that it was the hanging of Irish revolutionary Robert Emmet which “catapulted him into public enemy number one position”, and legend has it that he returned as a black dog haunting the streets of Dublin following his death in 1831. 

The area was used as a graveyard until 1886, states Excavations.ie, when it was then partially redesigned as a garden/park. The final burial took place in the cemetery in the 1950s. 

By the 1960s, the original headstones were moved and set against the park’s enclosing walls. Just a few years later, the Church of Ireland sold the site to what was then known as Dublin Corporation and it was renamed as Wolfe Tone Memorial Park.

3454431102_d5eff20cde_z Source: William Murphy/Flickr

In 1998, a new design of concrete and grass was introduced to the communal space, states Wolfe Tone Park Community.

Just a few years later, a three-week long excavation carried out in 2001 for Dublin Corporation uncovered “considerable quantities” of human skeletal material just 35cm below the surface. Clay pipe fragments and coffin nails were also recorded. 

Over 90% of  the recovered bone was collected from the south-eastern corner of the site, while other bones were scattered randomly and an attempt to bury several skulls together in a shallow pit was uncovered. In total, eleven museum boxes of human skeletal material were recovered from the topsoil and the disturbed deposit underneath.

Nowadays, the area is covered with gravel and concrete and is home to a sculpture of a cow, titled Ag Crú na Gréine (meaning ‘enjoying the sun’), while a cafe housed in an old tram opened on the site in 2016.  

To the unsuspecting passerby, Wolfe Tone Square may not look like much. Yet, with bones being recovered from the site as recently as 18 years ago, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.

More Double Take: This beloved Dublin diner sign was destined for the skip – but it’s getting a second chance

More Double Take: The one-of-a-kind signpost on a tiny Cork island

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