St Anne’s Burial Ground, Dublin, Ireland

‘Here the body of someone lies
Nobody laughs and nobody cries
Where he came from and how he fares
Nobody knows and nobody cares.’
– Old grave inscription ‘Stranger’s Corner’

 The Anne’s Burial Ground near Bohernabreena Reservoir has to be one of the most picturesque settings I can imagine being buried in! The history surrounding this place is immense, a small church on this site was mentioned as far back as 952 by Pope Innocent III and was confirmed as a church in 1216. This initial church building was destroyed in the late 13th century but must have been rebuilt at some stage as it is recorded as being in use in 1541. Although the graveyard is named St Ann’s, the church on the site was originally named after a bishop named Santan, who is mentioned in the ancient Book Of Leinster.

The day of my visit was a classic case of history repeating itself, I had read that when the graveyard was still functioning, the hearse never went past the top of the lane leading to the burial ground due to the risk of getting stuck, well indeed I got stuck, and only thanks to a good friend I was towed back to the road! A stone walled walkway leads down the steep hill towards the site, as you go further and further down the hill you are surrounded on both sides by Hawthorn trees (of which a long standing relationship with death exists in Irish folklore). When the burial ground comes into sight for the first it truly looks timeless, sitting beside the reservoir and in the shade of some magnificent trees. It was customary after bringing the coffin down the hill to circle the walls of the graveyard with the coffin before entering. Local people and friend’s of the deceased dug the site of the burial, not the family of the departed, a very old Irish belief. Many of the funerals lasted hours and if a priest couldn’t attend De Profundis was read by a local man.

There are some very old gravemarkings at this site, the oldest visible one being from 1792 but many predate this. Originally the church measured 11×5 metres, however the only remains are the foundation stones and one wall. As you enter the burial ground and look to your right, a large holy water font stands close to the entrance. There is a story handed down generation to generation of a time when a local landlord decided he wanted to remove the font as he thought it would make a useful drinking trough for his horses. Although the landlord’s men were reluctant to remove the font they had no choice but to oblige. Horses were attached by ropes to the font in an effort to move it but the horses became agitated and broke their reins. When a second attempt was made one of the horses reared on the landlord’s men, seriously hurting one of them. When the landlord persisted further one of his horses dropped dead, the landlord in his rage smashed the side of the font with a hammer, stating that if he couldn’t have use of it no-one could, it remains standing beside the wall to this day.

Behind the remains of the old church and in the furthest right hand corner of the burial ground is ‘Stranger’s Corner’, this is where unknown people or those not from the immediate vicinity were buried. The inscription I mentioned at the beginning of this piece was once written on a gravestone that has sadly succumbed to the hands of time. During no period in the graveyard’s history was it ever particularly busy and six months could pass without a burial, however a superstition grew up around the site, that once a burial occurred it would be quickly followed by a a further two. Soldiers from the 1916 rising were buried at St Anne’s, and the grim practice of bringing babies up to be buried there continued right up until the graveyard was closed by the Department of Health in 1940 (due to its close proximity to the reservoir . The babies were always buried under the cover of darkness and one can only imagine the eerie image of men carrying a tiny coffin down the hill with only the light of the moon for illumination.

I’d recommend paying St Ann’es a visit, its only 3kms from Tallaght and it really is a beautiful spot, just don’t park on the slip road down to the gate because believe me its very soft ground at the best of times and you will get stuck!

GPS: 53.23215, -6.35121

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