A feature of The Liberties is the number of historic graveyards in the area, mostly now used as parks. In a neighbourhood that, traditionally, had a very built-up and dense character, graveyards and churchyards were often among the few green spaces.
Now Dublin City Council, which owns and manages a number of these sites, is undertaking a programme of investment to revitalise these green oases and, in some instances, make them accessible to the public once more.
St James’s Graveyard
The area’s largest and most historic burial ground is located on a steep sloping site overlooking the River Liffey and to the rear of the former St James’s Church of Ireland, now the Pearse Lyons Distillery, on James Street. It is thought that the graveyard may contain over 100,000 burials and includes a number of elaborate funeral monuments and hundred of gravestones and markers. This is a fascinating site, a burial plot steeped in local traditions and very much connected to its close neighbour – the St James’s Gate Brewery. Coopers, brewers and even managers of the Guinness Brewery are known to be buried here. Dublin City Council, which took ownership of the graveyard in 2009, has now embarked on a restoration of gravestones and funeral monuments in the graveyard. The area will be re-landscaped and safe paths created to allow wider access. A new website has been created to explain the work and update on progress – www.stjamesgraveyard.ie.
St Catherine’s Park
The graveyard to the rear of St Catherine’s Church on Thomas Street was converted to a park in the early 1980s. The simple park includes a path and mature trees, some of the remaining gravemarkers from the graveyard, and a sculpture piece called ‘adult and child seat’ by Jim Flavin (commissioned as part of the 1988 Dublin Millennium commission).
The east boundary wall of the park is thought to date to the late 17thC. Work to conserve and protect the wall is now underway, beginning with the park-side of the wall, with planned work onto St Catherine’s Lane West in the spring. Take a look at the eccentric brickwork of the wall when you next pass. Work to remodel the main entrance to the park from Thomas Court will take place in 2019.
St Luke’s Park
The former Church of St Luke’s on The Coombe was for many years a sad, neglected ruin sitting above St Luke’s Avenue, created by road widening in the early 2000’s. A conservation plan for the church was developed in 2005 but only saw implementation in the last 2 years. A visionary project by DTA Architects has transformed the ruin church into a modern office building, now called Thomas Burgh House. The former churchyards have been conserved and remodeled to a design by Bernard Seymour Landscape Architects. The front area has been landscaped to create a new public space called St Luke’s Park. To the rear of Thomas Burgh House, the former south graveyard has been conserved as a secluded and private oasis, that will have limited access throughout the year, including serving the adjoining primary school.
St Audoen’s Park
St Audoen’s is the city’s oldest parish church, dating to the 12th century. However the park is somewhat younger, created by road widening in the early 1980s. In fact a terrace of houses were demolished to make way for the High Street-Bridge Street route and the remaining land was landscaped to form this small park, incorporating the most substantial parts of the old City Walls of Dublin. A project led by Dublin City Parks Department has been re-modelling the park to create a modern and delightful urban garden. New gates and pathways improve views and accessibility into the park, while the new layout incorporates St Audoen’s church and its visitor centre, creating a more inviting setting for the historic church. When completed, the park will also include a number of pieces of archaeology found during the works including Georgian tiles and medieval cobbles, a series of sound installations and a memorial to children who lost their lives in the events of Easter 1916. A future phase of work will create better links to the green area at Cook Street and refurbish the steps through to St Audoen’s Arch.