The former graveyard to the rear of St Catherine’s Church on Thomas Street, which is now a park, is one of the more historic spots in The Liberties.
A church has stood on the site at Thomas Street for centuries and is thought to have formed part of the original St Thomas’s Abbey complex. The present church was built in 1745 and its adjoining graveyard was once crowded with the great and the good of the parish’s 18th and 19th century citizenry.
St Catherine’s Graveyard fell into dereliction in the 1960s and 70s after the church was deconsecrated and closed, and the building and its graveyard began to degrade. Images of the park in the early 1980s show an upkempt and neglected space. In 1985 it was decided to convert the graveyard into a small public park and the grounds were largely cleared of the various headstones and memorials, many of which were clustered along the east side of the park. The park retains many burials and is a site of archaeological importance.
Recent research to ascertain the original locations of gravemarkers in the park has unearthed interesting details of some of the people buried at St Catherine’s.
Thomas Ayers of Engine Alley: Thomas, a merchant, died on 10th December 1772 aged 70, and was buried next to his wife Mary, who died 18th September 1767 aged 56. Also buried with Thomas were his children John, Catherine, Mary, Thomas, Ann, Jonathan, Sarah, Edward and Elizabeth – although no dates are given for these burials. Clearly a large and possibly tragic family.
Robart Bagot of Drogheda: This burial dates to 14th February 1613, and Robert was joined three years later by his wife Ellenor Bathe. Robert is described as ‘survyvine ffeaffi of Sainte Katherins Church’, thought to mean a trustee of the church. Its known that in 1605, Robert Baggott conveyed to Christopher Bysse, ‘a house on St Thomas’s Street with a yearly rent of 15d payable to St Catherine’s Church’ (RIA Proc, 35, c, 1919).
The Cooneys: A stone erected by Mary Cooney in memory of her husband Cornelius Cooney, ‘late of Marrowbone Lane, a cotton manufacturer, who departed this life on 3rd May 1868 aged 36 years’. Also buried here is a daughter, Bridgt, who died aged 4.
The Harbornes: David Harborne, also of Marrowbone Lane, a silk manufacturer, who died 20th November 1827 aged 79, and his wife Elizabeth (1820) and daughter Ann (14th March 1829 aged 28). Lastly David’s son, Thomas who lived to the ripe old age of 94 and was buried here in 1870.
Knox: The remains of Reverend Arthur Knox AM, vicar of the parish of St Catherine’s, who departed this life on 18th October 1818 aged 56. Another stone marks his eldest son, Arthur Knox Esq, barrister-at-law, died 11th October 1838 aged 36, and his wife Maria, who died in 1840 aged 28 years.
Mills: A stone marks the burial place of Alexander Mills, who was ‘for 36 years master of the Boys School and teacher of the male adult class in the Sunday School of St Catherine’s parish, and who died 1st day of June 1876, aged 66′. The stone was erected by some of his pupils and friends ‘to express their deep sense of gratitude’.
Another stone remembers Mary Ann Mills, born 26th March 1843, who died in October 1925, and whose ‘long life of good and faithful service was spent as child, pupil, teacher and secretary of St Catherine’s School Board, in the Parochial Schools, Thomas Court’, where her father Alexander was schoolmaster.
William Mylne: A memorial stone, which was placed in the nave of the church and later removed, but recently returned to St Catherine’s, remembers William Mylne, an architect and engineer from Ediburgh, who died in March 1790 aged 56. His brother Robert erected the memorial ‘to inform posterity of the uncommon zeal, integrity and skill with which he formed, enlarged and established on a perfect system of waterworks of Dublin’. A precursor to the more celebrated Vartry scheme devised by John Gray (who has a nearby street named after him).
And last up, the most notable burial of all. This time inside the church (or at least beneath the current building).
Sir William Brabazon: ‘Here lieth the body of Sir William Brabazon Knt, who continued tresoror in this kingdom XXXII (32) years, in which time he was lord justice V several times, he was the first Englishman that planted in Conoght and wan the Castle of Athlone. He served in the reigne of Kings Henry the VIII and King Edward the VI. His son Edward Brabazon Knt, Lord Baron of Ardee, proposeth to be entombed by his father and mother’.
It is thought that the monument was destroyed in 1765, when the present St Catherine’s Church was being built, and no other monument to the Brabazon family was ever erected. Sir William died in Ulster in July 1552, and his heart was interred with his ancestors at Eastwell (in Kent, England), while his body was buried in the chancel of St Catherine’s Church. His descendents later became Earls of Meath and decamped to Kilruderry House, near Bray in Co Wicklow.
Work will take place later this month to relocate 9 of the larger gravestones from their cluster on the east side of the park, and set them against two walls in the park. Research has determined that none of these 9 stones are in their original locations and were placed in their present cluster in the early 1980s when St Catherine’s Graveyard was cleared and set out as a park. The gravestones have become a focus for antisocial behaviour and the project aims to protect and conserve the stones, while removing a hiding place for antisocial activity in the park.
The stone have been subject to archaeological assessment and the work is being undertaken by specialist contractors and overseen by a conservation architect.
The area along the east side of the park is set to be re-landscaped on completion of the removal work. This is part of ongoing work to improve this attractive, but challenged amenity and allow greater public use and access. Other work completed in 2020 includes rebuilding the main gates to the park, which had subsided, removal of diseased trees and bulb and wildflower planting.
St Catherine’s Park is managed by Dublin City Council Parks & Landscaping Service and the project is an action of The Liberties Greening Strategy to improve parks and amenities in The Liberties.