City and Cemetery: A History of Mount Saint Lawrence
A comprehensive history of one of Ireland’s oldest and largest cemeteries, entitled City and Cemetery - a History of Mount Saint Lawrence, forms part of a major joint project between Limerick Archives and Mary Immaculate College, recording the history of a graveyard which has been the primary place of burial in Limerick city since 1849 containing the remains of over 75,000 people.
Compiled by Limerick City and County Council historian Dr. Matthew Potter and edited by Limerick archivist Jacqui Hayes, the publication was recently launched by Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan TD.
Speaking at the launch Prof. Michael A Hayes, President of MIC, paid tribute to all those involved in the project saying “As the last resting place of so many Limerick people over the past 160 years, rich and poor, old and young, Mount St Lawrence has proved an ideal focus for our joint efforts as institutions located in, and as individuals living, working, and studying in Limerick.” He thanked especially those members of the public who shared their memories of the cemetery and those buried there because “without the stories they told, the project would have been so much the poorer.”
The 196 page publication is the result of a concerted effort by a large team of researchers to create the history of Mount Saint Lawrence. The book is framed by two overarching themes: firstly, the role of the study of ‘death and dying’ in Irish society; and secondly, the impact of social change since the late eighteenth century on death and its accompanying cultural practices.
The publication contains many images donated by members of the public and also includes over 80 oral history interviews conducted with local people. In excess of 2,500 student hours were spent over the past three years in preparing much of the material that has contributed to the present study. The College’s History and Geography undergraduates transcribed and analysed the cemetery registers and headstone inscriptions, while a dedicated group of postgraduates (current and recently graduated) acted as both field-work leaders and interviewers in the oral history phase of the project.
At the launch Dr. Hélène Bradley Davies, Department of Geography, MIC commented on the educational value of the Mount Saint Lawrence project as it brought students of both disciplines together allowing them to learn from each other and to gain valuable skills associated with data collection, data interpretation and data management. According to Dr. Bradley Davies “Mount Saint Lawrence has proved to be an open air laboratory or classroom par excellence. It has helped in demystifying text book driven knowledge and has enhanced students understanding of key issues relating to class and status, mortality and life expectancy to name but a free. It has also stimulated high levels of interest and motivation among students by fostering active and deep learning. Essentially our students have learnt by doing, they have actively engaged in their subject, in the process becoming geographers and historians as opposed to simply students of geography and history.”
Limerick Archivist Jacqui Hayes explained that Mount St Lawrence, the second largest graveyard in the country outside of Dublin, was initially developed when burial ground capacity elsewhere in the city was placed under pressure following cholera epidemics in the 1830’s and the Great Famine in the 1840’s. “City and Cemetery - a History of Mount Saint Lawrence is a repository of Limerick’s collective memory with intense emotional associations for generations of local people. It was written in the belief that a cemetery containing the remains of over 75,000 people also contains the history of Limerick. This history examines the wider social aspects of how death is approached in Ireland using oral histories, the records of Mount St Lawrence itself and family photographs donated by the public.” she said.
Limerick Archives has already worked extensively with students and academics from the Geography and History Departments of Mary Immaculate College to create an online searchable database of Mount St Lawrence allowing members of the public, both at home and abroad, to locate information relating to their deceased relatives.
Pictured at the launch of City and Cemetery: A History of Mount Saint Lawrence were Dr. Ursula Callaghan, Dr. Hélène Bradley Davies, Dr. Mathew Potter, Dr. Maura Cronin, Prof. Michael A Hayes and Kieran Lehane, Director of Public Services.