In the second half of the 19th century, the overcrowded condition of the graveyards of Galway was an issue which faced the Town Commissioners. At a meeting in mid-April 1873, one person mentioned that in the previous 30 years, almost two and a half thousand burials had taken place in the little cemetery in The Claddagh, largely as a result of the Famine and its aftermath.
Fort Hill was also overcrowded and the committee there favoured the purchase of a three acre extension to the graveyard, but were afraid that the three acres might not be enough.
Among the sites being examined was one outside the immediate city area on Bohermore. The Bishop, Dr McEvilly, wrote a long letter of recommendation to the Commissioners, at the same time arguing against the Fort Hill idea. It was this letter which was largely responsible for the decision to site the cemetery in Bohermore. The site was bought from the board of the Erasmus Smith School. The older cemeteries in Galway with their ancient graves were to be closed. This gave rise to some discussion as to the condition of the graveyards in the city and in the surrounding area. Cattle and sheep were allowed to graze on some of them. The establishment of this new cemetery, which opened in 1873, was aimed to bring order and control into the whole question of interment and to give dignity to the last resting place of many Galway citizens.
The cemetery has two mortuary chapels, the western one is reserved for Catholic usage, the eastern one for Protestant usage. The Victorians liked to make memorials as ostentatious as possible, often with classical symbols like urns or columns, but people began to wonder about the suitability and cost of such monuments and after World War I and so much loss of life, the public attitude to ostentation and decoration was frowned on.
There are a number of literary people interred in the ‘new cemetery’ as it is still known, Lady Gregory, Pádraic Ó Conaire, Walter Macken, Arthur Colahan, George MacBeth, and William Joyce. There are 17 Commonwealth burials from the 1914-18 war there, and three from the 1939-45 period, and also some of those who were killed in the KLM air disaster.
All this information and much more can be found in a new book entitled Gone the Way of Truth, Historic Graves of Galway by Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill. This profusely illustrated volume is a valuable exploration of an underexplored part of our heritage and features graveyards from all over County Galway. Graveyards may be associated with morbidity but they can also be interesting places to explore and provide us with a window on our past. This book, which is published by History Press, certainly does that. In good bookshops at €18.