The Irish Graveyard Experience


The only thing travellers love talking about more than their adventures is their misadventures.

So of course, my favourite story is of the time my friend and I were locked in an Irish cemetery at night.

It was our second day in Dublin, and we had just returned from the bar, still buzzing from an afternoon session at the pub (come on, it’s Ireland). The excitement of our first 48 hours in a foreign city, that post-beer tipsiness, and the lingering effects of jetlag probably kick-started the events that followed.

You see, my best friend and I wanted to walk to Glasnevin Cemetery, one of Ireland’s largest and oldest cemeteries still in operation. A fascinating and wonderfully macabre experience, we thought.

That walk was quite a bit longer than we expected. We’d glanced at a map online using the hostel’s Wi-Fi and my tiny iPod, since the city map we had didn’t go that far north. Not wanting to waste any more daylight, we rushed out in a burst of youthful energy and spontaneity.

An hour later, we finally arrived, thinking the gates would surely be shut and we’d have made the long walk to see nothing but the outside of a few more sleepy Irish pubs.

But the gate was open. We went inside.

It was past 7pm by now, but the sun was still shining. It was a surreal experience for us Aussies, who were used to a 6.30pm sunset, even in the middle of summer. The sun here wouldn’t set until after 9pm, completely warping our perception of time.

We wandered amongst thousands of graves spanning hundreds of years. We observed the changing styles of tombstones across generations, tried to trace the lives and deaths of family plots, and offered futile sympathies to those who died young and tragically. The place was huge, covering 50 hectares. It’s been estimated that 1.5 million people were buried here—an unimaginable amount of death, of history.

In the two hours we spent there, we didn’t see another living soul, except for one faraway ute.

We had no idea what time the place closed. Maybe that’s the thing about spontaneity: half the time, you have no idea what’s going on.

It wasn’t until the sun set that we realised how late it was. We’d assumed someone would come around and clear everyone (or rather, just us) out before closing up. Maybe that’s what the guys in the ute were doing, and they didn’t see us. Maybe they just assumed no-one would be weird enough to wander around a graveyard past 9pm.

But by the time we finally got back to the front of the cemetery, the gates were shut. And boy, were those some serious gates: 3m of spike-tipped wrought iron, with stone walls just as high stretching out into the distance.

We still couldn’t see anyone—no night guards, no groundsmen—and the last of the light had faded. Safe to say we were becoming concerned. I suppose we could at least be thankful the days of the bodysnatchers, when the sentry towers were manned and guards patrolled with bloodhounds, were long gone.

Disinclined to twiddle our thumbs at the front gate until someone eventually found us, we set off along the perimeter, hoping there would be a section of wall easier to scale further on.

We were both trying to act casual, laughing like we weren’t watching the shadows and steeling ourselves against every little noise. It felt like cheap horror fiction.

We’d walked a few hundred metres when the wall changed to a low base of stone topped with more spike-tipped iron fencing, not as tall as the last section. We climbed the base, scaled the fencing (gouging a hole in the sole of my shoe) and shimmied down a light pole to the street outside, trying not to look too suspicious to the cars passing by. We felt like master criminals, or prison escapees.

It was 10:30pm by the time we got back to the hostel. We leapt about our room, still hyped from the drama and night air. Our friend, just woken by our entrance, was barraged with every detail of our escapade.

Somehow, the misadventures—tales of discomfort, folly, bad luck and mischief—are more memorable than the most perfect of holidays. I know I’ll keep telling the story of the time Simone and Frankie were locked in that Irish cemetery.




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