DENNIS MAUSOLEUM

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The Dennis Mausoleum, situated in Clonberne Cemetery in County Galway, is a cylindrical cast-iron structure and the only one of its kind in Ireland. It was built in the 1860s by Elizabeth Dennis, née Eyre, to commemorate her husband, Colonel Maurice Griffin Dennis, and his brother, John Irwin Dennis.

The Dennis family were originally from Devon in England, where they had a long and distinguished lineage. They came to Ireland in the seventeenth century and acquired lands in Galway and Roscommon. They were loyal to the British Crown and served as soldiers, magistrates and politicians. They also intermarried with other prominent Anglo-Irish families, such as the Eyres, the Berminghams and the Blakes.

Colonel Maurice Griffin Dennis was born in 1805 and joined the British Army at a young age. He served in various campaigns, including the Peninsular War, the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. He was awarded several medals and honours for his bravery and leadership. He married Elizabeth Eyre, daughter of John Eyre of Eyrecourt Castle, in 1840. They had no children.

John Irwin Dennis was Maurice’s younger brother and also a soldier. He served in the 60th Rifles Regiment and fought in the Crimean War. He died in 1869, six years after his brother.

Elizabeth Dennis was a wealthy heiress who inherited Bermingham House, near Clonberne, from her uncle. She was devoted to her husband and his memory. She erected the mausoleum in Clonberne graveyard, where they had a family burial plot. She also commissioned a stained glass window in his honour in St Nicholas’s Collegiate Church in Galway. She died in 1897 and was buried beside her husband and brother-in-law.

The mausoleum is a remarkable example of cast-iron architecture, which was popular in the Victorian era for its durability, versatility and decorative potential. Cast iron was used for bridges, railways, buildings and monuments. It could be moulded into various shapes and patterns and painted to imitate stone or metal.

The mausoleum is cylindrical in shape and measures about 3.5 metres tall and 2 metres in diameter. It is composed of cast-iron panels bolted together, four panels tall and twelve in the round. The panels are decorated with classical motifs, such as wreaths, scrolls and acanthus leaves. The door architrave has a pediment with an urn finial and a coat of arms with three pistols (a variation of the traditional Dennis arms with three Danish battle axes). The coat of arms is topped by a griffin’s head (a reference to Maurice’s middle name) and has a banner with the motto “Toujours Fidele” (Always Faithful).

Above the door is an inscription that reads:

“SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF/MAURICE GRIFFIN DENNIS/LATE COLONEL/1 ST BATTALION 60 TH KINGS ROYAL RIFLES/WHO FELL ASLEEP IN JESUS/THIS MAUSOLEUM IS [ERECTED BY HIS WIFE]/ELIZABETH DENNIS OTHERWISE EYRE”

Around the cylinder are fragments of biblical text that have become detached over time. They include verses from Psalms, Corinthians and Revelation.

The roof of the mausoleum is domed and has a draped urn on top. The urn symbolises the ancient practice of cremation and the separation between life and death. The drapery adds a sense of realism and mourning.

The mausoleum is surrounded by a cast-iron railing with slender uprights and floral motifs. The design of the mausoleum is unique and has no exact parallel in Ireland or elsewhere. However, it may have been inspired by various sources, such as:

– The Etruscan tombs of Italy, which were cylindrical or conical structures made of stone or brick.
– The Roman columbaria, which were underground chambers with niches for urns containing ashes of the dead.
– The classical temples of Greece and Rome, which had cylindrical or polygonal plans and domed roofs.
– The mausolea of Turkey and India, which were domed structures with elaborate decoration.
– The cast-iron monuments of Britain and Europe, such as the Albert Memorial in London or the Iron Bridge in Shropshire.

The mausoleum may have been designed and built in Scotland, where cast-iron architecture was more prevalent and advanced than in Ireland. Elizabeth Dennis may have ordered it from a catalogue or commissioned it from a specific foundry. The exact origin and date of the mausoleum are unknown, but it was probably erected between 1863 and 1869, after the deaths of Maurice and John.

The mausoleum has suffered from damage and vandalism over the years. It was struck by lightning in the 1970s, which toppled the urn and cracked the roof. The inscription and the biblical text became detached and scattered on the ground. The railing was bent out of shape and some of the panels were loose.

In 2011, the mausoleum was restored by the Office of Public Works with the help of local volunteers and experts. The urn was reattached, the roof was repaired, the inscription and text were reaffixed, the railing was straightened and the panels were secured.

The mausoleum is now a protected structure and a national monument. It is a testament to the love and devotion of Elizabeth Dennis and a rare example of cast-iron architecture in Ireland. It is well worth a visit for anyone interested in history, art or engineering.

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53.556903, -8.656202

The Dennis Mausoleum

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