Forthill Graveyard is a historic cemetery in Galway City that dates back to the 16th century. It is the final resting place of many generations of Galwegians, as well as some Spanish sailors who were executed there in 1589.
Forthill Graveyard is located on a hill near Lough Atalia, overlooking the city and the bay. The site was originally occupied by an Augustinian friary, founded by Margaret Athy in 1500 at the request of Friar Richard Nagle. The friary was dedicated to St. Augustine and served as a place of worship and education for the local community.
However, the friary was destroyed in 1589, when Sir William Fitzwilliam, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, ordered the execution of over 300 Spanish sailors who had been shipwrecked on the Galway coast after the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Fitzwilliam was disappointed that he did not find any gold or silver among the captives, and decided to behead them on the hill where the friary stood. This was one of the worst massacres in Galway’s history, and left a lasting scar on the memory of the city.
In 1602, Queen Elizabeth I ordered the construction of a fort on the same hill, to protect the town and its harbour from further attacks. The fort was named Fort Hill, and gave its name to the cemetery that later developed there. The fort was dismantled by the townspeople in 1643, who feared that it would be used against them by the Protestant and pro-Parliamentarian forces during the Irish Confederate Wars.
After the demolition of the fort, the site reverted to its original use as a sacred place for the Catholic population of Galway. The Augustinians continued to maintain a presence there, and gradually people began to bury their dead there in the 18th century. The cemetery became a symbol of Galway’s identity and heritage, as well as a place of solace and prayer.
Forthill Graveyard contains many interesting monuments and graves, reflecting the history and diversity of Galway’s society. Some notable examples are:
– The grave of Martin D’Arcy (1774-1848), a prominent merchant and politician who was elected Mayor of Galway seven times.
– The grave of John Blake Dillon (1814-1866), a journalist and nationalist leader who was one of the founders of The Nation newspaper and Young Ireland movement.
– The grave of Michael Bodkin (1876-1900), a young man who died of tuberculosis and was immortalized by his lover Nora Barnacle, who later married James Joyce.
– The grave of Patrick O’Flaherty (1915-1990), a historian and author who wrote several books on Galway’s history and culture.
– The grave of Mary Devenport O’Neill (1879-1967), a poet and playwright who was a cousin of William Butler Yeats.
In 1988, a plaque was erected on the east boundary wall of Forthill Graveyard to commemorate the Spanish sailors who were killed there in 1589. The plaque was installed by members of La Orden Del Tercio Viejo Del Mar Oceano, the oldest marine corps in the world, which traces its origins to the Spanish Armada. The plaque is written only in Irish and Spanish, as a deliberate snub to English, the language of their executioner.
In 2022, Forthill Graveyard was named one of the best 20 cemeteries in the world by Chic magazine, a Spanish publication. The magazine praised Forthill Graveyard for its historical significance, scenic location and artistic value. It ranked it alongside famous cemeteries such as Père Lachaise in Paris, where Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison are buried.
Forthill Graveyard is open to visitors every day from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., but these times are subject to change. It is located on Lough Atalia Road, near Eyre Square and the Galway City Docks. It is easily accessible by foot, bike or public transport from the city centre.
Forthill Graveyard is a must-see attraction for anyone interested in Galway’s history, culture and heritage. It offers a glimpse into the past, as well as a peaceful and beautiful space to reflect and remember.
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