3AM HISTORY I
call it "3am History" because it asks the kind of questions that randomly run through my mind when I cannot sleep. Finding the answers can reveal the 'story' part of what we see, or hear about, in our own lifetimes. Kings, dates, battles and so forth have their places - but so what? I look for, and write about, things that make history an enjoyable search for interesting answers to questions about things or events that we are so used to, we don't really think about them. The Redmond Mausoleum, glimpsed through the bars of a locked gate, certainly invites those kind of questions – and the answers once again prove there is more to history ‘than meets the eye' . It’s not as grand as the 24-stepped pyramid shaped resting place was Queen Artemisia’s magnificent tribute to King Mausolus, who died around 350BC which gave us the term for such burial places - but the structure where the Redmonds repose in St John’s Graveyard, Lower John Street, is indeed a 'Mausoleum' - not a ‘Vault’, ‘Crypt’ nor even ‘Tomb’. A Mausoleum is an above-ground building with permanent access to an interior chamber where the deceased are placed or buried underneath, unlike a Tomb which may be above ground but must be dismantled to some degree should there be a future occupant. Within a Mausoleum the particular space occupied by the deceased is referred to as the Crypt. There may also be a Sarcophagus or Vault within– an above ground or partially buried stone chamber into which the remains are placed and which is then covered with a lid. A lot of time and expense is required to construct a mausoleum and obviously they are a mark of the importance of the person or family they are associated with. Aboveground burials were popular from early times ( Newgrange being one example) through Roman times before the advent of Christianity tended to change people’s perception of the ‘necessity’ of ostentatious funerary memorials for the ‘common man’. By the 10th century Christians in general frowned on the display of
pride, and the expense, involved in constructing such elaborate individual resting places. Mausoleums became less common among the general public until the relative prosperity of the Industrial Revolution, and the death of a Prince Consort, led to a widespread revival in their popularity. In 1861 Prince Albert died. Queen Victoria’s almost pathological mourning for her ‘Beloved Soulmate’ lead to the construction of the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore and this is credited with reintroducing the fashion for family and individual mausoleums. Until around the end of the 1900’s, cemeteries such as London’s Highgate saw a profusion of magnificent mausoleums until the fashion subsided. It then became perceived as ‘rather vulgar’ for the middle classes to display their wealth in quite to so public a fashion. This perception, as well as the rising popularity of cremation, saw the virtual end of individual and lower-status family mausoleums. However, the Redmond Mausoleum was constructed around 1828 – more than thirty years before the Victorian boom in funerary monuments. We could see it as a situation where Wexford was still a bit ‘behind’ and following the fashions of much older times, or that we led the way in anticipating Victorian mourning fashions. A closer look at the actual circumstances of the Redmond family leads me to believe there are simpler reasons for constructing their mausoleum at that particular time. There are no less than 12 people recorded as being interred in the mausoleum with the first having died on June 9th, 1799. Patrick Redmond was 28 when he passed away, and surely was not kept in storage until 1828 but was most likely buried in the plot that the mausoleum was eventually built over. When we see the next few interments however, the probable motivation for building it seems likely. In 1822, two members of the Redmond family died and in 1826
another passed away. By this time the original plot was probably getting pretty full. In addition, this was a family which would see three of their members sitting in Parliament by 1900, with two additional MP’s thereafter, so in keeping with their rising importance a mausoleum was not too unlikely a display of their prestige as well as showing respect for their dead.
T h e decision was made to keep the original location for future family burials and a mausoleum solved the problems that frequent use, and overcrowding, of the plot could cause. The practical advantages were no doubt attractive. A mausoleum saves on the cost of opening a grave every time a family member passes away and is much easier to maintain than a ground plot which has to be cleaned, raked and weeded on a regular basis. A mausoleum also has the ‘vertical space’ to hold more burials than a traditional grave, and provides a private, clean and sheltered space in which to mourn and remember the departed. The body itself is protected from the
BY JOHN ORMONDE
environmental damage associated with ground interment and for some it is a comfort to think that they or their loved ones will not be underground in the confines of a ‘cold grave’ . All these were good reasons for the Redmond family to build their family resting place, others might have also been taken into consideration but of those we cannot speculate. While the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus was one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’, the Redmond Mausoleum is no less interesting relative to its own space and time. It is a simple structure, built along Neo-Gothic lines. ‘True’ Gothic architecture was mainly the “pattern of choice” for many years in building mausoleums (and a staple of every cemetery appearing in the old “Hammer House of Horror” movies). However, the complicated stone carvings and fanciful decoration of classical Gothic, with its many ledges, creases, hollows and crevices to catch rain, ice and snow adds to the costs of construction and adds to maintenance expenses greatly. The Redmond’s simpler ‘cleaner’ neogothic style anticipated what would become the norm over fifty years later in cemetery architecture. The rather austere vertical exterior, with its stately columns is made less utilitarian by the addition of patterned cast iron doors and miniature replicas of spires on each corner. The spires themselves were made of metal to weather the effects of time and erosion more effectively than stone would. The surrounding low railing adorned with crosses on top of the posts gives a sense of privacy and respectability. In all, the mausoleum depicted a quietly dignified public memorial to the family and their dead, and in private a communal resting place for a close knit family. Of all the Redmonds however, only two are still individually remembered.
At least four of his family had preceded John Redmond MP when he was interred there in 1918. John had been Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party and secured the passage of the Irish Home Rule Bill in 1914. Unfortunately for his memory, he then supported Britain in the First World War and encouraged over 50,000 of his supporters enlisted. This largely unpopular decision, and the increasing rise in Nationalism after the 1916 Rebellion executions, basically destroyed his Party and lead to his health breaking down. John Redmond's body lay in state in Westminster Cathedral before being brought to the mausoleum a week later. Wexford was a humbler resting place than he was entitled to but which he had made clear he preferred – not for him a grandiose grave among other dignitaries in Glasnevin or London. John’s brother, Major William “Willie” Redmond MP, also made it known that he wished to be interred there. Having enlisted in the British Army, he died of wounds received in action on the Western Front in 1917. He was buried in the grounds of a makeshift hospital in Locre, Belgium. Despite his stated wish, his grave remains there, and is notable in being outside the walls of the official British Military Cemetery. His grave is not outside those walls because - as is widely but erroneously reported – ‘he abhorred the British over the executions of the leaders of the Easter Rising and did not wish to be buried amongst them’. Nor is it a case that his family did not care enough about him to have his remains moved to Wexford. His grave is there to this day because his widow, Eleanor, wished it so. Far from being disrespectful to his memory it was a decision based on respect. Eleanor visited the grave after the war was over, and was so moved by the care and reverence shown to it by the locals she decided it was a great honour to Willie’s memory, and better left there. Later on, when the War Graves Commission was relocating other graves into the ‘official’ cemetery, Eleanor again requested her husband’s grave be left where it was,
outside the walls of the new cemetery as a mark of gratitude and recognition to the people of Locre who continued to care for it. Willie Redmond had wished to be buried in Johns Street, but in the long run Eleanor's decision proved to be a fortunate one. Three more Redmonds were laid to rest in the in the mausoleum, another named William being the last, in 1932. The mausoleum then started sinking into obscurity and disrepair behind the locked gate and high walls of St. John’s Cemetery. In the early 1980's, vandals broke through the doors of the mausoleum. The remains were ‘kicked around like footballs' according to a contemporary newspaper report. Local outrage at this desecration did little to increase care of the cemetery. Then, during the height of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years a Developer attempted to purchase the cemetery with a view to razing it to the ground and building apartments on it. Fortunately this did not come to pass. During all these years and events however, deterioration of the mausoleum appears to have continued unchecked. Recent developments however promise a brighter future for this presently-obscure remnant of Wexford's past. The Wexford Historical Society has now taken on the task of repairing and caring for this important architectural, cultural and historical structure which can only add to the attraction of our town in the future, while properly honouring those who wished to spend the rest of eternity within it. From Asia Minor in 350 BC to Wexford in 2014, from a family at the pinnacle of their careers and fame to a presently-flooded mausoleum with few, if any, of their vandalised remains is quite a span of human history – all represented by, and part of, a low granite structure that few locals ever really ‘see’ anymore should they happen to glance through the cemetery gate in passing. John Ormonde
Published on Apr 19, 2014