This graveyard has been in use since at least the eighteenth century and possibly earlier, as it is part of the first Christian church site in Douglas. The earlier history of Douglas graveyard is opaque because many of the monuments from before the nineteenth century were not preserved when graves were reused. Reusing plots and discarding grave markers is a common feature of very old graveyards. Although plots were sold in perpetuity, family extinction, migration and poor record-keeping made this impossible. A few scattered, surviving memorials from the eighteenth century prove the antiquity of the burial ground.
Although its proximity to St Columba’s Church suggests that this is a parish burial ground it has never been administered by the Catholic church authorities. The space between the church building and the graveyard underlines its distinctiveness. Until at least the 1870s, this site was part of St Luke’s Church of Ireland graveyard, separated from the church by a roadway. When the present building was consecrated in 1875, the church graveyard was realigned, leaving the part across the road outside the new boundaries. Under the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, any burial grounds separated from the church building by a roadway were to be vested in the local authorities. 1 Sometime after 1871, this area was given to the Poor Law authorities, and it has remained in public administration ever since. Sadly, there are no surviving records for this graveyard from before the 1930s.
Because this new graveyard was publicly administered, it became a de facto Catholic cemetery. In Ireland, all Christians had been buried in the same consecrated ground surrounding churches before the nineteenth century, but after Catholic Emancipation (1829) cemeteries for Catholics began to open across Ireland. The burial grounds surrounding Anglican churches became the sole preserve of Protestant denominations, while cemeteries owned and managed by local authorities were used by overwhelmingly by Catholics. In Douglas, this publicly managed cemetery began with the donation by St Luke’s of part of its cemetery to the Poor Law authorities. Names associated with business life in the village, such as O’Sullivan, the publicans, appear on the headstones. But even after the Poor Law authorities took over this cemetery, some Protestants continued to use long-established family plots for burial. Eliza Lane, great-aunt of Hugh Lane, was buried ‘in the old churchyard’ in October 1874.
However, the pauper plot, or poor ground, continued to be used for the internment of Protestants who could not pay for a private funeral. From 1881, most of the burials in the ‘old yard’ were individuals who died in the Union workhouse on the Douglas Road (now St Finbarr’s Hospital). The majority of the dead from the workhouse were buried in the institution’s own graveyard on Carr’s Hill, overlooking Douglas.
Douglas’ connection to the Great War can be traced in this cemetery, where 17 men who died in the conflict are buried. Two, Private Denis Murphy and Corporal M. O’Riordan were Douglas residents. As Cork city was a garrison town, the population were familiar, and comfortable, with the British army as an employer. The dead commemorated here by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission were part of a long tradition of Corkmen joining the British army. This tradition survived after the British army left Ireland, and 2 of the men buried here fought in the Second World War.