One in 1500: In search of Anthony Donlevy
by Teresa Bolger
As part of the archaeological works associated with Luas Cross City (LCC), Rubicon Heritage Ltd. carried out an archaeological excavation at Grangegorman East. The location, which was to form a pedestrian access route from the LCC Grangegorman Stop to TU Grangegorman campus, had been flagged as the site of a potential cemetery in the original Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) for the scheme. A discrete programme of targeted archaeological test excavations in August 2015, identified two NE–SW orientated parallel trenches containing disarticulated human remains (i.e. charnel trenches).
The subsequent archaeological excavations—carried out from October 2015 to February 2016—revealed the remains of 1,573 individuals—30 articulated remains (in 27 surviving graves) and 1,543 disarticulated remains (in the two charnel trenches).
Trigger warning: Some images within the blog show skeletal human remains in an archaeological setting.
However, it was unclear if the cemetery was confined to this single activity or if it had had a longer period of use. In the 19th century the site was surrounded by institutions concerned with the poor, destitute and marginalised in society—the Dublin North Union, the aforementioned Richmond Penitentiary and the Richmond Asylum being but three examples. Rubicon Heritage Services research has identified contemporary correspondence which definitively confirms that this cemetery site was established as part of the city's response to the 1832 pandemic. This was achieved by transforming the Richmond Penitentiary into the Dublin Cholera Hospital; the use of the associated gardens as a cemetery commenced around April of that year. The cemetery was then closed in March 1833.
All the individuals buried there remain anonymous with one notable exception. A single gravestone was uncovered within one of the charnel trenches with an inscription reading:
So, the question arises who was Anthony Donlevy and can we identify him in historical records of the period?
The baptism records for the parish of St Paul’s on the northside of Dublin record an Anthony Dunlavy, the son of Paul and Mary Dunlavy, baptised 22 January 1801 . There is also a record of an Anthony Donlevy at Kilmainham Jail in 1820. This could be the same person or two different people who could plausibly still have been alive and living in Dublin at the time of the pandemic.
The strongest candidate, though, is Anthony Dunlevy (also Dunlavy or Dunleavy) Corporal (and then Sergeant) of the 9th Dragoons. On 17 April 1798, his marriage to a Jane Delaney is recorded at Kilcullen, Co. Kildare. This gives two points of similarity with the headstone.
There are available records relating to his military service surviving in the UK National Archives. His discharge records reveal that he was born in Cliffony, Co. Sligo and had originally enlisted in October 1790 as a private, with a promotion to corporal c. 1796 and then sergeant c. 1799. He retained the rank of sergeant up until his discharge on 3 May 1815. The personal description notes that he was 5’ 9¾” tall with grey hair and eyes, blind in the right eye and a weaver by trade. The reasons for his discharge are on the basis that he was: ‘being worn out and being very sorely afflicted by the Rheumatism and having lost an Eye by a Stroke of his Horse’s Tail when on duty in Carlow with the Regt on the 20th day of May 1798’.
The 9th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons was a light cavalry regiment that was involved in the battles at Kilcullen, Carlow and Vinegar Hill during the 1798 rebellion. It seems most likely that Anthony Dunlevy was attached to a unit operating at Carlow. The date for his eye injury is five days before the Battle of Carlow, and also before the battle of Kilcullen so may have ruled him out of participation in both engagements, or the recorded date could be a clerical error with the injury related to battle. Whether or not he would have recovered enough to particate at Vinegar Hill a month later in June is also uncertain. Despite his partial blindness he served a further 17 years. During this period, the 9th Dragoons were involved in military campaigns and actions on two continents culminating in deployment to Portugal during the Peninsular War, fighting against the Napoleonic forces.
On his discharge on 31 May 1815—aged around 50 years—he was enrolled as a pensioner at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. His discharge papers include the following signed and hand-written commendation or recommendation from Simon George Newport, Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment:
The Royal Hospital Kilmainham was established in 1679 to provide housing and medical care to military veterans. It had both In-Pensioners who were housed at the hospital and Out-Pensioners who lived elsewhere but whose pensions were managed by the hospital.
No records for Anthony have been identified after his enrolment so we cannot confirm that he definitely survived up to 1832, but equally we cannot rule this out. Kilmainham Pensioners had access to on-going medical care as well as housing and other supports, more than would have been available to the general populace. He would have been aged around 67 years old at the time of the pandemic which would have placed him in a very vulnerable category if he had indeed contracted cholera. Adults of his potential age range are present within the excavated assemblage (approximately a quarter were aged greater than 45 years).
If he contracted the disease in Dublin he could have ended up at the Dublin Cholera Hospital at Grangegorman—though correspondence indicates that the medical staff at Kilmainham were seeking a ‘better’ option for their patients and military veterans. Cholera cases definitely occurred at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham and there was a designated isolation ward there.
Kilmainham Pensioners were normally buried on the grounds; though a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) like Anthony Dunlevy would probably have been interred at the nearby Bully’s Acre rather than the officer’s burial ground there. However, as a direct result of the pandemic Bully’s Acre had exceeded its capacity early on in the pandemic, by all accounts the conditions by mid-1832 were appalling with bodies lying partially or wholly exposed. This cemetery was therefore officially closed for burial on 30 June 1832 almost a month earlier than the death-date on the headstone.
Official military burials at Kilmainham continued down to 1954 and it is not clear how these were affected by the 1832 closure. It is possible that they too could have been temporarily suspended and this would account for how a Kilmainham Pensioner, even if treated within the Royal Hospital, might have come to be buried at Grangegorman.
If you’d like to learn more about the archaeology uncovered during the Luas Cross City project, please listen to Episode 1 of our ‘The Shindig’ podcast, available on Acast, iTunes, Spotify and Amazon:
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