Cholera victims’ bones from 1830s found on Luas line dig

Great Cholera Epidemic of 1832 killed thousands across the country

The bones of victims of a cholera epidemic in the 1830s have been uncovered as part of preparation works for the Luas cross-city line at Broadstone, Dublin.

The remains were found last week by workers at the Broadstone Bus Éireann Garage on the north side of the city.

The new Luas line will run from St Stephen’s Green through the city centre, Phibsborough and Cabra, to Broombridge. It will link up the two existing green and red lines and take in lands at Broadstone.

The Great Cholera Epidemic of 1832 killed thousands across the country and, due to overcrowded conditions, Dublin's inhabitants were particularly vulnerable.


Pandemic outbreak

The outbreak, of pandemic proportions, also killed hundreds of thousands in the UK, France, Germany, Hungary and Egypt before moving on to the US and Canada.

While the majority of Dubliners who died during the disease outbreak were buried at Bully's Acre – a cemetery near the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham – there was not enough space there to cope with the influx of burials. A site between Grangegorman and Broadstone was used as an overflow burial ground.

Maria Fitzgerald, principal archaeologist for Luas, said as part of the environmental impact assessment for the new Luas route, the company had identified the possibility of a burial ground being found near the area.

She said records from the 1870s showed the railway yard of the Midlands Great Western Railway at Broadstone was being extended. The company got permission to acquire 3 acres of land near their existing premises and when they were digging, to build foundations for a new boundary wall, railway sidings and an engine shed, they came across the burial ground.

The remains were removed and reinterred in a nearby patch of ground, a walled area.

“I think that is what we are looking at,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

She said none of the burials are laid out or intact. “It’s just all the bones placed in what we think is a trench going down the centre of the site,” she said. “There seems to be quite a few burials; we have come across quite a number of skulls.”

Disarticulated skeletons

All of the skeletons are disarticulated and all of the bones seem to have been mixed up and put in the trench.

Ms Fitzgerald said the architects working on-site, James Hessian and Siobhán Ruddy, for Rubicon Heritage, are examining what area the remains are extending over and what the features of the site are. The work is being carried out under licence from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Ms Fitzgerald said the area involved was to be used for a footpath between Grangegorman campus, the new college campus for the Dublin Institute of Technology, and the Broadstone Luas stop.

“We are looking at that and seeing whether that footpath will impact on these burials and what we can do to minimise the impact. If we can possibly preserve them where they are, we will,” she said.

She said they do not know how many people were buried there and that would only be determined if there was a decision to fully excavate the site.

“Everybody’s preference would be not to disturb them, so we will be working closely with the construction designers now to see if we can minimise the impact.”

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist