Monumental builder

Monumental builder

In Brief

Soon after crossing the Royal Canal on the Phibsborough Road—which becomes the Glasnevin (now Botanic) Road on the north side—the funeral cortège veers left onto Finglas Road for its "Last lap" to the cemetery, passing by "The stonecutter's yard on the right." There, on a "spit of land" jutting into the intersection, numerous stone grave sculptures evoke the shades pressing forward to speak to Odysseus in Homer's poem: "Crowded on the spit of land silent shapes appeared, white, sorrowful, holding out calm hands, knelt in grief, pointing. Fragments of shapes, hewn. In white silence: appealing." After this somber echo, the commercial language that follows strikes an anticlimactic and even faintly mock-heroic note: "The best obtainable. Thos. H. Dennany, monumental builder and sculptor."

Read More

Joyce was, as usual, scrupulously following Thom's directory, which listed a Thos. H. Dennany, "monumental builder and sculptor, stone and marble works" at 2-8 Prospect Avenue, the street that angles up to the cemetery between the Finglas and Glasnevin roads. Thomas Hammond Dennany, born to ardently nationalist parents in Drogheda in about 1840, was listed as a "stonecutter" on Prospect Avenue as early as 1867. According to a note by John Simpson on James Joyce Online Notes, his brothers Arthur and Joseph also worked as stonecutters on Phibsborough Road, listing themselves as "monumental workers" on the 1911 census. According to Thom's, a fourth brother, James, was working as a stonemason on Prospect Avenue in 1910.

"Monument" is a common synonym for "gravestone" or "headstone," but the use of the word in self-advertisements also trumpeted the stone-cutters' execution of large ceremonial sculptures. Simpson quotes from three stories in the Freeman's Journal from the 1870s, 80s, and 90s mentioning monumental Celtic crosses that Thomas Dennany carved for notable Catholic heroes. Among them was the piece shown here, sculpted for the grave of John Keegan Casey, the "Poet of the Fenians" who wrote the song The Rising of the Moon and published articles in The Nation under the pen-name "Leo." Vivien Igoe notes that the monuments which Dennany contributed to the Glasnevin cemetery included the splendid crypt that houses Daniel O'Connell's sarcophagus.

When Dennany himself died in June 1910 he was buried in the Glasnevin cemetery in an unmarked grave.

JH 2020
Detail from 1920 Bartholomew map of Dublin showing the "spit of land" at the vertex of the pink V between Prospect Avenue and the Glasnevin Road. Source: Norman B. Leventhal Map and Education Center, Boston Public Library.
2007 photograph of Thomas Dennnany's "Leo" monument for John Keegan Casey in Prospect Cemetery, erected in 1885. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Paula Murphy's photograph of Thomas Dennnany's 1906 monument for the grave of  Joseph Hegarty in Prospect Cemetery. Source: