Irish Daily Mail

The Dubliner who turned Aus­tralia up­side-down

Each of the mil­lion-plus peo­ple buried in Glas­nevin Ceme­tery have their own unique story, in­clud­ing the Dublin man who shocked Syd­ney by gate­crash­ing the open­ing of the Har­bour Bridge

- by Tanya Sweeney Australia · Cooley · Luke Kelly · County Dublin · Dublin · Oscar Wilde · Nassau · Charles I of England · Ireland · Elizabeth I of England · New South Wales · Sydney · Michael Collins · Haddington

AF­TER the re­sound­ing suc­cess of the heart­felt doc­u­men­tary One Mil­lion Dublin­ers, Glas­nevin Ceme­tery en­joyed a vis­i­tor boom. Up un­til now, the ceme­tery’s 50,000 or so an­nual vis­i­tors have been able to see the fi­nal rest­ing places of the likes of Michael Collins, Luke Kelly and Daniel O’Con­nell on Glas­nevin’s of­fi­cial tour. But this month sees the launch of a new tour, and, suf­fice to say, it’s not your com­mon-or-gar­den vis­i­tor at­trac­tion.

The Dead In­ter­est­ing Tour veers off Glas­nevin’s well-worn path and hails the un­sung he­roes and char­ac­ters among the one mil­lion in­hab­i­tants of the iconic grave­yard. Most of them have en­sured a small place in his­tory for a be­wil­der­ing amount of rea­sons. By turns com­pelling, macabre and down­right un­be­liev­able, the Dead In­ter­est­ing Tour has no short­age of colour­ful char­ac­ters. Here are just four who have been of­ten over­looked, un­til now…


WICK­LOW man James O’Con­nor came from a noted fam­ily: his fa­ther was an es­teemed pa­triot and O’Con­nor him­self was a journalist and Fe­nian known for his fiery rep­u­ta­tion.

For all the tur­bu­lent go­ings-on in his pro­fes­sional and po­lit­i­cal life, his fam­ily life was fa­mously marred by tragedy. In June 1890, his wife, four chil­dren and the fam­ily’s maid had gone out to col­lect mus­sels at Sea­point in south Co. Dublin. One daugh­ter, Moya, had not been al­lowed to ac­com­pany her sib­lings due to some mi­nor fam­ily dis­agree­ment.

The sea­side trip would cul­mi­nate in the death of all six as they died from food poi­son­ing af­ter con­sum­ing the mus­sels.

A news­pa­per re­port at the time said: ‘One or two of the el­der chil­dren had, with the as­sis­tance of the do­mes­tic, th­ese shell­fish stewed and of the dish thus pre­pared, ev­ery­one of the fam­ily par­took in a greater or less de­gree. The poi­son­ing symp­toms must have set in very rapidly, for when Mr O’Con­nor ar­rived at home from Dublin he found the whole fam­ily dis­play­ing alarm­ing symp­toms of ill­ness. All that med­i­cal skill could sug­gest was doubt­less per­formed, but with­out avail.’

In later life, Moya, the sur­viv­ing child, would be­come a close con­fi­dante and courier for one of Glas­nevin’s most no­table oc­cu­pants: Michael Collins.

The memo­rial on the grave for the O’Con­nor fam­ily, above, fea­tures cherubs that rep­re­sent those lost on that fate­ful day – mother Mary, aged 35; An­nie, aged 13; Eileen, aged 11; Kath­leen, aged seven; and No­rah aged five.


TO para­phrase Os­car Wilde, to be buried in Glas­nevin once is un­for­tu­nate, but to be buried twice is down­right care­less. But that’s ex­actly what hap­pened to 54-year- old Maria Hig­gins from Hadding­ton Ter­race in Dublin. Her first fu­neral, held on July 31, 1858, af­ter Maria died sud­denly from a short ill­ness, was un­re­mark­able and like any other, on the face of it.

Af­ter a two-day wake, Sweeny’s un­der­tak­ers took Maria’s cof­fin to its as­signed plot in Glas­nevin ceme­tery. It was tra­di­tion at the time for the be­reaved to en­ter the de­tails of the death and fu­neral in the burial reg­is­ter.

So far, so un­re­mark­able… un­til the day two years later, when a woman walked into a so­lic­i­tor’s of­fice on Nas­sau Street and de­clared her­self to be Maria Hig­gins. The cof­fin was ex­humed from Glas­nevin and found to be full of soil and stones. It tran­spired that Maria had been left a sum of money – £500, a for­tune back then – in a will. The money would only be re­lease on her death for the ben­e­fit of any chil­dren she might have. Keen to get his own hands on the cof­fers, her hus­band Charles Hig­gins hatched a wily plan; to free the money with a fake death. And af­ter a doc­tor agreed to con­firm Maria’s death for £10 and a bot­tle of whiskey, it was nearly a per­fect crime.

No one knows the rea­son why Maria de­cided to come clean to the law, but once she did, her hus­band and his con­spir­a­tors were rounded up for trial. Charles was found guilty of fraud and sen­tenced to two years in prison.

Maria was also found guilty, but es­caped prison as she was deemed by the judge to be work­ing for her hus­band un­der duress.

She died on July 24, 1871, and was buried close to where her first fu­neral had taken place. Her death was then duly recorded in the burial reg­is­ter, for a sec­ond time.


MANY Ir­ish­men have be­come the stuff of leg­end in Aus­tralia – and for a wide range of rea­sons – but Frank de Groot found him­self front and cen­tre of the open­ing of the Syd­ney Har­bour Bridge, for all the wrong rea­sons.

The Dubliner of Dutch de­scent joined the mer­chant navy at 13 and em­i­grated to Aus­tralia in 1910, aged 18, where he en­joyed a ca­reer in an­tiques and as a sol­dier. He re­turned to Ire­land briefly, and met and mar­ried his wife Mary El­iz­a­beth be­fore re­turn­ing to set­tle in Syd­ney in 1920.

He be­came a renowned fur­ni­ture de­signer and maker. His pol­i­tics veered to the right and be­came a zone com­man­der for proto-fas­cist Eric Camp­bell, a po­lit­i­cal ri­val of the Labour prime minister of the time, JT Lang.

Camp­bell was de­ter­mined that Lang would be up­staged at the open­ing of the Syd­ney Har­bour Bridge, and de Groot ap­peared only too happy to oblige.

Mounted on horse­back, at the cru­cial mo­ment, he slashed the open­ing rib­bon with his sword, declar­ing the bridge open ‘in the name of the de­cent and re­spectable peo­ple of New South Wales’ in front of 300,000 peo­ple. Though con­victed of of­fen­sive be­hav­iour, de Groot served a writ on the New South Wales po­lice al­leg­ing wrong­ful ar­rest, ul­ti­mately se­cur­ing a tidy out-of-court set­tle­ment.

In the wake of the scan­dalous event, he be­came a hero and vil­lain in equal mea­sure to the Aus­tralian pub­lic. Still a fig­ure of in­famy by the time he re­turned to Dublin in 1950, de Groot had a qui­eter life once he got home, dab­bling in an­tiques and be­com­ing a mem­ber of the Ir­ish Aus­tralian So­ci­ety. He died in a nurs­ing home in 1969, how­ever, his act of valour (or in­san­ity) is still a talk­ing point among Syd­neysiders.

THE tour runs ev­ery day at 1pm. Tick­ets cost €13 for adults and €10 for se­niors, stu­dents and chil­dren. Visit glas­nev­in­

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 ??  ?? Hero and vil­lain: Frank De Groot
Hero and vil­lain: Frank De Groot

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