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By the terms of the Burial Act (Ireland) 1825 (5 Geo 4 c 25); no catholic priest shall officiate at burials without the express permission of the local bishop, or rector of the so called established faith.

At this time, cemeteries in County Cork were completely under Protestant control, and their burial fees were exorbitant. Nor were there any cemeteries attached the city’s catholic parishes of; St Finbarr’s South Parish, St Mary’s North Cathedral Parish, SS Peter & Paul City Parish, or St Patrick’s. Consequently, this led to an eventual confrontation between the Protestant Dean of Cork, Rev Mr Burrowes, and Dean Jeremiah Collins, Parish Priest of South Parish at this time. A messenger of Rev Burrowes actually interrupted a burial Dean Collins was officiating, ordering him to desist.

Temperance priest, Father Theobald Mathew who was among the assisting priests on this occasion, lost little time negotiating with the Royal Cork Institute to purchase the Botanical Gardens which, despite generous funding, had fallen into decay. By January of 1830 this he had achieved, and later explained his reasons for doing so to William Keane, Parish Priest of Midleton, who subsequently Bishop of Ross;

"The insults offered to Catholic priests who were often grossly outraged in Protestant Churchyards, the large fees demanded from the very poorest for the internment of their relatives, induced me to open my large and very beautiful burial ground"

The Botanical Gardens were blessed and dedicated as St Joseph’s Cemetery, February 1830 by Archbishop Robert Laffan of Cashel, assisted by the Venerable Archdeacon O’Keeffe, V.G., to commemorate the opening of Father Mathew’s cemetery, and was just in time for the cholera epidemic of 1832; and receiving the bodies of more than 10,000 victims of the famine years.

 

John Francis Maguire M.P., Father Mathew’s biographer, in his publication of 1865 writes;

"The Sisters of the Queenstown Convent watched and prayed constantly by his bedside. ‘Theobald, would you wish to be buried with Frank and Tom?’ his brother Charles enquired of him, as the last hours were approaching. The dying man signified a negative. ‘Is it in the cemetery?’ ‘Yes,’ was plainly indicated. ‘Is it under the cross?’ A sweet but faint smile, and fainter pressure of the almost lifeless hand, was the only reply"

Father Theobald Mathew, of Blackamoor Lane, and of Holy Trinity, Cork, died, 8th December 1856, of a stroke at the Sisters of Mercy Convent, Queenstown, 42 years a priest, aged 66, and was laid to rest at his own request at the foot of the large stone cross indicating his last resting place at the centre of his own cemetery.

 

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