Milltown Cemetery, an established landmark of Nationalist Belfast, is often identified outside the realms of normal everyday burials, with the conflict of the past thirty years famous IRA terrorist Bobby Sands has been burried here. Being the main Catholic burying ground for the city it is intertwined into the legacy of conflict. The Republican plot, the funeral of Bobby Sands and those that subsequently followed in 1981 and more recently the huge 60,000 turnout for the Tom Williams commemoration are only three examples as to why this cemetery is now on the tourist guide for visiting. However, there is more to Milltown than most would imagine, even those who visit it on a weekly basis. It captures a wide diversity of history that makes the importance of the cemetery stretch beyond Belfast conflict. There is the graves of Polish airmen whose story stretches from Warsaw to Britain, then to Kerry and finally Milltown.
Other airmen from Britain and its Commonwealth are buried there, casualties of wartime air crashes. The victims of the 1941 Belfast Blitz lie in a mass grave, and scattered throughout the cemetery are headstones of servicemen from both World Wars. Also buried within the cemetery are men who served in both Irish and British Parliaments, along with others who crossed the social spectrum such as Timothy McCarthy who was considered to be one of the most brilliant journalists of his time. His death through illness in 1928 brought to a close the career of a man who was described by T.P. O’Connor, Father of the British House of Commons, as ‘The greatest political and most versatile journalist in the country.’ Also to be found in the cemetery are the graves of figures such as Joseph Devlin (1871-1934) Northern Home Rule leader and Nationalist M.P. to Westminster and the Belfast publician Owen McMahon who was brutally slaughtered with his family in March 1922. One of the members of the gang who committed these dreadful deeds even lies buried just a few yards away. There is without doubt a need to bring this history of this cemetery which has served Belfast since its opening on Sunday 19th September 1870 to a people who can identify with it so strongly, but are probably unaware of its wealth of history.
Milltown Cemetery has become an established landmark of Nationalist Belfast. Within its bounds is a wealth of history which captures a wide diversity within the sphears of both the political and social spectrum. The above photograph shows the graves of two young Belfast men both of whom died for Ireland, the only difference being their fight took them fields apart. While one had died on the streets of Belfast within the IRA in 1921, the other died as a result of serving in France with the Leinsters for what he hoped would pave unification. They took different approaches of ideology, but what can not separate them, was the roots that tied them both to Belfast, now they lie side by side in Milltown.
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