13/08/2008

City Cemetery Opens Again For Visitors

Mourners from across Northern Ireland who have loved ones buried at Belfast City Cemetery - but have often been afraid or unable to tend their graves down the years because of the Troubles - are being invited along to a special Open Day this Sunday.

The visitors' day is being held for the public to come along and perhaps search for old family graves - long since left unvisited - with the help of cemetery staff.

Staff will examine historic records of the cemetery and help locate family burial grounds.

They will also be on hand to assist the public in the renovation of graves and plots.

Owned and maintained by Belfast City Council, the City Cemetery is one of the oldest public cemeteries in the city and its first municipal burial ground.

It officially opened on August 1 1869 and contains a wealth of historical information.

Approximately 225,153 have been buried on the site including many prominent politicians, businessmen, inventors and industrialists.

Lord Mayor, Councillor Tom Hartley, (pictured) will be welcoming visitors from near and far to the cemetery on the day.

Councillor Hartley is an acknowledged expert on the City Cemetery, having penned the book 'Written in Stone' which charts the history of the graveyard and was the organiser of the popular Belfast City Cemetery Tour.

He said: "The City Cemetery holds some amazing and fascinating history. It has graves which date back to Victorian Belfast as well as many marvellous stone crosses, monuments, headstones, obelisks, urns and fountains.

"However with the Troubles in the city, many people may have been reluctant to visit the cemetery and their relatives' graves.

"Living in this new environment that we are today, we now hope to bring them back to the cemetery," he said, noting that the City Cemetery Manager and his staff will be on hand to assist visitors in the renovation of family members' graves and plots.

"The event is open to everyone with visitors learning some precious family history while also helping improve the cemetery."

Councillor Tom Ekin, Deputy Chairman of the Parks and Leisure Committee, said Visitors Day was part of continuing regeneration work to the City Cemetery by Belfast City Council.

"We aim to make Belfast City Cemetery a place of safety, rest, respect and to reflect our diverse and exciting heritage.

"During the last six years, over £600,000 has been spent on the renovation and rejuvenation of the City Cemetery with staff continuing to work hard to maintain the graveyard to the highest of standards.

"As part of this regeneration, older sections of the graveyard have been cleared of seedling trees and underbrush.

Screened soil, sand, decorative stones and turf have been used in the restoration of graves and the City Cemetery Gate Lodge has also been renovated transforming the entrance to the site."

Visitors Day will take place from 10am to 3pm at Belfast City Cemetery on Sunday 17 August.

(BMcC)

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