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Sunday 17 December 2017

Well-known historian Shane MacThomais has died

The late Shane MacThomais
The late Shane MacThomais
Historian Shane MacThomais beside some of the headstones at Glasnevin Cemetery which were erected in honour of the Irish servicemen and women who lost their lives

Cormac Murphy

TRIBUTES have been paid following the sudden death of Glasnevin Cemetery historian Shane MacThomais, a well-known chronicler of the 1916 Rising.

His body was found in the grounds of the Dublin graveyard. No foul play is suspected.

Mr MacThomais (46), a father-of-one, was a resident historian and popular tour guide at the cemetery.

His father Eamonn MacThomais was also an historian, author and broadcaster.

“It is with great sadness that we have learned of the death of Shane MacThomais, a much loved and respected colleague,” said George McCullough, chief executive of graveyard operator Glasnevin Trust.

“Over the years he has become an integral member of our team. His rich knowledge and deep appreciation of the heritage of Glasnevin and its place in Ireland's history, together with his extraordinary ability to engage with people has been an integral part of the visitors experience to Glasnevin,” he said in a statement.

Mr McCullough added: “His loss will leave an enormous void in all our lives. He was not only a colleague but a personal friend to all. All at Glasnevin Trust, board members and staff, extend their heartfelt and deepest sympathy to Shane's mother, daughter and his entire family. He is a truly irreplaceable loss to us all.”

SIPTU general president, Jack O'Connor, said: “Shane worked closely with SIPTU on a number of events in recent years, in particular during the centenary of the 1913 Lockout last year. His enthusiasm for the working class history of Dublin shone through in all he did.

“His entertaining and informative manner brought the history of Glasnevin Cemetery to new audiences. Shane's commitment to ensuring all those interred there were fittingly remembered saw him championing causes which drew support from all strands of Irish society.”

Mr MacThomais, whose body was discovered on Thursday afternoon, “paid particular attention in ensuring the last resting places of those too often forgotten in Irish history were properly marked”, Mr O'Connor said.

“He made a point of drawing the attention of visitors to the cemetery to the graves of the child victims of the Magdalene Laundry system and civilian casualties of the 1916 Rising.

“Through his work Shane helped define the significance of Glasnevin Cemetery and of those buried there over the centuries for future generations and in doing that he has left his mark on modern Ireland,” the trade union leader added.

Mr MacThomais was a regular TV and radio contributor and worked in the James Joyce Centre as its librarian and archivist.

He was the author of 'Dead Interesting: Stories from the Graveyards of Dublin', published by Mercier Press.

Commenting on Twitter, RTE presenter Rachel English said: “So sorry to hear of the death of historian Shane MacThomais. He was always a wonderful, informative and enthusiastic radio guest.”

Dublin city councillor Nial Ring (Ind) said Mr MacThomais made a huge contribution to local history and had many ideas for the 1916 centenary celebrations.

“Coming up to 2016, he will be a major loss. He was instrumental in most ideas coming for the 2016 (celebrations). If he had an idea, he would see it through,” Mr Ring told the Irish Independent.

Mr MacThomais was instrumental in ensuring 43 soldiers who died after returning from the First World War had a proper memorial.

He also played a major role in paving the way for the refurbishment of Glasnevin cemetery's O'Connell Tower which was bombed by loyalists in 1971.

Mr McCullough described him as a natural historian, who “lived it, he breathed it, he taught it”.

Mr MacThomais first came to the trust as a 15-year-old on a FAS scheme and progressed to become its resident historian.

He is survived by his daughter, mother, sister and brother.

He was involved in giving the Duke of Kent a tour of the graveyard last year during which the duke laid a wreath at a memorial to rebels who fought and died in the 1916 Easter Rising.

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