Tuesday, 3 June 2014

After the horrific discovery of the mass grave of 800 infants at the Bon Secours site in Tuam there has been a lot of discussion about how, where and why untold numbers of infant corpses (and others who were not wanted) were so horrifically disposed of.

 There are many "Children's Burial Grounds" or Cillíní in Ireland, dotted throughout the country. They are unconsecrated sites (distinct from normal graveyards) where unbaptized infants were interred. Their age varies. Some are in waste land, many others (most of the "discovered" ones) are on the sites of ancient constructions like raths, cairns and ringforts. Most are unmarked. Some are yet to be uncovered, others have been bulldozed away.

 I have often wondered if the myths of "faeries" and curses surrounding ancient sites were told by adults to children, not wanting to tell them the truth, in order to scare them away from the graves of the infants and other outcasts who were buried there.

 You can find the location of many of these sites by using the National Monuments Service interactive map.

 If you go onto this map and select "Chidren's Burial Ground" in the search window you will find the location of many, but not all, of these grave-sites. You must search by county as there are too many (thousands) results to show if you search the entire country.

Sites marked as "Children's Burial Ground" in County Galway. There is a massive correlation between these grave-sites and ancient historical antiquities. In many cases the excavation of the latter led to the discovery of the former.

 This map, of course, leaves out the grave sites which are not marked on maps. Locals, in rural areas especially, may be able to point out unmarked "Cillín".

 Undoubtedly not all of the grave sites are as particularly horrific as the one in Tuam where infants seem to have died of preventable ailments such malnutrition (in other words sheer bloody murder). No doubt many infants buried in these graves died of entirely natural causes. Others will predate the mass grave in Tuam. Some will have had only a small number of infants buried there.

 Nonetheless, the existence of these hidden grave-sites is very disturbing and further investigation is needed, particularly of ones near former workhouses and "Mother and Baby homes". The site in Tuam is unlikely to be unique.

 Below I have embedded an article entitled "Outside of life: Traditions of Infant Burial in Ireland from Cillín to Cist" by Nyree Finlay. It was published in the World Archaeology journal in 2000. It is a very informing read and explores in considerable detail the practice of infant burial in Ireland, shining a light on a particularly disturbing aspect of Ireland's history.

Posted by Saoirse Go Deo On Tuesday, June 03, 2014 5 comments


  1. Really unfortunate! May god be with the children's soul!

    1. Many thanks for the comment, it was certainly a sad state of affairs. Reading back over the post now more than a year later I think I may have been drawing an unfair comparison or making an unfair implication.

      What (allegedly) happened at Tuam was horrific; many died of easily preventable causes. However many of those buried at the sites spoken of in this post would have no doubt died of natural causes, still born etc. While undoubtedly tragic it has to viewed differently than what happened at Tuam.

      That said, it is still horrible that infants could not be buried in regular graveyards and had to be buried "out of the way" no doubt compounding the sorrow of the parents.

  2. Saoirse - this story has exploded back into the headlines again and with little reason other than a level of anti-Catholic hostility unparalleled since the Gordon Riots, IMHO. Even the Apprentice Boys parades and Glorious 12th didn't have such venom as is on display now.

    "many died of preventable causes" - you are most definitely judging the past by the standards of the present. We have antibiotics and vaccinations; we don't die of measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, gastroenteritis and polio. Back then, there were no antibiotics or vaccines; deaths by diseases we now regard as minor were common. The infant mortality rate in Ireland an England & Wales (I have the figures for comparison, if you want them) was more than 10 times what it is now.

    Describing "malnutrition" as 'sheer bloody murder" indicates lack of understanding. Children back then could be malnourished for a number of reasons, including gastro-enteritis, fever, congenital malformations of the digestive system - various conditions that could be picked up and treated today, but were killers back then.

    "Malnutrition" could also be just the last thing. My father had a range of conditions but what went on the death certificate was 'renal failure'. AIDS victims, especially in the early days, were often listed as having died of 'heart failure', 'cancer' or even 'malnutrition'; these terms covered a multitude of conditions.

    However, as it happens I have a copy of the records of deaths, which Mrs Corless so painstakingly compiled. Malnutrition is not mentioned. Not once.

    Yes, the attitude to unmarried mothers was pretty bad back then. The nuns at Tuam were doing a job no-one else wanted to do. everyone wanted these girls kept out of sight and their children disposed of soonest, whether by adoption or, if they were dead, quiet burial.

    What is happening is vicious scapegoating, to divert attention from the fact that all of Ireland - state, church and people - bore some responsibility, and none. Death from a measles epidemic is a sad tragedy, a mischance. It isn't a conspiracy or deliberate act.

    Infant mortality rates were broadly similar in England and Wales for the time the Tuam home was open. There is genuinely no evidence of anything out of the ordinary.

  3. Good sharing !!!
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  4. I don't know if this thread is still active but I was looking for some advice. Who do I contact if I suspect there is an unmarked baby burial ground on private property in the village I grew up in, in County Galway.


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    This is my personal blog and all herein is merely personal opinion expressed solely on my own behalf from my viewpoint as an Irish Socialist Republican.

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