Thursday, August 16, 2012

On Ciilini - From the Irish Examiner

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Cradle to the grave

Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Graveyards for unbaptised children are scattered throughout Ireland. Now, towns and villages are reclaiming these lonely and forgotten burial places writes Carl Dixon
CILLINÍ, ‘graveyards’ for unbaptised children, are scattered throughout the Irish countryside, in overgrown corners of conventional graveyards or outside their boundaries.

Kerry is reputed to have 400, and many across Ireland are unrecorded. Although considered remnants of repressive Catholicism, the origins of cilliní date back to an era when folk tradition and Christianity were entwined. Now, towns and villages are reclaiming these lonely and forgotten burial places and bringing them back into the community.

Toni Maguire is an archaeologist and anthropologist who specialises in this subject and is best known for her work at Milltown cemetery in Belfast.

"A cillin was any area of ground used for unconsecrated burials, which came under various categories," she says. "This included executed criminals, truce breakers, suicides, mothers who died in childbirth but haven’t been churched, strangers whose religion might not be known, and, by far the largest category, unbaptised babies. There were probably regional differences; for example, in some places it was believed that if a first child died and was buried in a cillin, then the other children would be spared the same fate."

Many academics consider cilliní a post-medieval phenomenon, although an excavation in Galway found graves of infants in a ringed enclosure dating back to 700AD. There was a blurring of the boundaries between Christianity and superstition.

"We often find cilliní associated with fairy trees and, obviously, the strict prohibition against moving such trees would ensure that the graves were not disturbed," Ms Maguire says. "Fairy forts were also used; given that there was such a strong visceral belief in fairies, perhaps they were buried there so that they might have another life with the fairy folk, if denied a Christian afterlife.

"In Orkney, there was a belief that a dragon lived under the fairy mounds, who tormented the souls of the dead. Often, there is this sort of mishmash of folklore, religion and myth associated with these sites."

Ms Maguire says there was trepidation about these unsettled souls. "I refer to them as the dangerous dead, particularly the adult burials," she says. "Boundaries were considered important routes into the underworld and we often find cilliní associated with boundaries, such as running water.

"In Antrim, I found a strong preference for triangular-shaped fields; one explanation is that the three sides of the field represent the Holy Trinity. Another explanation is that ghosts were confined within a triangular field and wouldn’t be able to escape. Again, it seems like an overlay of Christianity, over an older folk tradition."

At the heart of the matter lay the difficult issue of what to do with the pagan dead, within the confines of a rigid and austere Christian doctrine. If a non-baptised child died, then the theory of original sin suggests that this child, although having committed no personal sin, could not enter the kingdom of heaven.

The concept of the innocent children of Christian parents suffering eternal damnation in hell was problematic for the Church; a problem overcome, to a degree, by the theory of limbo.

Probably dating back to the time of St Augustine, limbo was intermediate between heaven and hell; eternal darkness, perhaps, but no pain. It is a theory from which the modern Church has not unequivocally distanced itself. In a 2007 document from the International Theological Commission, entitled The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptised, it is noted that the theory of limbo "remains a possible theological opinion" and that "there is serious and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptised infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision. We emphasise that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge."

A distinction can be made between the large, poor grounds and angel plots where non-baptised babies were sometimes buried on an industrial scale, and the small, local plots dotted around the countryside.

"There probably wasn’t a Catholic family in Belfast who weren’t connected with Milltown cemetery in some way over the generations," Ms Maguire says. "A boggy area of Milltown was in use for these so-called pagan burials, up to the 1990s. The daily load of dead babies would arrive from the hospital and were laid in mass graves like carpet.

"One father recalls claiming his dead baby from the hospital and bringing it to the cemetery. The grave digger tossed the dead baby, into what was essentially a wet hole in the ground, like a piece of rubbish.

"This had a huge emotional impact on parents. We have been working here for years, but it is very difficult to estimate how many babies were placed in the open graves or identify precise locations."

By contrast, burials in the smaller cilliní that pepper the countryside retained a sense of ritual. "Traditionally, a dead baby would be buried between dusk on the day it died and sun rise the next day," she says. "Often, it was the fathers who buried them, perhaps with the help of someone in the community. In one site, the remains of 21 babies were found in the floor of a roundhouse and there was a line of white quart delimiting each grave. It had been carefully and systematically done, or often simple stones were erected. Apart from community cilliní, there were also personal burial sites. Babies could be buried quietly on a home farm, where two ditches meet. One woman I spoke to couldn’t bear the thought of her dead children being buried in some obscure corner that she wouldn’t be able to visit when she got older. Her husband buried them under the kerb stone at the back door, so that every time she enters the house she walks over them." While there is still anger about the larger sites, this seems less the case with the small cilliní, which are now being re-assimilated into their communities.

There is a recognition that these were different times and that different rules applied; a sense of compassion and regret rather than anger.

Brian O’Sullivan is part of a committee restoring a small cillin, grown over with furze and bramble, close to the small village of Eyeries, on the Beara peninsula in West Cork.

A similar cillin has been restored in Coulagh in the same parish. "We were always aware that there was a children’s graveyard here," Mr O’Sullivan says. "It is located close to the church, but it is not associated with it and has no right-of-way leading to it. There are no records for the burials here and it wasn’t until we started clearing the site that we realised how big it was, even though there are people still alive who recall it being used in living memory. It seemed a shame that it had been neglected, and now the ground has been consecrated and the babies buried here have been baptised retrospectively. I suppose things happened in the past that shouldn’t have, but this is really about bringing back a part of the village’s history that should be remembered."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

An Editorial Regarding the Milltown Situation

This editorial was sent to me. What do you think of this latest development?

The families who have been involved with the Milltown Cemetery project in Belfast and who have struggled with the fact that the Catholic Church sold the graves of their relatives to a wildlife reserve in 2000 have been dealt another harrowing double-edged blow this month. The cemetery administrator Fr. Martin Graham has issued a dictatorial email to relatives which stated that work on the site was to take place from the 26th of March and that the homemade crosses and plaques which mark the approximate location of some of the graves had to be removed by then. The relatives are stunned by this decision as there had been an agreement that no work would take place on the land until all current investigative work was finished and reports on any further land which may contain human burial produced. It was only at that stage that discussion on what would happen to the six acre strip of land which lies along the eastern boundary of the cemetery was to take place between the relatives and the church, including discussion on what was to replace the family markers.

The current archaeological investigation involves 53 trenches which are to be dug over approximately twenty-six of the original thirty-seven acres sold by the church in 2000. The decision bmey the church to press ahead with work on the land will in effect disallow a number of trenches to be excavated in some of the most contentious areas within the six acres already returned to the cemetery in 2010. The purpose of this work has always been to identify the presence and extent of burial outside the consecrated ground of the cemetery and this latest move will effectively rob the relatives of their last chance to determine the extent of graves which evidence from numerous ethnographic accounts from local people and past cemetery staff state are present.

This sticking-plaster approach adopted by the church has been viewed by families as yet another betrayal and continuing evidence of the total disregard in which they are held by the very church which should be protecting them. The church hierarchy however, are in for a continued fight as they discover that the body of the church which they term ‘The ordinaries’ are quite extraordinary when it comes to taking a stand in defence of their own.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Update on Milltown Cemetery

Archaeologist Toni Maguire has now confirmed that trench 49 is now closed and work has begun on trench 3.  Trench 3 to date has produced 2 Adult and 8 Baby coffins.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Wild Geese Interviews Toni Maguire About Cillini

The Wild Geese is a webzine that documents the history and heritage of the Irish. It has drawn millions of readers to its more than 600 online features during its 14+ years online.

Most recently they featured a three part interview with Toni Maguire, the archaeologist and anthropologist from Belfast who has uncovered the graves of thousands of unbaptized babies in Milltown Cemetery and the Bog Meadows area known as cillini.

Cillini means "little graveyard" in Irish. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

DaddyORadio Dedicates an hour to Cillini

December 15 a 1 hour IRISH Show starting at 9:00 Am E.S.T.for all listeners of DaddyORadio. It is being dedicated to Cillini. 
Send in your requests to 
Phone US (803) 661 3441 or 
E-Mail address: mailto:daddyoradio@juno.com
For those of you who may be tuning into DaddyORadio for the first time, read on to learn about Cillini. 
Thank you so very much from the H.U.G. Alliance to DaddyORadio for supporting such a worthwhile and important cause.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Update on Milltown Cemetery Investigation of Geophysical Anomalies

Joint Press Release by Trustees of Milltown Cemetery and
Northern Archeological Consultancy Ltd.

30th November 2011

Investigation of Geophysical Anomalies

Milltown Cemetery Belfast

In spring and early summer 2011, on the instructions of Father Martin Graham and on behalf of The Milltown Cemetery Trustees, a non-intrusive geophysical investigation was carried out by RSK STATS Geoconsult Ltd within an area of Milltown Cemetery and Bog Meadows, Belfast totaling 37 acres in size. Of this, 6 acres were located at the bottom of the current Milltown Cemetery, whilst the remaining 31 acres were within the Bog Meadows which is owned by the Ulster Wildlife Trust.  This survey was commissioned to determine the possible presence and location of graves in the vicinity of the current cemetery. In order to do this several geophysical techniques were utilised to provide the most reliable and complete information with regards to the possible presence and location of graves in the various ground types around the site.

It should be noted that while the geophysical surveys have provided some evidence for graves at the site it has identified some anomalies which may derive from other causes The survey was a highly specialised piece of work, but as noted throughout the report it cannot be definitive in asserting whether or not a specific location had been used for human burial. To confirm or refute the presence of burials it is necessary to investigate by trenching.

As a result of the techniques employed a combined anomaly map, illustrating areas of potential disturbance was produced and a series of recommendations made.

It was recommended that a representative sample of medium and low confidence possible graves indicated by the data be targeted in areas across the 6-acre and 31-acre sections to prove the nature of these obstructions. It was also recommended that broader areas within the resistivity data that potentially correlate with graves be investigated using appropriate forensic techniques. Where data suggests heterogeneous ground and where the geophysical signals from any graves present may have been masked the areas should be investigated in order to rule out the presence of graves. Where magnetic data show discrete signals that correlate with the location of anomalies indicated from the radar data all or a sample of these locations should be investigated. It was recommended to target a number of the anomalies that are in close proximity to anomalies considered to be more likely due to graves, and also a small representative sample of locations elsewhere in order to provide confidence that these anomaly types are not likely to represent graves.

Proposed works
Subsequent to a geophysical survey at Milltown Cemetery carried out in early Summer 2011, Northern Archaeological Consultancy Ltd were contracted, in September 2011, to propose a test trenching exercise to fulfill the recommendations of the geophysical survey and subsequently investigate a sample of recorded anomalies to determine whether or not they are burial related.

It was proposed that a series of test trenches be hand excavated through a selection of the anomalies to determine whether they are present as a result of burials and if not to establish, if possible, the cause of the anomaly. As well as this we have been asked to investigate two areas currently laid out as burial plots within the cemetery to establish whether or not there are burials present, and to investigate part of the area of the easternmost cemetery road as it appears that there are a series of anomalies running along it which suggest burials along its current length.  The 51 locations (3 in the area relating to the drainage works for the Ulster Wildlife Trust and 45 in the area relating to the area surveyed during the Phase 2 Survey have been chosen to examine a variety of anomaly types and as wide an extent of the site as possible, without disturbing more than necessary. As the area with the greatest concentration of targets has been returned to the cemetery with the assumption that the vast majority of contacts are burials it is been deemed unnecessary to investigate that section other than to investigate the former car park areas and the road, as well as the specific areas requested in the southern and northern parts of the cemetery. The trenches, will be laid out on the ground by the persons who conducted the survey; RSK.

A series of 51, 1m wide trenches, totaling around 585m in length, will be excavated by hand, to establish the underlying ground conditions and to locate the nature and extend of burials across the site.  Where appropriate, the excavation may require using a mini digger or other small mechanical excavator with a flat bucket (sheugh bucket), to remove rubble or lift hard surfaces but will not be used in locating burials. The sod and vegetation will be lifted, stored separately and re-laid after back filling to minimise disturbance after the investigation is over. To be certain if burials are present or absent the excavation will continue to the water table, undisturbed subsoil or to the surface of any burial or reason for the anomaly.  Manual techniques will be used where suspected burials are encountered, or if delicate work is required.  It is likely that most of the anomalies are visible or present within 1m of the surface, though this may not be the case if multiple burials are present.

Work will be carried out in three phases with trenching in Phase 1 being 9 trenches (Trenches 1 to 9) totaling around 220m located in the current cemetery and in the 6 acres returned to the Trustees of Milltown. 38 trenches total around 335m in length (Trenches 10 to 47) and are located in the land currently owned by the Ulster Wildlife Trust. A further 4 trenches 47-51, around 30m in length, have been requested following consultation with all concerned parties, these will be undertaken as Phase 3.

Trenches will be backfilled as the work progresses rather than left open to minimise potential for injury or further disturbance. This part of the work will be carried out using a mechanical excavator as will hard surface and rubble removal, under the direction and supervision of the archaeologist. 

Any burials or archaeological sites or features discovered during archaeological trial trenching will be preserved in situ. If it is deemed to be a potential grave it will be investigated to the level where it is possible to determine whether or not it is an actual human burial. If a burial is uncovered the relevant contacts will be informed. They will be located using GPS, and marked on a master plan created using an EDM.  A report detailing this information will be created and submitted to the relevant persons subsequent to the investigation.  Please note that no excavation or removal of burials and/or archaeological remains will be undertaken during this investigation and that no invasive archaeological excavation can be undertaken prior to NIEA consultation and approval of a scheme of works.

Unauthorised burials
There is the potential for burials to be uncovered during this investigation that were not sanctioned by the Catholic Church or the management and staff of the cemetery  If such  burials are uncovered within the area in the ownership or formerly in the ownership of the trustees of Milltown Cemetery it is an unauthorised burial. If this is the case the site investigation will be halted in that area, Father Martin Graham, and the other representatives of the cemetery and Ulster Wildlife Trust will be contacted and the PSNI will be informed.   Their requirements will then be followed.

For more information, contact

Fr Edward McGee
Down and Connor Diocese
Media Liaison Officer
Tel. 07811144268

Sunday, October 23, 2011

In memory of the Family of Babies Children and Adults who are Buried in The Bog Meadows area of Miltown Cemetery and Throughout the Island of Ireland

Written by Aine Mac Aohda


Sister Monica had a special box
sat on her wooden desk beside her cane
her roll book, rosaries and bible.
Collections for the little mites
limbo babies
pagan babies
lost souls
the unbaptised
Nothing more to be said.
At age six we prayed hard for the babies
nameless and godless and without
questioning the word of God
or Mother Monica we felt loss.
I held an image of a lost soul in my mind
carried it with me into secondary school.
In childhood overheard muttered prayers
A grandmother weeping
a trail of tears when thought un-noticed.
Visits to ancient church ruins
flowers laid by the old stones
prayers said while watching the invisible
blow leaves around the ruins.
Babies denied recognition
Buried on the outer edge of their parish churches
Babies who had no place in heaven.
Their sin, still born, unbaptised at the time of death.
Parents lost in the mire of faith, grieved alone.
Under the landscapes of boundaries
and fields many mass graves lie denied.
For them I mourn…