A Lurgan man has told how, as a 14-year-old, he and other family members buried a baby in a shoebox on the outskirts of a local cemetery.
He said the memory of burying his nephew, on unconsecrated ground at St Colman’s Cemetery, will haunt him forever.
His story comes to light at a time when the un-Christian burial of children is in focus, with revelations that hundreds of children are buried in a mass unmarked grave in Tuam, County Galway, at the Bon Secours convent.
Also in the news as recently as last week was a story about a mass grave at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast where so-called ‘limbo babies’ are buried.
In Lurgan the same situation, whereby unbaptised babies were denied a Christian burial, is understood to have led to the creation of unmarked graves around the perimeter of the cemetery at North Circular Road.
The Lurgan man, who wished to remain anonymous, shared with us his memories of the day in the late sixties when his family used the mass plot for his nephew’s body.
He said: “We took him out of a hospital bed and put him into a shoe box which had wood down the sides to reinforce it.
“Then we put the box into the boot and drove to St Colman’s. We dug a hole, and only a few inches down I remember seeing lots of other tiny bodies. We made space for the shoebox and put it in and covered it. It’s something that will stay with me forever.
“I still remember the exact spot he was buried even though there’s no markings.”
He said the bodies of hundreds of babies were buried all around the outskirts of St Colman’s as the church would “have nothing to do with these children” because they hadn’t been Christened.
A number of gravestones, commissioned in more recent years, on the grass perimeter of the cemetery support the theory that children had been buried there in unmarked graves.
“Only now, after years of silence, are people recognising these children by putting gravestones here,” said the Lurgan man.
When asked for a response the Catholic Church referred the ‘MAIL’ to a statement welcoming the announcement by the Irish Government of an investigation into mother and baby homes.
Although the statement related to mass unmarked graves it was not a specific reply to our query about the situation in St Colman’s.
In the statement the church apologises for the hurt caused and admits they need to find out more about what this period in social history was really like and to consider the legacy it has left.
The statement reads: “We welcome the announcement of a statutory Commission of Investigation into mother and baby Homes in Ireland.
“The harrowing story which is continuing to emerge of life and death in mother and baby homes has shocked the people of Ireland. It is disturbing that the residents of these homes suffered disproportionately high levels of mortality and malnutrition, disease and destitution.
“Sadly we are being reminded of a time when unmarried mothers were often judged, stigmatised and rejected by society, including the church. This culture of isolation and social ostracising was harsh and unforgiving. The Gospel calls us to treat everyone, particularly children and the most vulnerable, with dignity, love, compassion and mercy. We must ensure that all children and their mothers always feel wanted, welcomed and loved. Mindful of the words of Jesus, ‘Let the little children come to me, because it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs’, we apologise for hurt caused by the church as part of this system.
“It is important that the commission, and all of us, approach these matters with compassion, determination and objectivity. We need to find out more about what this period in our social history was really like and to consider the legacy it has left us as a people. Above all we need to enable those who were directly affected to receive recognition and appropriate support. We therefore welcome the Government’s intention that the Commission of Investigation will have the necessary legal authority to examine all aspects of life in the homes. The investigation should inquire into how these homes were funded and, crucially, how adoptions were organised, processed and followed up.
“We also support the Irish Government’s intention to publish legislation on ‘tracing’ rights for adopted children and their mothers with due regard to the rights of all involved. “The investigation could seek to establish a clear and straightforward method for ‘tracing’ and put in place the necessary resources to assist those who are searching for their parents or children.
“To facilitate progress in the investigation we encourage all those who had any responsibility for setting up, running or overseeing the homes or adoption agencies to gather any documentation or information that might be of assistance. We will continue to work at a local level to ensure that burial sites are appropriately marked so that the deceased and their families will be recognised with dignity and never be forgotten.
“We ask for prayers for all who are personally affected in any way.”