Children’s Burial Grounds, Co. Mayo

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An introduction to a survey of these, and other forgotten burial grounds, in the West. R. B. Aldridge.

Particular attention does not seem to have been given to the recording and mapping of what are known as “Children’s Burial Grounds,” primarily used for the burying of unbaptised children.

Probably in most cases unbaptised or stillborn children were not permitted to be buried in consecrated ground, so that special plots outside the normal burial grounds were very necessary. In more recent years these sites have continued to be used as C.B.G’s; certainly in many cases burials have taken place within the last twenty years, and even up to as late as 1964 in one case.

Obviously in penal times, famines, and before the building of many R.C. Chapels and graveyards during the past 170 years, the distances from isolated villages and farms to a consecrated burial ground were often too great or too difficult for normal use. In many cases I have used the term C.B.G., when it is most probable that the site was also used for adult burials in the past.

In some cases there were sites of ancient churches or graveyards, or of ruined abbeys etc., that could be used; in others a convenient rath, or portion of one, was set aside for burials, or a small piece of ground outside a village fenced in; these latter sites not being consecrated ground were used probably for the burial of unbaptised children only. A rath being considered as pagan in origin, was an obvious choice for the burial of the unbaptised. There are no suitable raths in much of the bogland of the west, and though adults might have been taken long distances to consecrated ground, small local enclosures were made for unbaptised children to be buried in. These were often used for the burials of adults also. All the above can be considered as “Communal burial” as opposed to “Private burial places.” O’Sullivan deals with the customs connected with children’s burials in many parts of the country, and gives a list of some sites, viz gardens, fields, hedges, bushes, a cliff ledge (Donegal), high water mark, outside a church wall, or to the north side of the graveyard. The first five sites can be looked on as “Private burial grounds.” The others are “Communal,” such as the one at Inver, on the east side of the Broadhaven at high tide mark, (Mayo 10), and another near Ballycroy, marked “Druid’s Circle” on the map (Mayo 44). Near the village of Cross is “Toberaningaun Lisheen (Children’s Burial Ground)” with a spring well in the centre of it; in this is a grave and headstone to Private Hopkins, R.I.R., dated 1919 (Mayo 121).

TYPES OF SITE
(a) a prehistoric tomb
(b) a very slightly elevated flat rectangular or circular piece of ground.
(c) a small plot inside the vallum of a rath.
(d) a small plot outside a rath.
(e) a small piece cut off from the inside perimeter of a rath.
(f) a mound 5 or 6 feet high.
(g) marked by a cairn of stones.
(h) in an old graveyard with remains of a building, used only as a C.B.G. now.
(i) inside the foundations of an old church or abbey building.
(j) with the reputed site of a vanished church nearby.
(k) extensively used burial places, probably village burial grounds before the building of any nearby chapels, and now C.B.G.’s only.

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