Ireland's unknown babies

Irish children

There are thousands of baby burial grounds across Ireland, writes Graham Clifford at, especially on the western seabord.

As evening fell, my grandfather Denis loaded two small coffins on to his cart and made the short journey down boreens (unpaved roads) to a field overlooking the point at which the Caragh River meets the sea in Dooks, Co Kerry. Alone, after sunset, he laid his twin baby sons to rest in a children's burial ground, a cillín, and placed a small stone at the site to mark their final resting place. Unconsecrated ground – hidden away.

My grandmother, whose first son Timmy died at the age of six from unknown causes when the family lived in London, remained at home to silently deal with her own personal heartbreak. Three children ... gone.

It was the early 1930s and infant mortality rates stood at 7pc – it was a different Ireland gripped by poverty, unbending religious adherence and enduring traditional beliefs.

As the Government announces a commission of inquiry into all mother and child homes after the discovery of a mass grave of children at the former Bons Secours Home in Tuam, thousands of other babies lie forgotten in cilliní across the country.

'This was the society that gave birth to the institutions,' says Dr Lindsey Earner-Byrne of UCD's School of History. In Kerry there are 270 burial grounds registered. Scores more are thought to dot the South-West.

'You'd be looking at thousands of such burial grounds across the country especially along the western seaboard,' estimates Kerry County archeologist Michael Connolly.

Though the twins were baptised, my father, Thomas, was never told the names of his brothers, but now the family will attempt to discover their baptismal records. We believe the children were born prematurely and died days later.

During the decades, few locals have sought the resting places of their brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles.

The overgrown field was gradually erased from memory – perhaps too painful an episode in local history to revisit. It's believed it was last used to bury babies in the early 1950s.

- Graham Clifford

Read more:

Ireland's lost limbo babies: A very personal journey (

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