Infants’ graves sold for adult burials

by Bernie English [email protected]

bishopelectbrendanleahyA LIMERICK couple who lost their premature baby son were horrified to discover that the plot he was buried in was sold for adult burials and no record kept of the children buried there.

Phil and Paul Walsh lost baby William when he was delivered close to six months into Phil’s pregnancy in December 1971.

Paul had the sad task of bringing their son to Mount Saint Lawrence cemetery in a small white box provided by the maternity hospital and a gravedigger interred the baby in a part of the cemetery know as The Innocents’ Plot.

“I visited the plot a few times after that but then life moved on. A couple of years ago, I went up again and I couldn’t believe what I saw – there were adult graves where the Innocents Plot used to be,” Phil told the Limerick Post.

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“The last time I was there, the gravedigger had put a crucifix on the wall to mark the plot but that was gone. There was no sign that any of the babies had ever been buried there”.

Phil sought out a gravedigger to ask what had happened.

“He said the plots had been sold for graves, that they needed the money. I asked him where were the babies who were buried there and what he said was terrible. He said ‘they dug them down deep’. I couldn’t believe it”.

While she was initially shocked, she said she had since moved to anger and frustration.

“It’s been playing on my mind all this time, not just for us but for who knows how many parents who buried children there. How could this happen?”

The Limerick Post learned that the cemetery was owned by the Catholic Church and managed by a committee of five trustees, made up of priests of the various parishes that used the graveyard.

It passed into the ownership of the City Council in 1979.

As a result of queries from the Limerick Post to the Diocese, Bishop Brendan Leahy called in the services of a retired senior Garda to investigate the issue.

He met with the Walshes but Phil says they are not happy with the outcome so far.

“He told us there were no records kept at the time and the Church’s thinking back then about unbaptised babies was different. That they were in Limbo. This is terrible for parents who have children buried there”.

In a statement to the Limerick Post, the Diocese of Limerick said it would erect a memorial at the plot to honour the memory of infants buried there. This follows the completion of a review into burials of the infants at the cemetery initiated after the Walsh’s experience was brought to the attention of the Diocese.

“The matter was brought to the attention of the Diocese in late April by the couple and the review, which was carried out for the diocese by retired Garda Chief Superintendent Gerry Mahon, was started immediately.

Commenting on the findings, Bishop Brendan Leahy said, “We thank the family in question for coming forward and alerting us to this matter. We embarked on this review through former Chief Superintendent Gerry Mahon, mindful of the need to be very sensitive to all concerned.

“A number of key issues have emerged from this review, not least the fact that it appears that the graves of these precious infants were not alone unmarked but there is an absence of records of these burials. As a result, it is not possible to identify exactly where any of the remains are buried, though we are assured that any remains that were discovered as plots were dug, were treated with respect and dignity as they were reinterred.

“While we have not been able to get all the detail we would have wished due to the inadequacy of records, the process has, at least, brought to our attention the burial in consecrated grounds of these infants.

“Arising from this we would like to commemorate these children by placing a memorial in the area where these burials are known to have taken place. We have been in touch with Limerick City and County Council to that end and will meet with them shortly to explore options for this tribute.”

Anyone affected by this matter can contact a dedicated support line at 083 3979167.

The Conclusions of the Mahon Report

*The practice of burying infants at Mount St. Lawrence Cemetery, who died at or before birth, was a long standing one

*A significant proportion of infants were buried in a specific area in the cemetery

*The vast majority of these graves were unmarked and only three such marked graves exist today

*The general practice was that the remains of the deceased infants were handed in at the cemetery

*Save for the three marked graves, there are no records to identify where other infants were buried

*Up until 1979, when the management of the cemetery was transferred to the local authority, it operated under the auspices of a board of Trustees comprising parish priests of five city parishes, St. John’s, St. Mary’s, St. Michael’s, St. Munchin’s and St. Patrick’s and was administered by a local estate agent

*In the years leading up to the management of the cemetery being transferred to the local authority, plots were sold for burials in the area where these infants had traditionally been laid to rest

*Where infant remains were discovered as these plots were dug for burials, the remains were then reinterred in the immediate vicinity. There are no records of the specific location where such remains were reinterred”.