Ciara Henderson 2023

Trinity College, Dublin

Inse na Leanbh (Village of Children): the use of cillíní for the burial of the unbaptised in rural Ireland in the 19th and 20th centuries [v]

Though Ireland possesses a rich death tradition, such traditions appear absent for infants and more specifically, stillborn infants. This absence is understood in Western culture to be a response to Christian theology and its teaching regarding the liminal status of the unbaptised. Stillborn children were unable to receive the rite of baptism and thus remained unbaptised and consequently were not permitted to be buried within their spiritual community, resulting in separate burial. Burials thus occurred in designated Children’s Burial Grounds (Cillíní) which date ‘overwhelmingly’ to the post-medieval period (Murphy, 2011); and are understood to be a cultural response to dominant Catholic theology evidenced by the time period; their liminal location; a widespread belief in limbo; their status as unconsecrated; and lack of evidence of their use by Protestants (Finlay, 2000; Murphy, 2011). In short, they are commonly believed to be reserved for the exclusive burial of the unbaptised, or perinatal infant. Contrary to the widely held beliefs about the segregated burial of the unbaptised, within cemeteries and children’s burial grounds (Cillíní), this paper provides evidence that Irish burial practices for babies were diverse and where segregation occurs the reasons for doing so are not universal. Using a variety of data sources, this paper examines the evolution of Irish burial practices in the 19th century and the legacy it created for 20th century understanding of parental grief.


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