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Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin

Cillín by Tommy Weir

Cillín by Tommy Weir

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From the 7th Century, through the Middle Ages and continuing to the late 20th Century, unbaptised children in Ireland were rarely buried in consecrated ground. Denied access to the graveyard, they were buried in cillíní instead. ‘Cillín’ translates as ‘little church’, they are unmarked rough ground, often sited within prehistoric sites, ancient stone circles or by standing stones. These are sites associated with various superstitions and were thus not likely to be disturbed, they are also places resonant with earlier rituals. These unofficial, unmarked graveyards form a part of the Irish landscape, over 1500 are catalogued across Ireland, there are many others which are not registered. These bleak places, remote, neglected, have been erased from cultural memory, much as the babies were excluded from communal ritual.

The babies were buried in the dark. The day the infant died, the father would take the body from the home and journey on their own to the cillín which could be some distance away. They would bury the infant between nightfall and dawn. The mother remained at home, confined, not permitted to name the baby, often never informed as to the exact burial site.

Cillíní fell out of use as the last century wore on and finally stopped around the 1970s.

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