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Parish priest blesses unmarked graves 28.04.09

“These small children are saints in heaven”

by Linda McGrory

A LOCAL historian in Inishowen is working with a parish priest in search of unmarked graves containing the remains of unbaptised babies and infants buried in times gone by. Fr Paddy O'Kane, parish priest of Moville, has begun seeking out the rural burial grounds of scores of infants whom the Catholic Church would not bury in consecrated ground because they died before baptism. Unbaptised babies were buried like this right up until the 1960s.
Fr O'Kane said he was glad to be fulfilling a promise he made to parishioners shortly after he moved to the Moville area.
Moville parish priest, Fr Paddy O'Kane, blesses an unmarked grave site in the Tremone area. Also pictured are, from left, Dan McFeeley, Eileen Harkin, John A McLaughlin, Moira Farren and Caroline Crumlish.
"Before the Vatican Council, the Church taught that children who died before baptism went to a place called Limbo and were not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground," explained Fr O'Kane. "Thankfully, the Church has changed her teaching and now believes a God of mercy will not prevent them from being welcomed into heaven. So burials now take place in family graves."
Carrowmenagh-based historian John A McLaughlin has been liaising with the local parish priest in locating the burial grounds. During Easter week, he took around a dozen people including the local parish priest to a number of unmarked burial grounds in the townlands of Mossyglen, Tremone, Carrowmenagh and Lecamey. Poignantly, some children had also been buried in the ditch of Ballinacrae graveyard. Fr O'Kane said this was because families wanted their infants to be buried as close to their relatives as possible.
He described how John A McLaughlin led him to some very remote rural locations in parts of fields hidden among the undergrowth and whin bushes.
"I blessed the plots, prayed for the families of the children and for forgiveness for the Church for any hurt caused by the harsher attitudes of a former age.
"These small children are now saints in heaven and do not need our prayers," added Fr O'Kane. He also outlined how Fr Brian Brady had undertaken similar blessing ceremonies when he was parish priest of Malin.
Meanwhile, John A said it was not difficult to lead Fr O'Kane to the unmarked graves. "Our generation would know these unmarked sites very well from when we were growing up as children. When we walked home at night, we would pass them as quickly as possible. We had a fear but also a reverence for these graves," he said. During the Easter outing, Fr O'Kane also blessed the unmarked graves of two adult men. "The first was under a whin bush in the Sheskin where a man called 'Manus the Rib' had been buried in the no-man's land between the two townlands, thus doubling the rejection of church and community for his actions, as he had hanged himself. The other spot was at Portabhaid, Tremone Bay, where a drowned sailor had been washed ashore and buried on the nearest sandbank," he added. Meanwhile, it is anticipated that an open-air Mass will be held this summer at the Mass Rock at Ballymagarraghy, overlooking Tremone Bay, to remember all the people who suffered for their religion during Penal times.
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