Dingle Peninsula Old Burial Grounds
Old Burial Grounds
The custom of setting apart a special place for the burial of very young or unbaptised children appears to have been common practice in Ireland until the 19th century. Numerous such burial grounds, known as Children's Burial Grounds, Cillíní, Calluraghs, Caldraghs or Cealhúinacha, are recorded on the Ordnance Survey maps, particularly in the west of Ireland. There is a marked decline in their numbers as one moves eastwards but, as Hurley points out, this western bias may partly reflect greater survival, both of sites and of folk traditional, in the west. Frequently the locations chosen were abandoned Early Christian church sites or ringforts, but children were also buried in such places as haggards and fields, boundary fences, cross-roads, under lone bushes, in cliff-clefts, on the sea-shore or outside a graveyard wall. Children's burial grounds are numerous in Corca Dhuibhne where local traditional preserves the memory of over 50 such sites, located frequently within a pre-existing early ecclesiastical site or ringfort. Those sites which are not associated with an older monument are usually marked now by little more than an area of uncultivated stony ground, often raised above the general surroundings. Within the burial grounds, the individual graves may be marked by a low mound or by a low uninscribed standing stone and sometimes the graves themselves are visible above ground as small box-like arrangements of stones. The presence of quartz pebbles is also a common feature.
Local folklore relates that adults, particularly strangers or suicides, were sometimes interred in these burial grounds and a small number of sites on the peninsula are known only as old burial grounds, with no recorded traditional of a particular association with the burial of children. The Ordnance Survey recorded many instances of the continued use of children's burial grounds into the 19th century and an example of the custom was recorded in Co. Mayo as recently as 1964. When the custom began in this country has not yet, however, been established. The Early Christian settlement at Reask was reused as a calluragh after the abandonment of its oratory and clochauns, and Fanning suggests that Reask and other similar sites 'were only finally abandoned and adopted as cealhúnacha in early medieval times'. However, it is possible that the custom is older than this and, without excavation, the antiquity of individual examples remains uncertain.
This above information was sourced from the Archaeological Survey of the Dingle Peninsula (1986) and provided to dodingle.com courtesy of Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne. Republication of the extract or any part therin, in any form or capacity, is strictly prohibited without the express permission of the publishers. © Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne 1986-2010.
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