Stillborn babies buried on remote Donegal island remembered

MORE THAN 200 people travelled to a remote island off the coast of Donegal yesterday to remember more than 500 stillborn babies…

MORE THAN 200 people travelled to a remote island off the coast of Donegal yesterday to remember more than 500 stillborn babies buried in a secret burial ground.

The children, all born between the 18th and 19th centuries, could not be buried on consecrated ground because they had not been baptised.

The memorial service took place after a campaign by local people to remember the children who were laid to rest on Oileán na Marbh (Isle of the Dead).

The poignant event was attended by representatives of the Church of Ireland and Catholic Church.


Séamus Peter Boyle, one of the founding campaigners to have a plaque erected on the island in honour of the dead, said he was happy the souls of those buried could now always be remembered.

“This was so important for our community to remember those on the island and to pass our knowledge on. It is part of our heritage and it is a good thing that it is not forgotten.

“We have all watched the mothers and fathers on the beaches and pier over the years, some going to the island alone, and we knew but it was never really spoken about.

“Now, there is a memorial cross and a commemorative stone to show that they will never be forgotten.”

Mr Boyle (66), from Annagry, was first told about the island by an uncle and decided to act to pay tribute to those who were buried on the remote outcrop close to Carrickfinn.

“Things have changed so much and Oileán na Marbh is no longer a taboo subject.

“Only recently, I was speaking to two ladies who had visited the island and we were talking and they told me that they hadn’t said a prayer for the babies but had said a prayer to the babies. That’s how much things have changed.

“I well remember going with my uncle when I was eight or nine years old and he was fishing off the rocks behind the island and afterwards he would get down on one knee and say a prayer.

“When I asked him what he was doing he told me it was for all the stillborn babies and babies who weren’t baptised. Well, that stayed with me and I grew up hearing different stories so it is a good thing for the whole community that we can talk about it openly now.”

Among those who attended yesterday’s ceremony was Kathleen Hanlon, whose great-aunt was buried on the island.

“We are so happy that we have now found where she was buried and we will be marking her grave.

“We are just so happy that this burial ground is no longer a secret,” she said.

Enscribed on the memorial stone erected by the community are the words: “In memory of the stillborn babies, Famine children and sailors buried here in Oileán na Marbh (Isle of the Dead) up until the early 1900s. Erected and dedicated by the community. ‘Is e an Tiarna m’aoire’.”