Patrick Derrane 5 months
Mary Blake 4 months
Matthew Griffin 3 months
Mary Kelly 6 months
Peter Lally 11 months
Julia Hynes 1 year
James Murray 1 month
The list goes on... Names, old names, not the sort of names you see in baby lists anymore...but they were probably top of the baby names list in those years...and because they have those old names, the Marys, the Julias, the Matties, the James, the Mauds, the Madeleine, the Annies, the Kathleens, it is as if they grew up, left their babyness behind them and assumed lives that matched the maturity of the names they had... It is as if they got out of that wretched place and went on to live lives. To become mainstays in communities. To form the basis for almost 800 families, and in the process, be the ancestors of thousands more.
They might have gone on to be footballers and hurlers, and teachers and leaders. They might have gone on to be great men and women in the hearts of 800 townlands. They might have met each other here and there, and nodded a silent nod when they met; a nod to signify that one knew the other was in that place, and that somehow they had come out of it, and gone on to be what they were. That they had lived lives of great length, had lived and loved and made mistakes and made great decisions, that they had gone on to fulfil what their humanity should have allowed them.
Margaret Doorhy 8 months
Patrick Leonard 9 months
Mary Coyne 1 year
Mary Kate Walsh 2 years
Christina Burke 1 year
Mary Margaret Jordan 18 months
John Joseph McCann 8 months
This week, after a process that has seemed interminable but which in reality has only been a few years, we hear that they will lie in that ground for another winter.
And another spring, and another summer, and another autumn.
That it will be at least that stage before we disturb their earth and attempt to allocate the names to them that have been listed in many places. Names that should mean just more than words on a page. Look at each and imagine the person behind it. Imagine them your mother, your sister, your grandmother, your uncle, your grandfather, your father. There in their swaddling clothes, denied the opportunity to experience the life that we all have.
Mary Kate Cahill 2 weeks
Mary Margaret Lydon 3 months
Festus Sullivan 1 month
Annie Curley 3 weeks
Nuala Lydon 5 months
Bridget Collins 5 weeks
Patrick Joseph Coleman 1 month
Joseph Hannon 6 weeks
This is not a simple process. There are matters scientific, practical, of data, and dignity to be considered. If it were possible, this matter would be brought to an end today and they could all be identified and laid to rest in a place where perhaps they belong more. In the hearts of the communities they never got to walk. Maybe on green hills they never got to climb. Alongside relatives they never got to meet.
Life has a way of forgetting about people. What’s hot one day is lukewarm the next, and cold the week after. What is a priority now, might not be a priority for long. Those who have made the decisions now, might not be in their decision-making position when all those seasons have come to pass. Those who replace them might have different thoughts and motivations.
The 796 should be passing away in their dotage around now, borne to their graves by the stiff shoulders of their offspring. They should be waked to the hum of kettles making strong tea to wash down tear-stained sandwiches.
They should be having funerals, nice, respectful, and dignified. With their names engraved subsequently into brass and limestone, to bear testimony that they had been born, they had lived, they had contributed, and that when they could give no more, they faded from life like the setting sun. That they had seen out a life of matter, of import, of giving and receiving.
This they were denied. And so they were left, forgotten, without names or marker, without honour or dignity.
Until Catherine Corless gave them life by giving them names.
Let this be their last winter in that place. A place where they never knew happiness, where their status determined who and what they were.
We owe it to them.
Let us help them out of where they are. Let this be the last cold winter they spend in that patch of ground.
Let us place our hands into theirs, to pass on the warmth of our flowing blood and let them know that they will never be forgotten.