22 October 2009 Edition
Bereaved parents seek consultation on the future of their children's resting place
BY ELLA O’DWYER
LURLEEN BYRNE is spokesperson for Angels Forever, a parents’ group campaigning to stop the construction of a memorial garden on the children’s’ burial plot, known as ‘The Angels’ Plot’ in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery pending proper consultation.
There are 40,000 burials in shared graves in the Angels’ Plot and this children’s’ plot has traditionally been adorned with childhood mementoes and tributes like teddy bears, wind-chimes and hearts. These tokens of love and loss have contributed to grieving parents’ recovery after the tragedy of losing a child. Now the Glasnevin Trust is pushing to have a memorial garden constructed on the plot and is insistent that all the childlike memorabilia be removed from the graves. Many parents over the years specifically chose the Glasnevin Angels’ Plot for the very reason that they could put childhood tokens on the graves; so, to be told now, after inadequate consultation, that they must allow the graves to be changed in this way is causing a lot of hurt.
Lurleen, who has a baby daughter buried in the plot, only learnt about the proposed changes when she read about it in the classified section of the Irish Independent.
“I first saw a notification in the Irish Independent in September this year. It was pure coincidence that I happened to buy that paper that day and read about the plan to create a Victorian garden in the Angels’ Plot and that all personal items had to be removed from the graves by 12 October or they’d be removed by cemetery staff and they’d be stored until December. If parents didn’t collect them by then the items would be disposed of.
“What really jolted me into trying to do something to stop the development was seeing an elderly man on RTÉ removing items from a baby’s grave in the plot. I felt so sorry for the man.
“In some cases it has taken years for parents to even locate their child’s grave because back in the 1960s it was common for stillborn babies to be removed from the hospital and buried straight away. The parents might not even have been told the gender of the child. So, after years and years searching for the graves of their loved ones, they are told they have to remove the shrines they eventually got the chance to erect.”
Actual ownership of the graves is also in dispute. “Everybody paid to have their children buried in the plot. We paid money to Glasnevin Cemetery to bury our children and paid Glasnevin to put the names on the headstones.
“Glasnevin is saying that they own the land and that they allowed the burials for free and that they were paid to open the graves but that wasn’t the case in my situation. I rang Glasnevin, they told me the fee, and I paid it and got a receipt. I was never given any rules or regulations.
“When I buried my daughter in the new Angels’ Plot there were lots of graves that had toys and personal mementos on them and that’s why I buried her there.”
One of the actions being taken by the Angels Forever group is to go to the graveyard every day to see what’s going on.
“The parents go to their own child’s grave every day because we are getting conflicting messages. We’re being given conflicting information from the Glasnevin group. Last Saturday week, they sent me an e-mail to state that they are suspending work to allow parents to remove items from the graves who didn’t have time to do so by 12 October and to allow people with queries to contact them. In actual fact, two days later, on the Monday, they had already removed items from people’s graves. I know that for a fact. I have photographs of graves showing what they were like before and what they’re like now.”
Sinn Féin submitted a motion to Dublin City Council calling for a halt to the work on the plot but Lurleen says:
“The Glasnevin representatives are saying Dublin City Council has nothing to do with them. They seem to think they don’t have to answer to anyone. But they have responsibilities. They took our money, they buried our children, and they allowed us to buy things in their own shop specifically for babies’ graves for years and years: windmills, toys, little hearts and items like that. Some of the grave staff have actually offered to sign our petition.
“Glasnevin is saying that the Irish Stillbirth and Neonatal Society (ISLANDS) are behind it. But they only have 2,000 members in the whole of Ireland and only 25% of them have babies buried in Glasnevin. We have thousands of parents supporting us, contacting us by e-mail and letter.
“Our children didn’t live but they were carried and delivered and they’re entitled to respect in death as they would in life.”
While it would have been far preferable for the issues around the Angels’ Plot to have been resolved directly between the Glasnevin Trust and the Angels Forever group, that didn’t come about and the parents’ group felt compelled to go down the legal route.
“We’ve taken some legal action. Our legal team is sending letters to Glasnevin Cemetery, to Mr McCullough [CEO of the Glasnevin Trust] and to the Cemeteries Committee because they are are stating one thing and Mr McCullough is saying something else.
“Dublin Cemeteries Committee, through their solicitors, contacted our legal team saying work would be suspended but they never said it was to allow people to remove memorabilia and items from the graves. Then Mr McCullough issued a statement on their own website to say work is suspended but only to allow parents to remove the items. Then in the second paragraph it says work will go ahead as planned.
“So you have to question who is calling the shots? Is it George McCullough or is it the Dublin Cemeteries Committee?
“We’re taking legal advice at the moment. At the end of the day, all we want is a full public and independent consultation.”
Sinn Féin Vice-President Mary Lou McDonald supports the parents in their endeavour to be afforded a proper opportunity to be consulted on the future of their children’s resting place.
“I spoke with Mr McCullough twice and basically told him he should admit to having made a mistake in thinking that Glasnevin could go ahead with the refurbishment without talking to the families first.
“The sensitivities are self-evident. None of the parents I spoke with disagreed that some work needed to be done on the plot. It’s in the families’ interests to have aesthetically pleasing surroundings where their children are laid to rest but they should have been part of the planning and shown proper respect.
“I understand that in the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising that Glasnevin will want the graveyard in the best possible condition but the children’s plot is not a tourist attraction. The bottom line is that the work should be suspended until a proper consultation with the parents has taken place.”