In rural Ireland long ago – and often in towns as well – handicapped, deformed or less-able members of the community were hidden away from society or secreted in upper rooms or in barns, I’m told. That is certainly my mother’s recollection and we have all read about such matters in the literature. From what I now learn, they were the lucky ones.
I am assured that it was not an uncommon practice for midwives – and recall there was no Health Service or properly qualified or trained midwives and the task was often ‘handed-down’ within families – to quietly ‘dispose of’ a new-born infant that was not in possession of all his/her faculties.
It is difficult to take this in but if you doubt it, consider why, when there was much greater physical want and medicine was at a primitive stage, there were much fewer disabled people as a fraction of the total population. Also why otherwise would the country be dotted with ‘fields of grace’ or ‘fields of redemption’ which are reputedly the last resting place of such children?
Our photograph shows one such in Upper Fathom. There is no plinth or other memorial to indicate its former use. Perhaps this is unsurprising.
The photo below shows another such, better known as the Pauper’s Graveyard attached to the Workhouse. I have personal experience from my early youth of this second purpose for which it was utilised.
In the late 50’s this graveyard, which buried its last paupers a decade before, was frequently used by the ‘travelling community’ for child burials, for we actually witnessed a number of them.
However we – though we ought not to have done – used the confined field, which had great trees for climbing in, as an isolated playground.
On one occasion I lifted the lid off a discarded shoe-box at the foot of one tree. It contained the dead body of a deformed new-born. We all ran off in terror. Later I did report what I had seen to an adult who reported it to the authorities so that the infant might receive a proper burial.
But the incident remains burned into my psyche. Needless to say I never again infringed on the sanctity of this site.