Rath Coffey, also known as Raheen or the Fairy Hill.
I visited Rath Coffey before Bealtaine, when the leaves were just a haze on the branches and the Aos Sídhe had not yet emerged to travel the land.
A boreen skirts the river and leads to a tangled ditch filled with brambles but once clambered over, the mound is just a short walk away.
Although close to the road, it remains somehow remote and isolated.
The ráth is home to the Good People and there are many stories which relate the consequences of interfering with the trees and land about it.
Human activity near the Otherworld mound is unwelcome,
today Raheen Field is used to graze cattle.
It was understood that entering the mound led to underground passages which radiated outwards, enabling the Good People to travel beneath the land to various locations in the neighbourhood.
One such passage led to another local Fairy Fort near to the home of a family, the Bells, who were tormented by invisible hands.
Why they attracted this attention isn’t recorded, though it was known that the unseen activity led the householders to block up a window.
The strong belief in the Good People meant that the Fairy Hill was respected but avoided and it’s position, close to the river Barrow, added to the perception that it was a liminal place, between this world and the Otherworld.
Known as ‘the graveyard of Pagans’ the rath invokes an air of sadness even
on a clear spring morning.
Rath Coffey once held an important role in the community but today few remember its’ secret: the mound was a cillín, an unofficial burial ground, where grieving families came to bury their unbaptised babies.
Stones were placed to mark small graves on Rath Coffey.
The Church held that stillborn or unbaptised babies who died soon after birth, could not be regarded as members of the Church.
As they were considered to inhabit the Limbo of Children, a place between Heaven and Hell, these infants were denied internment in the consecrated grounds of Catholic cemeteries.
In the face of this decree some parents, if they had land, buried their infant in the corner of a field or garden, others had no choice but to lay their babies to rest in a once sacred place, away from prying eyes.
This ruling also applied to people who had died by suicide, mothers who died
in childbirth but hadn’t been churched and strangers whose religion was unknown.
But the greatest number of those buried in pagan graves were unbaptised babies.
Throughout rural Ireland cillíní were in special locations, at the in-between places;
by Megalithic tombs and ring forts, on beaches and islands, near sacred wells and old churches
or beneath lone whitethorn trees.
Lone thorn and stone on Rath Coffey.
Perhaps some families believed that their infants would be cared for by their Ancestors or by the Good People when there was no place in heaven for them.
Research in 2013 recorded 1,394 children’s burial grounds within the Republic.
It was customary in rural areas to perform burials between dusk on the day the infant died
and sunrise the following day. Often the father would be alone when he dug the grave and marked
the site with stones.
In one community, where 21 babies had been buried, WHITE QUARTZ had been used to outline each resting place.
Raithin Well, Co. Clare which is surrounded by an air of melancholy.
Research after my visit showed the presence of a cillín behind the well,
close by the lakeshore.
Visiting the cillíní was a very moving experience for me, remembering the lost infants and the countless bereaved women brought me to tears and it is unsurprising that many of these places are still shrouded in aura of sorrow.
However these lonely burial places are now being remembered and brought back into the community.
This is a reclaimed ring fort in the Midlands, used by generations as an unofficial burial
ground for their unbaptised babies until recent times.
The site was cleared of brambles and undergrowth, the stones placed upright where they had fallen and new trees planted to create a place of remembrance and play.
On some days the space is filled with the laughter and shouts of local children
and offerings are left.
As time passes the fort will hold happier memories but the lost children will always be recalled by local people.
And the land still remembers.
Please take 30 minutes to watch Oileán na Marbh, Island of the Dead, a programme first shown on TG4, broadcast in Irish with English sub-titles.