Relatives whose loved ones are buried in unmarked graves at Belfast’s Bog Meadows have warned that they are opposed to plans for a memorial garden.
A group of relatives is about to launch legal action to block Milltown Cemetery’s planned garden and seek more in-depth investigations to locate what they believe are the graves of up to 30,000 infants buried in the Bog Meadows nature reserve.
Many of the remains found to have been buried in the land on the fringes of Milltown Cemetery were of stillborn and unbaptised babies and the relatives say more and more people are coming forward seeking remains.
The land once belonged to the cemetery but was leased to the Ulster Wildlife Trust in 2000. UWT has just announced a deal with the Trustees of Milltown Cemetery to return 6.1 acres of land confirmed by archaeologists to contain human remains, but the relatives yesterday said they fear more graves may lie in other parts of the Bog Meadows where no archaeological surveys were carried out.
One group — Families of the Milltown Babies — has welcomed the deal and plans for a Memorial Garden on the plot, but the plans have been opposed by another group, who yesterday said they would be taking legal action against them.
The group is calling for the land to be examined by independent professionals to determine all grave locations, grave sizes and the number of burials in each grave, so that graves can be marked with marble crosses and details of the number of adults and children buried in each.
The say all of the land where remains are found should be grassed over, including areas which are currently covered in Tarmac.
Jack Rice, whose baby sister was buried in a grave of up to 80 people when she died at the age of two weeks in 1941, said the group isn’t opposed to a memorial garden, but that disturbing the remains is out of the question for them.
Mr Rice said: “My concerns are that if they built the memorial according to these plans, it will mean excavation. The ground won’t hold it without putting piling down and you can imagine what that will do.
“We want the ground grassed over and the pathways between the graves gritted. We are concerned that if they build this memorial garden it will become nothing but a drinking den.
“We want to put a block on the beginning of any work until such time as a proper survey is done as to the number of graves and how deep they are.”
Collette and Arthur McDaid said they are not going down the road of compensation with the legal bid but are seeking the facts about where their infant daughter is buried.
Maria died after her birth in 1973 and is believed to have been buried in a grave of 125 babies and three adults in the Bog Meadows, but her parents still do not know exactly where.
Mr McDaid said he was calling for an investigation into burials across the whole 37 acres.
“They want to go ahead with the memorial garden but no-one knows what is buried here,” he said. “This is not about monetary gain — I just want to know the true facts and where my daughter is buried.”
The Ulster Wildlife Trust said it had no objections in principle to further surveys being carried out as long as it didn’t cause any damage.
“We would need further information from the relatives as to the proposed nature of the survey,” a spokesperson said.