Memorial for babies buried in Belfast mass grave to be unveiled
Families of more than 7,000 infants buried in an unmarked grave have welcomed a new memorial that will be unveiled at the Baby Haven in Belfast City Cemetery today.
The unveiling and dedication of a poignant sculpture comes after a long fight to ensure all 7,160 babies buried in plot Z1 between 1945 and 1996 are remembered.
The campaign was led by Agnes Close, whose son Maxwell was interred there in 1973 following his tragic death just nine hours after he was born on January 15.
"In the past, baby loss was treated very differently," Mrs Close said.
"Many families, including my own, were not permitted to see or hold our babies when they died, or to plan a funeral.
"To finally see this beautiful memorial in place gives recognition not just to our babies but also to the personal loss suffered in private by so many families."
The 65-year-old grandmother has assisted many families of babies who were stillborn or died shortly after birth to trace the remains of children in the mass grave.
Pat Stringer will attend the emotional ceremony in her parents' absence to ensure her sister is remembered. "Many parents are no longer around to share in this special event," she said.
"My sister, brothers and I feel privileged that we can be part of this. I know that our own parents would have been so grateful that their eight-month-old daughter Diane, who was buried here 60 years ago, has at last been afforded this dignity."
A previous piece commissioned by Belfast City Council was rejected following a public consultation in 2017.
Mrs Close was among the many parents who expressed concerns over the memorial, which featured a Bonsai tree.
"The memorial should be self-explanatory," she said at the time. "We've always said people walking past the memorial should know what it is. It was an art piece - it wasn't representative of the babies. I would like people to know that this is the resting place of many babies, so there has to be a baby in it."
It resulted in sculptor Charlotte Howarth, who consulted with family members to come up with the more suitable design, being appointed by the local authority.
The new hand-carved sculpture depicts a baby sleeping on a bed of leaves with a moving inscription on the back.
"There is no foot too small that it cannot leave an imprint on this world," it reads.
Families have expressed "immense gratitude" to Belfast City Council for facilitating today's event.
They also thanked all the political parties for supporting the project and praised the "wonderful" artist behind the memorial, which will stand for generations.
"We could not have wished for a more beautiful and fitting tribute to our babies," Mrs Close said. "These babies were and are part of our families, always loved and never forgotten."