Belfast Telegraph

Tribute stone unveiled for 7,000 babies in mass grave

Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

A grieving mother fulfilled a promise to her son after almost half a century yesterday when she unveiled a memorial to over 7,000 babies buried in a mass grave in Belfast City Cemetery.

Agnes Close, whose son Maxwell was interred in the 'Baby Haven' after his death on January 15, 1973, thanked dozens of other families for supporting her long campaign to recognise the dignity of all 7,160 infants.

"My beautiful son Maxwell was left here 47 years ago, and was my inspiration for this project," she said.

"I promised him I would never give up until he and all the babies resting here were acknowledged. Today that promise was fulfilled."

The 65-year-old grandmother described the special bond and lasting friendships formed between all the relatives who have been involved in the £50,000 project which was taken on by Belfast City Council.

"This memorial means so much to all of us who were unable to see our babies after they died and unable to plan their funeral," she said.

"It gives recognition not just to our babies but to our loss which was suffered in private."

People weeping in Belfast City Cemetery
People weeping in Belfast City Cemetery

Belfast Lord Mayor John Finucane said told all those who gathered beside Plot Z1 for the unveiling of the hand-carved stone depicting a baby on a bed of leaves that it marked an "important and poignant milestone" for everyone involved.

"I trust that the families will consider this a fitting tribute for their loved ones who are buried here and this permanent memorial will ensure that these lives, however short, will always be remembered," he said. "Today is a difficult but necessary day."

All the babies buried at the site between 1945 and 1996 were stillborn or died shortly after birth with the hospital or social services taking responsibility for their burial.

The council holds records for each baby within the plot which lacks specific graves and headstones.

Elizabeth Smyth (72) only traced her daughter Marina's remains to the plot last year with the help of her daughter Katrina.

"She was born on November 11, 1968 and she died the next day," her mum explained. She became ill when mucus got into her lungs because they didn't clean her mouth out. The baby doctor took her to a different hospital and promised me I could see her the next day - but I never saw Marina or that doctor again."

As Elizabeth and Katrina tied a ribbon around a tree in Plot Z1 they expressed happiness that they now have somewhere "proper" to go and remember their "perfect baby girl" Marina Smyth who died almost 51 years ago.

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