Unmarked burials dig at Milltown cemetery
Part of Milltown cemetery is to be excavated to check if there are any unmarked burials, the Catholic Church said.
A series of 51 trenches will be dug, mainly by hand, to identify if there are any human remains in the west Belfast graveyard and nearby bog meadows.
Anomalies have been discovered in the land which merit further inspection, the trustees of the cemetery said.
The trustees said: "There is the potential for burials to be uncovered during this investigation that were not sanctioned by the Catholic Church or the management and staff of the cemetery.
"If such burials are uncovered within the area in the ownership or formerly in the ownership of the trustees of Milltown cemetery it is an unauthorised burial."
It follows earlier radar investigation which showed potential anomalies or disturbances in the land.
Six acres at the bottom of the cemetery and 31 acres from the Ulster Wildlife Trust bog meadows will be excavated.
No excavation or removal of burials and/or archaeological remains will be undertaken during this investigation and no invasive archaeological excavation can be undertaken prior to Northern Ireland Environment Agency consultation and approval of a scheme of works, the trustees said. If an unauthorised burial is uncovered police will be informed.
The statement said the work would investigate two areas currently laid out as burial plots within the cemetery to establish whether there are burials present, and to investigate part of the area of the easternmost cemetery road as it appears that there are a series of anomalies running along it which suggest burials.
The 51 locations have been chosen to examine a variety of anomaly types and as wide an extent of the site as possible, without disturbing more than necessary.
In 2009 a separate dispute over a plot of land near the cemetery, where hundreds of babies are believed to be buried, was resolved.
The land, which once formed part of the cemetery, was sold by the Catholic Church to the Ulster Wildlife Trust charity some years ago.
After a campaign by relatives, the trust agreed to return it to the church.