During the autumn and winter of 2015/16, another opportunity came up in my capacity of project co-ordinator and facilitating artist for Community Arts Partnership (CAP). This one was at the request of Belfast City Council and was a creative public consultation for a Public Art/Memorial in Belfast City Cemetery. The focus was the Baby Public Plot, Z1. I knew from first hearing that it would be a highly sensitive piece of work but that made it all the more attractive.
The remains of 7893 bodies, mostly babies, were buried within a plot in the City Cemetery, which is now known as the Baby Public Plot, mainly during the period between 1945-1996. The stories for each vary as much as their names and it is undeniable that all names have been known by at least their mothers.
The facts around these circumstances are difficult to comprehend and make this a truly harsh story which took place relatively recently. The little ones would have been stillborn or died having survived for a short period. Between 70-20 years ago, it was usual practice for hospitals and social services to “take responsibility” for their burials. Testimonies make it clear that mothers, parents, families did not get the opportunity to hold the little ones or their loss as their babies were literally taken from the mothers when they were born, sick or expected to die a short time later. The infants were never seen again despite anguished requests. The mothers were told to go home, “get over it” and “forget about their baby” which of course, is impossible. Families weren’t informed about the graves or had the change to contribute towards or attend the burials. It was usual that they didn’t know where, when or if the babies had been buried.
Reasons for the adults being buried in the plot would have been quite different to the babies but they could already be forgotten and that their lives have so far, gone unmarked.
The Council has records for all who are buried within this plot, which are hand written in journals and kept in a safe. No individual owns specific graves and therefore there are no visible exclusive headstones or memorials to serve as a touchstone.
Over the last few months, I have organised, delivered and overseen the creative public consultation for CAP, which so far has proven to be a precious and fascinating experience. We have gathered words, flowers, made paper and by using the Expressive Arts, we have found individual and collective voice about a situation which was often covered up.
The consultation report has been given to Belfast City Council and we await the next steps but further details about the project are seen on the link on the CAP website: