It’s the first day of September. It’s chilly. It’s raining (it’s raining here anyway). All of that is enough to put anyone in a sombre mood, so I don’t suppose today’s blog about cillíní is going to perk us up much! For those who don’t know, a cillín is a ‘little burial ground’. The word can also translate as ‘little cell’ or ‘little churchyard.’ Cillíní is the plural.
In the Wolf Land books, there is a cillín behind the village church. It’s where Sorcha’s mother is buried because she was considered a witch. Unbaptised babies were buried in such places because, not having been cleared of original sin, they would not be deemed fit to enter Heaven. Their souls were not said to go to Hell, but to exist forever in Limbo instead. Other burials might include shipwrecked sailors, the mentally ill, women who died in childbirth, religious heretics, and suicides.
To quote Wolf Land Book One: ‘I thought of all the bodies I knew were buried there: babies who died too soon, without married parents, without having been baptised; women, joining those babies in the cillín with the help of a potion, or a blade, or a rope. Sinners, in the eyes of the church. Loved ones, in the eyes of the people who laid flowers on their graves.’
Cillíní are no longer in use. Babies who die too soon, people who take their own lives and all the others who may have been marginalized in life as well as in death, are now buried on consecrated ground. But the treatment of such individuals is a part of Irish history that will not, and should not, be forgotten.