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Ireland’s historical use of separate burial places for the interment of unbaptized children followed the traditional teachings and prohibitions of the Catholic Church. Specifically, Canon 1239 stated that infants who died prior to having undergone the rite of baptism were prohibited from being buried in a blessed cemetery (Woywod 1957:51). Church theology holds that unbaptized individuals exist in separation from the rest of the Catholic community on multiple temporal and spatial scales. In life, unbaptized individuals cannot receive ecclesiastical rites and in death their remains are separated from consecrated burial grounds as a reflection of the belief that they are separated from the baptized in the afterlife (Garattini 2007:194). Without receiving baptismal rites, a child was not cleared of original sin and therefore was forbidden from entering Heaven. Instead of being condemned to Hell, it was believed that the souls of unbaptized infants went to Limbo, a place between Heaven and Hell that had the qualities of a liminal purgatory (Murphy 2011:410).

In addition to unbaptized infants, it is known that other types of individuals were also excluded from burial in consecrated grounds. These included murderers, the mentally ill, women who died in childbirth, strangers to local communities, shipwrecked sailors, religious heretics, and those who had committed suicide, among others (Garattini 2007:194, Murphy 2011:409). The lives and deaths of these individuals deviated from perceptions of normal life-courses. Like unbaptized children, they were considered to belong to a category of otherness which warranted that their remains be separated from usual burial places. Often, such adults were buried in the same location as unbaptized infants. As a monument class, few cilliní have been excavated in comparison to Ireland’s numerous other monument types. Those that have been excavated, such as the cilliní at the Killalee Church ruins in Killarney, County Kerry, confirm that infants, older children that were several years of age, as well as adults, were buried in cilliní (Dennehy 2001:21-22). Thus, the term ‘children’s burial ground’ does not reflect the wide age range of of the individuals that were buried at many of these grounds.