Stone upon bone; The Archaeology and Folklore of Cillíni - Dr. Marion Dowd and Susan McKeown in conversation and song
Dr Marion Dowd is an archaeologist and lecturer at IT Sligo. Her research focuses primarily on how people have engaged with caves in Ireland over the past 12,500 years. Her first book, The Archaeology of Caves in Ireland (2015, Oxbow), won the Current Archaeology Book of the Year 2016, and the Tratman Award 2015. Marion has also published on the interplay between folklore and archaeology.
Susan McKeown is a Grammy winning vocalist, songwriter, producer and arranger from Dublin. She is also the founder and director of Cuala Foundation, a nonprofit organisation that works with youth and communities in U.S. and Ireland to transform disadvantage into advantage through culture.
From the 7th Century, through the Middle Ages and continuing to the late 20th Century, unbaptised children were rarely buried in consecrated ground. Denied access to the graveyard, they were buried in cillíní instead. These remote places were aligned with boundaries in the landscape, on the edges of townlands, at the bottom of cliffs, along the coastline at the sea or the edges of lakes. The locations are thresholds themselves, perched between two different spaces, and evoke a sense of looking back in time. Indeed, they are often sited within prehistoric sites, within ancient stone circles or by standing stones. Sometimes they were in early medieval enclosures, cashels or ringforts that had fallen out of use. These unofficial graveyards form a part of the Irish landscape, numbering several thousand across Ireland.
Cillíní cover the countryside. The documented sites are numerous in certain counties, for example Galway has 476, but Sligo lists merely 22. A good deal are undocumented and are only known locally. Sligo has two additional cillíní, that are beyond the official register, near Rosses Point and beside Strandhill.