A PREVIOUSLY unrecorded mass burial ground in Skibbereen, dating from the Famine period, is now open to the public to visit.
The mass graves are on the site of the old workhouse in Skibbereen, now the location of Skibbereen Community Hospital.
The discovery was made by staff at Skibbereen Heritage Centre when carrying out research for the publication Skibbereen: The Famine Story and the site has since been developed by Skibbereen Famine Committee and the HSE.
‘I’d read over the years about the burials at Skibbereen workhouse but was shocked to find when I visited it that there was no mention of it on site,’ said Terri Kearney, manager of Skibbereen Heritage Centre.
She and her co-author of the famine book, Philip O’Regan, set about researching the mass burial ground, having discovered its location on old maps and finding historical references to burials there.
Terri and Philip then contacted Skibbereen Famine Committee and the HSE, who together took on the task of clearing and marking the site. The Skibbereen Famine Committee has been raising awareness of the Great Famine in Skibbereen since the 1990s.
The Committee previously cleared and marked the Famine graveyard at Abbeystrowry and still manages its maintenance today.
It also placed a marker at the third site of mass Famine burials in Skibbereen – at Chapel Lane – and it was the key driver in establishing a Famine exhibition in Skibbereen Heritage Centre, when it opened in 2000.
The Skibbereen area was particularly badly affected by the Great Famine, losing one in three of its population during the crisis.
‘The workhouse was the last resort for many of these desperate souls and was grossly overcrowded throughout the Famine. Initially those who died at the Workhouse were taken to the Abbey graveyard in the infamous ‘death cart’, which made its way through the streets of Skibbereen every day collecting the dead of the town,’ explained Terri.