Northern Ireland

Belfast City Cemetery: Plot Z1 memorial agreed for babies

Memorial Image copyright Charlotte Howarth
Image caption The sculpture will be carved by the artist Charlotte Howarth

Thousands of babies who died shortly after birth or were stillborn are to be commemorated by a sculpture in Belfast City Cemetery.

The area known as Plot Z1 contains the unmarked graves of almost 8,000 babies.

The sculpture will be carved by the artist Charlotte Howarth and depicts a baby sleeping on a bed of leaves.

Belfast City Council approved the design in January after the original plans were met with opposition from families of babies buried there.

The initial proposal was a rock with a bonsai tree.

'They did exist'

Agnes Close, whose son was buried in the plot in 1973, told BBC News NI the design did not represent the babies buried there.

She said: "At the time the babies were buried, the families didn't have a say in it, my son was just taken away and I didn't see him once he died."

Ms Close said all the families in the focus group were delighted with the new design.

She said: "It means recognition for all the babies, they did exist, they were loved and they will be remembered.

"We've always said that we wanted people who were walking past to know what the memorial was for.

"It needed to represent the babies."

Image caption Ms Close, whose son was buried in the plot having died shortly after his birth in 1973

Ms Howarth, the sculptor appointed to develop the memorial, is expected to receive the stone by the end of January.

The sculpture will then be hand carved and it is expected it will be placed in the cemetery in spring or summer 2019.

"It's always a really sensitive thing working with families on these types of jobs," Ms Howarth told BBC News NI.

"When I first read the brief I thought there must have been a mistake and that it must have been hundreds and not thousands of babies.

"I was so shocked by that number and wanted to produce something that reflected the magnitude of that.

"As an artist you want to create something that will bring families some comfort."

Exact figure

She added: "When you do this as a job, you create the piece, it goes up and you move on to the next one.

"It is the families who have to live with the piece forever."

Work is taking place to establish an exact figure for the number of babies buried in unmarked graves in the plot between 1945 and 1996.

The number will replace the words "almost 8,000" on the sculpture plans.

A spokesman for Belfast City Council said the design was approved on 7 January.

"Additionally, after feedback from the council-run focus group, council also approved the request to change the unofficial name of Plot Z1 from Baby Public to Baby Haven," he said.

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