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Memorial service for people buried in Pauper’s Graveyard

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Celebrants Monsignor Denis Lennon (centre) with Canon Arthur Minion (left) and Fr Aquina at the Memorial Service.

Celebrants Monsignor Denis Lennon (centre) with Canon Arthur Minion (left) and Fr Aquina at the Memorial Service.

Mayor George Lawlor laying a wreath with Helen Corish and Angela Laffan

Mayor George Lawlor laying a wreath with Helen Corish and Angela Laffan

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Celebrants Monsignor Denis Lennon (centre) with Canon Arthur Minion (left) and Fr Aquina at the Memorial Service.

The forgotten men, women and children buried in unmarked plots in the Paupers' Graveyard in Coolcotts, Wexford, were honoured at a socially distanced memorial service in Rowe Street church this year instead of the annual patron in the cemetery.

Before the church service, a wreath was laid by the outgoing Mayor of Wexford, Cllr George Lawlor, at the Memorial Cross in the graveyard in the presence of District Manager Angela Laffan and Helen Corish Wylde, chairperson of the Wexford Memorial Trust.

Preparations had been under way for the patron which is always attended by a large number of people. In her address during the service, Helen Corish thanked everyone for their support, including those who lay wreaths, flowers and candles at the Memorial Cross and said she hoped to meet them all again at next year's patron.

She said it was thanks to the former Mayor of Wexford Padge Reck and his friend, the late Ray Nolan, that the neglected and overgrown graveyard was cleaned up, a cross erected with an inscription written by the historian and author Nicky Furlong and the first patron held in 1990.

'This evening we honour the memory of the Wexford men, women and little children buried in The Paupers' Graveyard, between 1852-1939, the poor, the deprived, the destitute, the mentally and physically challenged', said Helen.

'They received no obituary or proper funeral and with one exception, all are laid to rest in shallow graves without a headstone, as there was no money to pay for one. Large stones mark the graves, placed there by family members so they could distinguish their loved one's resting place.

'Many of 'The Forgotten Ones' buried in the graveyard, were referred to as 'inmates' of Wexford Union Workhouse, known today as the old Wexford Hospital. The workhouse operated from 1842 until its closure in 1922 when it was converted into a hospital.

'Workhouses were established to provide relief for the very poor. Life in a workhouse was intended to be harsh so that only the truly destitute would apply. The harsh Victorian Workhouse system was based on the idea that people were poor through their own fault and therefore deserved punishment.

'Many became inmates of the workhouse because they had no other choice. It was either that or face starvation for themselves and their families.

'When families entered the workhouse they were separated. Males and females were never allowed to mix.

'Children under seven were allowed to stay with their mother. However, once they 'became of age', when they were seven years old, they were separated from them.

'Young and old were expected to work. In return they were given just enough food to survive.

'Living accommodation was damp, cramped and dreary. Disease was very common in such crowded conditions and coughs and colds spread like wildfire.

'The mortality rate was high. Influenza and whooping cough could be fatal. The two main causes of death among adults were prolonged malnourishment and TB.

Undoubtedly, many lives were also saved in the workhouses throughout Ireland and England but what a harsh and strict regime they were forced to endure'.

Helen said only one grave in The Paupers' Graveyard is marked with a headstone, that of a young boy, John Brien, who died on December 2, 1904 aged 12. he was born and spent his short life in Wexford Union Workhouse. He had been suffering from whooping cough and tuberculosis.

Sarah Higginbotham died in the Wexford Workhouse on May 14, 1886, aged 40. Her infant son Thomas died shortly afterwards on October 7, 1886, aged nine months. Thanks to Sarah's great-great-grandson, a plaque has been erected by the Gannon family on the boundary wall of the graveyard.

Helen said it is difficult to find out who is buried in The Paupers' Graveyard as admissions and discharge registers from the four Wexford Workhouses did not survive. The minute books are the only primary workhouse source.

'Our Trust plans to erect a Memorial in the graveyard in the future - on which we can inscribe the names and details of people buried in the Paupers' Graveyard as they are identified. If anyone knows of a relative or family friend buried there, please let us know if the family wish to have the name and details inscribed on our memorial', she said.

'As an institution, the workhouse was hated. The stigma was such, that for generations very few people would admit to having relations there.

'However, we must always remember that the forgotten souls, buried in the graveyard, many of whom died in the workhouse, did not fail society. Society failed them'.

'Then the final indignity - to be buried in an unmarked grave and be forgotten'.

'Therefore each year, we commemmorate the lives of the forgotten ones. The tragic lives of John, Sarah and baby Thomas compel us to think deeply about all the souls buried in The Paupers' Graveyard who lived lives of undue hardship and deprivation.

'Whenever you visit the graveyard please tread carefully, remembering the souls buried here had hopes and dreams for their families and loved ones, just like us', said Helen.

The late Bill Creedon, former Wexford County Secretary and trustee of Wexford Memorial Trust, who died on March 3, was remembered in a special way at the service.

The celebrants were Monsignor Denis Lennon, Canon Arthur Minion and Guardian of the Friary, Fr Aquino. The Mayor recited a Scripture Reading and committee members of the Memorial Trust read the Prayers of Intercession.

Musical Director of Rowe Street Choir Donagh Wylde and a small group of choir members provided the music.

The Service was streamed on the Live Church Webcam - Rowe Street Church and was also recorded for Facebook by Fr. Aodhan Marken.

Wexford People