Book of Layers

Chapter Six: Callunagh

The Book of Layers: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. Chapter Six: Callunagh. 2012.  Each panel, 18" x 41"; 6 panels total. Archival inkjet print of 2012 photo by Bliss; text from Bliss' June 15, 2012 journal entry; archival inkjet print of 1927 photo by ethnomusicologist Ole Mork Sandvik bagged with found stone; composed sound from field recordings and interviews with residents of Ballinskelligs, County Kerry, Ireland.


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Transcript of audio recording:

…Sounds of water dripping and church bell tolling..

Male Irish voice: You see, you probably have heard the word “callunagh.”  You see…em.. you… are you, are you Catholic? Oh yeah.  You know about limbo? And, em, you see when children were baptized…if children were still born – are born and and died right away -- and haven’t had a chance to be baptized, ah…it was forbidden that they be buried in consecrated ground.  So they were buried in a place like that. Or in… there’s… I know quite a few callunaghs around here – burial grounds of children who weren’t baptized.  And that was used then as a callunagh.

I’d say, the practice kept going… I was born in 1948, and I can’t… I mean, I would be very familiar with the callunaghs and you know, people would never touch a callanugh.  They’d never go near the stones of a callunagh.

Female American voice: Would they walk in it? Would they visit it? Or no?

Male Irish voice: They wouldn’t. There was a kind of an eerie feeling. I suppose it was more respect, d’you know, but like, they wouldn’t touch a stone out of it, or they wouldn’t... d’you know… They’d respect it.  I’d say the practice died in Ireland in the ‘40s, ‘50s. Now, I don’t… Like.. Anyway, an awful lot of them would be buried at night.  D’y’know, it would be kind of an undercover thing. D’y’know, it wasn’t something…

Female American voice: They wouldn’t be given any sort of funeral?

Male Irish voice: No, no funeral rites. It would be kept very quiet.  And as I say, I never…like when I was growing up, I was never conscious of it.  Now, I’d say, the practice died out completely.  It doesn’t exist now.

Voices fade…


Text on panel reads:

June 15. 23:25. Safe again in my cottage.  Cill Rialaig.

Ian had told me about it. It was risky to go there, and I knew it, but chose to anyway.  The longer I was there, the more disturbed I became: the danger was sharp and thick on my tongue.  I knew I should leave, but couldn’t tear myself away from the light.

Dread built and built ‘til it shook me so, I feared I’d knock over my tripod.  When my breath became so shallow my chest began to hurt, I succumbed – to fear or wisdom, I still don’t know.  I wanted to run thru’ the field, but it was full of sinkholes and divots from the cattle, and I knew I’d fall and twist my ankle again.  So I mustered all my courage and reigned myself in, navigating steadily thru’ the minefield, not relaxing an iota ‘til I was once again back over the metal cowgate and nearing the beach.