Little Nellie – Special Feature
Serious questions are being asked by Little Nellie’s devotees about access to her grave. The path is overgrown and difficult to reach with several obstacles in the way – making it almost impossible for an elderly or disabled person to access the cemetery.
When the site, formerly owned by the Good Shepherd Sisters, was passed into the hands of receivers there was an added complication for pilgrims visiting the grave: they were technically trespassing on private property.
Due to it being prime land in Sunday’s Well in Cork City, it’s been reported the 7.8-acre site has an asking price of more than €6.75m.
Conditional planning permission has been granted for 234 apartments. According to the Cork City Council website the proposed development consists of a “partial demolition, redevelopment and extension” of the Good Shepherd Convent, orphanage and Magdalene home buildings and the demolition of all ancillary sheds and structures to facilitate the new development.
There is also expected to be a crèche located in a refurbished gate lodge next to one of the entrances.
A spokesperson for one of the directors of Moneda Developments, Eamonn Laverty, who are selling the land, confirmed that the graveyard will be protected and access to it will be maintained.
However, they did not clarify what access would look like for pilgrims in the future, or if the route to the graveyard would be changed.
When this journalist visited, it was only possible to find her resting place with the help of a local. Little Nellie enthusiast Lillian Keane of Blarney parish, who happened to be in the area, was happy to be of assistance. Ms Keane also offered to help a Polish family, Pawel, Justyna, Antoni (4) and Hanna (2) Slodzinka, who were also searching for her grave at the same time.
Coming across a padlocked gate, the first obstacle to her grave, Ms Keane described it as “a little daunting” as the gate hadn’t been locked in March when she last visited. On a rusty fence blocking the site off, a notice highlights: “If you pass beyond this point you are on a premises” and that the ‘occupiers’ are excluded from a duty of care towards visitors.
Coming through an overgrown small basketball court, pilgrims must walk up a small but steep muddy slope and are then greeted by an old galvanised metal fence with a sign reading “Users of this building site do so at their own risk. The management will not accept responsibility for any damage accidents or losses.”
Subsequently entering a large green area, Ms Keane described the scene saying: “We’re now progressing onto the final stretch, in this field you’d want wellies in winter and strong shoes at any stage.”
Passing the convent, which is a listed building, she said it was subject to two arson attacks in 2003 and 2012, which is one of the reasons for its “nasty disrepair”.
Arriving at the grave, Pawel Slodzinka said: “We’re very surprised it’s very hard to get to this place, and that this area isn’t open to everyone. This is very sad because this place is very important for us.”
“We came here because my wife found a short clip on YouTube about Little Nellie so we decided to come here and see her.”
We’re very surprised it’s very hard to get to this place, and that this area isn’t open to everyone”
His wife Justyna said that it was “very important” for the family to visit Little Nellie’s grave as “she might help us”.
“When we tried to find this place, it was very difficult because we didn’t know where it was, we tried asking people and they didn’t know. In the beginning we didn’t know it was the correct way…but it is very difficult and dangerous for kids.”
There has been calls among some of Little Nellie’s devotees to have her exhumed a second time and buried in a location they feel is better suited.
Descendent of Little Nellie, Sue Organ Jackson from Cork, said she should be exhumed and buried with her mother in Cobh. Mrs Jackson says she hit a dead end trying to speak to her local TD and the council regarding moving the grave.
“Her mother died while holding her daughter. The children, they didn’t ask to be put into the Good Shepherd orphanage, they were innocent little children. I believe that they should be back with their mother, plus it’s accessible to everybody,” she said.
Mrs Jackson is a fourth generation descendent of William Organ, Little Nellie’s father and the family still have a very close connection and devotion to the young girl who has inspired so many. Mrs Jackson said: “If her name is to be put out there, and with the help of God if she is canonised, how are people supposed to visit the saint’s grave?”
Bishop-Emeritus John Buckley, speaking to The Irish Catholic a week before Bishop Fintan Gavin took the reins of the Diocese of Cork and Ross at the end of June, acknowledged the difficulty in accessing the grave. He said improving this “would be nice and people would like it, especially people in the neighbourhood, they would certainly like to visit the grave”.
“It’s difficult when you’re dealing with people, new ownership and so on. Now people have suggested that her remains be brought to a more prominent and public place, for example the cathedral grounds. But the difficulty is there are other children buried there also, and some Good Shepherd Sisters, and it might create a bit of difficulty, it’s a very sensitive thing,” he said.
“It’s not an ideal location, there’ll have to be consultation with relatives of the others who are buried there. There would have to be consultation with the order, it wouldn’t be my decision to decide on that, I would recommend they should look at it.”
Efforts to contact a spokesperson for the Good Shepherd sisters regarding the future of the graveyard proved unsuccessful despite several weeks of queries.
Despite a huge amount of anxiety and speculation about the future and accessibility of Little Nellie’s grave – with the current sellers ensuring it will be “protected” along with the whole graveyard – there is still many questions to be answered for pilgrims devoted to Little Nellie who want to worship and pray where she lies.