There are fears that the headstone of the murdered Kerry baby may be vandalised
again now the case is being reinvestigated.
The grave was vandalised a number of times over the years. Any time the grave
was damaged, undertaker Tom Cournane, repaired it as he had been deeply affected
by the case.
The baby’s body was found with multiple stab wounds at White Strand, Caherciveen on April 14, 1984.
He replaced the wooden cross with a marble headstone in February 2004 with the inscription ‘ I forgive’, which was smashed to pieces a few months later.
Mr Cournane always felt strongly that a local had been involved in the death. He became even more convinced local people were involved given the attacks over the years.
“He replaced it every time and then with the final attack he made an appeal on
Radio Kerry and he said if it was vandalised again, he would replace it again,” his
daughter Catherine told the Irish Examiner, When Mr Cournane replaced the headstone in 2004, he did not include the words ‘I forgive’ on the headstone.
His daughter said he no longer felt he could speak forgiveness on behalf of the child as there was such hatred and violence in the attack on the grave.
“There is a hatred still. And we would be afraid with all the attention the grave will be attacked again,” Catherine said.
Once the words ‘I forgive’ were removed from the headstone, it was not attacked
The two headstones placed on the grave of Baby John are similar. Both are black marble, flecked with gold, and etched with a simple cross and rosary beads.
Both simply state that this is the grave of the Kerry Baby, baptised on April 14, 1984, and that the child beneath has been named John.
The notable difference is the removal of the words ‘I forgive’.
The original grave was attacked a number of times over the years.
In September 2004 someone took a sledgehammer to the headstone and smashed it to pieces.
Since that phrase ‘I forgive’ was removed, the grave and its headstone have remained untouched.
People in the area have long believed the attacks on the headstone of the Kerry Baby in the cemetery overlooking the sea on the Waterville Rd means those responsible for his murder are also local.
It also leads some to think that the killing of Baby John did not bring peace of mind.
The grave, untouched now for than a decade, will again be vulnerable to an attack, it is feared.
Local undertaker Tom Cournane vowed on local radio, in 2004, that he would keep replacing the headstone.
It was Tom who christened the baby “John” on the strand near Caherciveen, using fresh water from a nearby stream.
It was he who tended his grave. And each time the headstone he erected for the Kerry baby was damaged, he repaired or replaced it.
“It deeply affected everyone. It deeply affected Tom,” his daughter Catherine Cournane told the Irish Examiner.
The last attack, in 2004, involved a sledgehammer and this time her father changed the inscription.
It was the only headstone in the grave to be attacked.
The wording “I forgive” was not replaced on the headstone. Catherine said her father no longer felt, after the violence involved in that attack, it was his prerogative to forgive.
Speaking to this newspaper in 2004, Tom said: “They couldn’t leave the child alone in life and now they can’t leave it alone in death. I’m disgusted.”
Catherine, who was 15 at the time, has clear memories of the night the baby’s body was discovered — and the effect it had on her father.
In 1984, the White Strand, over the water from the town that lies between mountain and sea, was a courting spot.
But on Saturday, April 14, 1984, all changed.
Catherine’s mother and father were preparing to settle in for The Late Late Show and she was sent to the shop down the street for something.
She returned only to be told by her mother Kit: “God help us, a child has been found on the White Strand.”
Her father Tom had a garage and he was the local undertaker. He was used to tragic deaths but when he returned he was very upset, Catherine recalls.
“He brought it for the postmortem not in the hearse, but in the back of his car in a tiny coffin. I remember looking at the coffin of the baby,” said Catherine.
She and her friends remember the ‘Murder Squad’ — a group of detectives from Dublin — arriving and the interrogation of all young women in the area was “hot and heavy”.
“They interviewed all the young girls, asking if they had boyfriends. Then they would go next door and ask about the girl they had just interviewed. They asked about our friends.”
Everyone was asked “personal questions”, she remembers, like if they had a boyfriend, and if they had, they would be asked about the nature of that relationship, about how intimate it was.
“No one knew anything. But the feeling was it was local,” said Catherine.
Parents were worried. The fashion was baggy clothes and mothers worried they might have missed something in their daughters.
Tom felt strongly the people involved were local — as the body hadn’t been long in the water.
The undertaker became even more convinced with the attacks on the headstone over the years.
“He replaced it every time. And then with the final attack he made an appeal on Radio Kerry and he said if it was vandalised again, he would replace it again.”
On the last replacement, Tom did not include the words ‘ I forgive’. He no longer felt he could speak forgiveness on behalf of the child, there was such hatred and violence in the attack on the baby’s grave, said Catherine.
“There is a hatred still. And we would be afraid with all the attention [that] the grave will be attacked again.”
There is no way he would agree to have the body exhumed, she said, amid calls by former investigating detectives this week for an exhumation of Baby John and of the baby found at Abbeydorney.
Catherine remembers vividly the funeral.
Her father asked her to organise a few of her classmates from St John Bosco secondary school.
And around 4pm, after school as her father carried the little white coffin into the cemetery, and the girls in their uniforms lined up, all the school buses stopped and lined up and the boys and girls lined the cemetery and sang hymns.
Until the announcement this week of a cold-case review, Baby John was being forgotten. But he shouldn’t be, said Catherine.
“I would gladly give some of my DNA. A lot of my friends would. We have children ourselves.” Some locals talk about what might have been if the baby had been left at the convent, that he would be 34 years old now and perhaps have a family of his own.
Nobody believes Baby John was washed up on shore. The tides and the way the White Strand is positioned between Valentia and Beginish deep in the channel would make it almost impossible.
Baby John is still seeking answers. Let’s hope he finally gets some.
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