When 9-year-old adoptee, Hugh O’Bannon, finds a child’s skull near a river, he regresses into memory and fantasy, an alternate reality where his original family is still alive. The skull and river both become objects of his devotion, and he begins to visit regularly. Soon, qualities emerge from the river of his first mother. In the skull found, he sees the face of his infant sister: Caroline. As mother and sister resurrect, as details unravel, Hugh enshrines the skull and communes with the river, both with great tenderness, a longing to reclaim his original family—and to be nurtured by it—a necessary nurturing he is not receiving at home.
Set in 1970s Ireland and after a particularly rainy season, the river just beginning to recede from swell, Hugh is able to grieve and render beauty from his losses. But the enshrined skull is soon found by a local townsman, prompted by the discovery of children's bones found scattered near the river. What reveals is a mass grave filled with children’s skeletons, hundreds of them, a corrupt past of a since demolished workhouse for unwed mothers and the undocumented fate of their children, almost forgotten. With stories past through 1970s present, paralleled, voice is given to the children entombed.