Are you dead? Then bury yourself right. Nicole Buckler investigates the eco-departed.
There are cemeteries and then there are cemeteries. Glendalough graveyard is wildly, Celticly romantic. People come from all over the world to see it. The Celtic crosses and the centuries-old Church and the round tower make Instagram what it is today.
But then there is the other type of graveyard. Badly-designed, sparse, muddy, cemented-over, crammed and looking a little sad. I recently buried a family member in one and the fact that I have to step on other graves to get where I want to go says everything to me. The weeds on the plot remind me of how futile a battle it is to keep it looking like it is cared for. It’s crammed, old, dated, and ugly. Peeling paint makes me feel like I have been criticised by the weather.
But there is a new type of burial ground in town. And you are going to like it. The Green Graveyard Company wants to green up our burial process. Okay so it’s not the happiest of subjects, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do better. In 2010 the Green Graveyard Company opened Ireland’s first Natural Burial Ground at Woodbrook, Killanne, Co. Wexford. It’s the kind of place where you skip through the meadows with your hands clasped, singing songs from Disney specials. Well you would, if you weren’t thinking about burying yourself there. But it is safe to say that it is an intensely pretty place to bury oneself. It is like delivering your earthly remains back to nature to be where they belong. It’s a glamorous compost bin for humans.
The Green Graveyard Company was founded by Colin McAteer who is also owns Green Coffins, a company which specialises in the supply of environmentally friendly funeral products to funeral directors throughout Ireland.
Niall Deacon, a local farmer, also helps to manage the graveyard. Niall is an artist who has made the beautiful granite sculpture pieces which are found in the woodland. These sculptures are for sale to the public, and are replaced by new pieces once they have been sold – a revolving gallery.
I hear you ask, “So why go the hippie route? I’d make a terrible hippie!” Well, it’s greener and better, undoing your earthly behaviour scorching the earth in your time here. A natural burial ground is a graveyard where the land has a second use, as a living, developing native Irish woodland and wildflower meadow. Gone are the marble headstones and concrete surrounds that are common place in other Irish burial grounds, replaced instead by a small simple grave marker and the planting of a native Irish tree.
Go and see for yourself: you can walk along the pathways surrounded by nature, spotting wildlife in their newly created habitats. It seems vastly better than my experience last weekend of tripping over graves that are on top of each other, and climbing around ugly dirty statues and mud. Lots and lots of mud.
This burial ground is a much better idea. Situated in the rural countryside, the entrance is via a spectacular 200-metre-long avenue, surrounded on both sides by ancient chestnut trees. As you walk along the avenue you will begin to see the wildlife and natural beauty which is slowly developing. Your Instagram account will have a fit of pleasure.
The place is very different now to when it first opened. According to Green Graveyard, “Our opening was a rushed affair – due to demand that we had for immediate burial spaces. We opened 9 days after receiving the planning permission with only the basic structures required by planning in place, like the car park. Our first burial took place shortly thereafter. Now people visiting the grounds are greeted with a different sight. Our initial burial area with its ashes scattering circle, log benches and grass path ways are emerging from the newly established wildflower meadows. The colour and vibrancy which we have tried so hard to encourage is beginning to take hold. Although the grounds are not in any way completely finished, people can now see our ideas emerging at the grounds and we are encouraged by their responses. As we continue to receive bookings we continue to invest in the site.”
The number of people reserving spaces has been steady. There is well in excess of 150 spaces now reserved (more than 35 now used). And here’s the nice thing about burying your good self in this woodland. By choosing a natural burial ground, you help to develop and preserve Ireland’s beautiful woodland environment, and avoid the costly upkeep associated with traditional type cemeteries.
Each grave will have a native Irish tree planted on it. These trees will be pruned at intervals of between 7 and 15 years. This pruning will not kill off the tree but will encourage more vigorous growth. Woodland flowers such as bluebells, primroses and snowdrops benefit from this – sun beams can reach them, triggering growth and germination. Many different woodland insects, butterflies, birds and mammals rely on this for survival. So if you choose this type of burial for yourself, your memorial tree has the potential to live for hundreds of years. I’d like to give birds somewhere to nest and poo for a very long time.
Grave markers are natural and subtle. None of those gaudy blue religious statues for you. Locally produced stone, bog oak or wooden markers can be used to mark each grave. But you have to toe the line with this part of your burial. It has to come from Ireland somewhere or it will be removed. Just like you, it has to be natural and local.
The best course of action is to choose a headstone that is either granite or slate gathered from the foot of the mountains behind the burial grounds. And if you are feeling a bit ostentatious, you can choose to have a bench placed close to your grave and have an inscription placed on the seat. This will cost you €1000 but I think giving your sad (or happy, depending on what kind of relative you were) kinsmen a place to put their butts is money well spent.
If you really want to go to town, you can order a birdbox with an inscription attached to the tree as a memorial. I’m going for the whole package. I want the seat, the tree, and the birdbox. I’m going out in style. And my relatives will have a seat to watch me do it.
Yes, I think this is all a gorgeous idea. If anyone needs me I’ll be practising being a deceased hippie in my willow basket.