Graves have become altars to excess

The county’s GAA colours (not Cork’s) caught my eye as the flag billowed in the Sunday breeze. My wife and I had just enjoyed a lovely lunch and catching some fresh air found ourselves walking by an old cemetery. There it was fluttering away and it struck us as odd that any flag would be present, unless it was the Tricolour, of course.

As we approached we realised the flag was actually attached to a memorial cross, an incongruous sight to our eyes. Now I’m not religious and am not the kind of person who visits graveyards very often, but it looked OTT. It wasn’t the only surprise that graveyard had in store.

A few graves away we spotted something even more garish – flag buntings (again in county colours) dangled from the memorial stone to the front of the marble plot. They flowed down on either side as if this was some kind of celebration rather than the final resting place of a loved one.

As we walked around we came across a cluster of graves festooned with floral tributes and the kind of grotesque homage in clusters of small statues that were the height of gaudiness rather than a tribute to a dead friend or family members. One grave had a collection of toy animals – I kid you not, and it wasn’t a child buried there. Another had a small ceramic caravan almost hidden among a carpet of flowers and plaques.

Inscriptions were chiselled in expensive gold lettering – a couple with some shocking spelling errors – and below the dedication on the main headstones were bunches of marble plaques from other family members that completely covered the ground. There were verses in praise of the dead that read like pieces of doggerel, some well intentioned tributes that would have been better accommodated in a printed memoriam rather than for all to cringe over here. I could quote you some examples, but perhaps it’s best to stay silent.

Also popular in this graveyard were photos embossed on marble plaques. Indeed marble seemed a very popular choice for those buried recently, not that they probably had much say in it. I noticed a couple not only had a marble plinth and headstone, but the grave itself was entirely covered in marble, either to ensure the dead couldn’t get out, or nobody could join them below.

It all seemed excessive and tacky to me, and out of place in a cemetery. I know that our local cemetery has guidelines about grave maintenance, so the examples quoted above wouldn’t happen there. Still, it makes me wonder why we should not have some rules in other cemeteries that would prevent poor practices becoming the norm.

Now I know the practice has crept in of bringing footballs, jerseys, even favourite CDs into funeral Masses as gifts to mark the dead person’s strong connections with the living world. I can understand and sympathise with that. But when I finally kick the bucket in about 40 years or so do me a favour and don’t bother bringing copies of the Irish Examiner, a cricket bat, a Manchester United scarf, etc., up to the altar as offertory gifts. Really, I’ll be fine without them.

Which reminds me of the time I copied a favourite song for someone to be played at the funeral Mass. As the song wafted out of the speakers and filled the silence, it suddenly dawned on me that a rather long guitar solo was about to erupt. As the decibel levels rose and the guitar screamed I died a thousand deaths. What everyone thought of it I don’t know, but I’m still recovering from the embarrassment.

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