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In rural Ireland in the 1950s when a person died the relatives spent a day around town making the funeral arrangements. First of all they called to see the priest to arrange times for the arrival of the funeral to the church and Mass on the following day. They called to the local hardware store to order the coffin and hearse. The coffin was then made to order by the store’s carpenters. The hearse was horse-drawn. The family then visited their shopkeeper and publican to order the food and drink for the wake. The grave was opened by neighbours who volunteered for the job. The deceased was washed and dressed by neighbours or the local nurse and laid out at home in their own bed overnight. All the relatives, friends and neighbours attended the wake and all who attended got plenty to eat and drink. The next evening the hearse and coffin arrived and the deceased was removed to the church for Mass and burial on the following day. In 1963 the first funeral home in Ireland was opened by Mr. Val O’Connor in Cork. That, along with the arrival of the motor hearse led to a radical change in funerals. The age of the funeral director had arrived. The following is a brief summary of the different aspects of arranging a funeral and the role of the funeral director in 2007.

What is a funeral? A funeral is the ceremony that marks the end of a life. It helps to confirm the reality and finality of death and provides a climate of mourning for the expression of grief as well as giving people the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings about the deceased. It is also the vehicle for the community to pay its respects. For many generations in Ireland the traditional Catholic funeral was the only one available but in recent years all that has changed. We now have a secular society with an emphasis on individual choice and a much less influential role for religion. Therefore funerals now tend to be more of a reflection of the life of the person who has gone. It means that there are now many non-religious funerals; sometimes no funeral, just a private cremation or burial.

Modern funeral businesses have a funeral director on call at all times. This service must be always available as death can occur at any time. Funeral directors co-operate with each other in order to cover holidays etc. The funeral director has replaced the undertaker of old. The funeral director directs and co-ordinates all aspects of the funeral arrangements and is available to the bereaved throughout the funeral and will assist the bereaved afterwards with items like death registration, entitlements, bereavement counselling, memorial cards and headstones. The first point of contact is usually a phone call followed by a visit by the bereaved to the funeral director’s office. The funeral director discusses the funeral with the bereaved and takes detailed notes. During this time the coffin or casket is selected from the showroom. When the bereaved have left the office the funeral director begins organizing the funeral, later confirming the arrangements with the bereaved.

It is a legal requirement that every death that occurs in this state is registered. Before a funeral can take place the funeral director must establish that the necessary documents will be available for that purpose. If the deceased was being treated for an illness over a period of time, then their own doctor will issue a medical certificate of death which enables the family to register the death. Otherwise a post mortem examination of the body by a pathologist is required. This is carried out in a hospital mortuary and the body is released to the family immediately after the post mortem. The coroner later issues the certificate for registering the death.

Harnett's Funeral Home
The Square, Abbeyfeale, Co. Limerick
Tel: 068 32080
Mobile: 087 2500 929
email: harnettsfuneralhome@gmail.com
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In less than forty years funerals have changed. There are now funeral homes in almost every town and village in Ireland, many staffed by highly qualified personnel. Funerals are now a separate business, not just an add-on to the local pub or shop. As in any other business, the consumption of alcohol at funerals is now totally taboo. There is now a thriving Irish Association of Funeral Directors whose members adhere to set standards. Ireland now has many qualified embalmers throughout the country.

Though all these changes have occurred, the essence of the funeral has remained the same. For the most part, the dead are waked in their own homes for one night; spend one night in the church and are buried on the third day. The tradition is maintained. The funeral director takes on board new ideas, always being mindful of tradition.