Death is a very sad occasion, those left behind mourning the loss. However, it is also a way to celebrate the life of a loved one and all the ways in which they have touched our lives.

Mourning is a unique and personal emotion and being able to choose the funeral arrangements should be too.

While the traditional Catholic funeral is still a well-liked approach, we have researched some of the other options you have when it comes to alternative funerals.

Natural burial grounds

A natural burial ground is a graveyard that doubles up as a nature reserve long term. It actively encourages what we leave behind to become part of nature.

Colin McAteer, Woodbrook Natural Burial Ground founder, was originally a funeral director and often heard people say, “Just bury me under that tree.” That is how the idea to open a natural burial ground in Wexford came to be.

Simplicity is what attracts most people to natural burial grounds. The grave markers cannot be larger than 14×12 inch and are made with locally sourced stone. Some people do not choose to have a grave marker at all.

People can choose to have the funeral or civil celebration at the gravesite or only choose to have the burial on site

People also have the option to plant one small tree on their grave. The idea is that the whole burial ground ultimately turns into a forest. There are deer, foxes, bees and many more animals on the natural burial ground. People can choose to have the funeral or civil celebration at the gravesite or only choose to have the burial on site.

Booking of a space in the natural burial ground can be pre-arranged or requested as the need arises. Most people choose to pre-book their own burial space as opposed to family members doing so.

The popularity of this burial ground is evident as two-thirds of the seven-acre land is already in use or pre-booked.


The stereotypical image of crematoriums as dark, cold underground places is far from reality. More people these days are opting for cremation instead of the traditional burial.

As Dara O’Callaghan from Shannon Crematorium says, “Everyone’s remains that come into us is somebody special, somebody’s loved one, and they’re very special to us. We treat everybody’s remains with the utmost reverence.”

An increasing number of people are choosing to have the full funeral at the crematorium either as a civil or religious ceremony.

At Shannon Crematorium, this takes place at the place of gathering, the chapel. It is a light spacious place with lots of windows looking over the green outside.

There’s always going to be huge amounts of emotion

The family is encouraged to pick at least three pieces of music. Many people opt for the traditional approach and choose to play hymns, others are taking a more light-hearted approach.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life has been known to be a person’s favourite last song.

It is considered the family’s time to celebrate their loved one in whatever way they see fit and the crematorium is there to facilitate that.

Dara says: “There’s always going to be huge amounts of emotion [with] the loss of somebody special and we’re very cognisant of that, and mindful that every service is different, every family is different. Everybody’s connection with the person who deceased who’s with us, is different. Everybody’s going to have a different adaptation and different understanding of feelings when it comes to the cremation.”

This particular crematorium works on a double-curtain system. At the end of the ceremony the final piece of music is played and the first curtain, a voile curtain, closes. Then a heavier second curtain closes, taking the coffin out of site. This draws the ceremony to a close.

On the premises is a columbarium wall and a viewing platform to the right of the wall.

Funeral attendees are welcome to go onto the platform and enjoy the views over the Shannon Estuary. This allows people to catch a moment and remember their loved ones in their own private way.

Civil ceremony

This type of funeral is all about honouring the deceased person’s life by telling their story and sharing memories from their life.

The ceremony is done by a civil celebrant, but is tailored to what the mourning family wants. It is a space to give a voice to their sadness.

Sue Anne O'Donnell is a civil celebrant.

Families can choose what they want to have included in the ceremony and also whether they want to say something themselves. There are no rules and anything from the passed person’s favourite song, excerpt of a book, anecdotes or poetry can be included.

Sue Anne O’Donnell is a civil celebrant and says, “The whole idea is a celebration from the point of view of the person and their life and the gift they were to those left behind.”

She remembers one funeral where everybody did a piece of the ceremony at the gravesite.

“Throughout the ceremony, we had it planned, but we also left gaps where each of the family or friends could say something. For example, I would be talking about the person and then I left a pause,” says Sue Anne.

During the pause, people could share a memory or something they would miss about the person. It was planned that all the grandchildren shared pieces about their grandmother throughout the ceremony, to encourage others to do the same.

We loved to hear the stories of what she got up to when she was younger

They said things like, “She was a success. She lived well, she laughed lots, she loved deeply.”

One of the grandchildren also shared a memory: “She came to every one of my dance shows and no matter where I finished in the competition, she always gave me €4 for doing well.”

“We loved to hear the stories of what she got up to when she was younger,” was another one.

Memorial and anniversary ceremonies are also popular. It allows family and friends to gather and celebrate the life of a loved one. Sue Anne has done anniversaries where families have gathered at the gravesite, brought their tipple and had a toast for the deceased person.

Some people also plan their own funeral with Sue Anne, while they are still alive. It allows them to choose the things that they want to include in their funeral.

The instructions are that when they die, their family will share their memories, and those will be added. The surprise is at the funeral, when they hear all the things the deceased person had included beforehand. It is like a gift to those left behind.

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