More people opting for cremation in Ireland

The Irish Independent reported this month that the number of people opting for cremation in Ireland has increased, with more than 40 percent of people who die in cities elected for this after they die – double the number of those in rural Ireland.

The trend is attributed to the high cost of burial plots in urban areas and families not having a grave plot arranged in advance of death, according to leading funeral directors in Ireland. The directors also report that the number of cremations in urban areas “definitely took a jump” during the pandemic.

There are six crematoria in Ireland, three of which are in Dublin (Glasnevin (the first facility of its type in Ireland, established in 1982), Newland’s Cross, Harold’s Cross), one in Cavan, one in Cork and one in Shannon.

Cremation rates around the world

Compared to the UK, where the average cremation rate was 77.05 percent in 2017, Ireland’s until now overall rate of 20 percent is low. Across the world, rates vary widely. Countries like Japan, Nepal and Thailand have a rate of more than 95%, while majority Catholic countries like Ireland and also Italy and Poland have lower rates. The cremation rate in Muslim and Eastern Orthodox countries tends to be lower too, thanks to the religious sanctions on cremation. In Hindu or Buddhist countries, the figure is high.

However, in recent years the rise in costs of burial fees have led to more people choosing cremation.

The best-known first mention of cremation is in the Book of Genesis when God orders Abraham to prepare the funeral pyre ahead of the sacrifice of his son, Issac. The ancient Greek and then Roman civilisations adopted cremation as the general method of disposal of the dead. However, with the spread of Christianity, cremation fell out of favour because of the religion’s belief in resurrection and was almost completely obsolete by the time of the 5th century.

Sir Henry Thompson

Interest in cremation surfaced in the 17th century when physicians and philosophers discussed the issue in an essay and a book. In 1869, cremation was presented to the Medical International Congress of Florence by Professors Coletti and Castiglioni “in the name of public health and civilization”, and later that century, Sir Henry Thompson, Bart., Surgeon to Queen Victoria, became the first and chief promoter of cremation in England, writing a paper entitled The Treatment of the Body after Death published in the Contemporary Review.

His chief argument was the sanitary one, but he also believed in cremation for cost reasons. He also advanced an economic argument where ashes might be used as fertiliser.

The first cremation in the UK was carried out on 26 March 1885, at Woking. The deceased was a Mrs Jeannette C Pickersgill.

For more on the history of cremations, see the website

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