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John Flaherty, a former gravedigger, in The Holy Rosary Cemetery at Doolin, where he is calling on Clare County Council, as well as individual families to take responsibility for the graves which have been neglected in recent times. Photograph by John Kelly.

Cemetery in north Clare village in ‘disgraceful’ state

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THE condition of a North Clare cemetery has been branded “a thundering disgrace”, amid concerns over arrangements for its upkeep and maintenance.

The Holy Rosary Cemetery in Doolin is one of two local burial grounds and is located around a mile from the centre of the village. Among those who visit the graveyard are fans of Micho Russell, and before the pandemic, the late musician’s grave was the site of a wreath-laying ceremony during the Russell Festival Weekend. “At this stage, the grass is growing over the walls from the outside in and the inside out,” local man John Flaherty told The Champion. “Grass is cut in part of the cemetery and it’s just left there. The other side is out-of-hand altogether.”

Mr Flaherty acknowledged recent clean-up efforts, undertaken with the support of the county council, but expressed concerns over long-term arrangements.

“Councillor Joe Garrihy helped us by getting gravel to put on the paths,” he said. “A few months ago, the place was tidied up, but it really needs attention again. There was support from a community work scheme until the pandemic started, but we don’t have that at the moment. Locals do their best to maintain their family graves, but more is needed. We all want the cemetery to be looked after. We need to show respect for our dead and there’s something radically wrong if we’re not doing that.”

Mr Flaherty also spoke of the negative image he feels the condition of the cemetery is creating for visitors to Doolin. “The cemetery is right beside the road and now we have tourists passing by and it’s just not good enough,” he said. “The grave of Micho Russell is in there and lots of people are going in to see it and the state of the cemetery is shocking.”

The burial ground has a special significance for Mr Flaherty, as his father formerly took care of it and he worked as a grave-digger himself for some time. “My parents are buried there and my wife’s parents and family members,” he said. “There isn’t a local in Doolin who doesn’t have relatives and friends buried in the Holy Rosary Cemetery.”

Councillor Garrihy noted that the pandemic has created significant challenges in terms of  the upkeep and maintenance of the graveyard. “Covid-19 has had a huge impact,” he said. “People haven’t been able to come together and the support which would normally be provided from the schemes hasn’t been available. The height of the pandemic also coincided with the arrival of spring and summer and things have gotten overgrown.”

The Fine Gael member urged members of the community to work together to look after cemetery, pledging that Clare County Council will source funding and other supports. “The council might own certain burial grounds, but maintenance is generally done by local communities themselves with funding support and help from RSS or CE schemes,” he outlined. “I have supported this upkeep work financially. We got a €2,000 grant earlier this year and got a contractor in for three or four days. For the future, if people can come together to create a maintenance schedule, we will support them.”

The Ennistymon area councillor said that, in terms of a longer term solution for The Holy Rosary Cemetery, he is hopeful that a review of the maintenance and operation of burial grounds across Clare will offer some fresh ideas. “Along with Councillor Shane Talty, I pressed for that review and it has just been completed,” he confirmed. “I’m hoping that that document contain some advice on the best way forward. It’s due to come before the council shortly.”

In a statement, Clare County Council outlined that it relies on local communities to maintain burial grounds.

“As is the case in other burial grounds around the county, the council relies on the local community to maintain the burial ground and provides grant support towards this under the Community Support Scheme annually,” the council said. “Clare County Council understands that local elected representative, Cllr Joe Garrihy is working with a number of community groups in the locality with a view to seeking this collective approach in relation to Doolin Burial Ground, establishing an overall plan and maintenance schedule for the entire graveyard.”

The statement added that: “Clare County Council welcomes this collaborative approach and in 2020, the council made an additional contribution of €2k towards the essential ‘tidy-up’ works in the council-owned section of the Burial Ground with an offer of further support by Cllr Garrihy from his own GMA towards same. Establishing one overall approach for maintenance of the burial ground, in partnership with the community, is the preferred model to maintain these facilities countywide.”

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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