Belfast Telegraph

Going out in true style, the Northern Ireland people picking bespoke coffin send-off service

By Brett Campbell

Multiculturalism, increased travel and the internet are just some of the factors behind a growing trend towards bespoke coffins in Northern Ireland.

While the casket remains the traditional means of laying someone to rest, the so-called "personalisation of the funeral" is becoming increasingly popular.

Desmond Stephenson supplies expressive and celebratory eco-coffins, and has noticed an increase in demand for his products which range from caskets featuring favourite landmarks to the emblem of a person's preferred football team.

"It is unique to that person," he explained. "There is a woman from Lisburn who is a big music fan and she has put in a request to have Elvis Presley on her coffin, with the words 'Love Me Tender' on it. Her husband wants a lone piper on his coffin."

Ian Milne, a Northern Ireland representative of the National Association of Funeral Directors, has been in the business for more than 30 years and attributes the trend to a decline in the number of traditional religious services, a rise in humanist funerals and the growing number of people opting to be cremated.

He has observed the influence that multiculturalism has had on the way people plan their funerals, and cited several Vietnamese-style ceremonies - where people have burned replicas of high value monetary notes - as an example.

Mr Milne believes the "personalisation of the funeral is in full swing", and that the internet is also one of the root causes.

He anticipates the trend will continue, especially among up and coming generations. "The young people are open to change," he said.

Stewart Holden, a committee member and non-religious celebrant for Northern Ireland Humanists, also identified an increase in cremation services here as a contributing factor.

"It increases the tendency to go for a less traditional style of funeral service and that can include the coffin because a bespoke casket can be a really interesting way to express the personality of the deceased," he said.

Meanwhile, a planning application has been submitted, to use a facility near Downpatrick as Northern Ireland's first natural woodland burial site.

Mr Holden said that if the unconventional graveyard is approved, he anticipates the trend will continue.

He pointed to a moving episode of Coronation Street in 2014 as demonstrating the increasing public awareness of the existence of less traditional coffins.

Fans of the soap will remember how Hayley was laid to rest in a pink floral casket.

Chairman of Northern Ireland Humanists, Boyd Sleator, doesn't think that someone's artistic preference for a certain style of coffin says anything about their religious beliefs, and instead attributes the craze to a growing middle class.

Mr Sleator commented: "People travel more today and they want their life experiences to be reflected in their funeral service, but that doesn't mean they are less religious.

"If you take the Far East for example, people have very colourful and beautiful services."

Mr Sleator added: "People are coming away from the idea that a funeral has to be sorrowful and they want to be able to remember their loved ones in a happier way."

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