Belfast Telegraph

Unusual exhibition set to cause a stir with range of wacky coffins to die for

By Leona O'Neill

From skateboards to football boots and even the Starship Enterprise - these are some of the crazy coffins coming to Northern Ireland.

Those looking for a less conventional burial will be able to book their dream casket at a massive exhibition due to take place in Co Armagh next year.

Final plans are being made for the unusual event which will offer people the chance to shun traditional coffins and pick up a crazy, fantasy or customised coffin or urn that truly reflects their personalities.

They include former Craigavon soldier Anto Wickham's Jack Daniels whiskey bottle coffin or the Arctic Explorer Richard Mullard's coffin - a Laplander's sled complete with skis.

The exhibition is being brought to Northern Ireland by Armagh funeral director Ian Milne, who runs Milne Funeral Services in Lurgan, Portadown and Banbridge.

He says he is looking to secure a venue within the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council area in the coming weeks for the exhibition, which will take place next March.

"The public love it," says Ian. "There is a huge variety of stuff out there these days.

"This exhibition is to let them see what's available. This exhibition travels around the world, it's a huge undertaking to bring it here.

"There is so much to see. There is a man who has a skip coffin, there's a pilot who has commissioned a Red Arrow plane where he is sitting reverse ways in it, there are coffins in the shape of coffee tables, kites, skateboards, trees.

"Just about anything you can think of has been turned into a coffin.

"I'm going to host this fascinating exhibition here in Ireland in March," he said.

"It's just unbelievably interesting. In the next few weeks we will meet with the council, secure a venue and tie down a date. It will be here for a week and a half and people will come from all over to view them."

Ursula Williams, exhibition co-ordinator with the Nottingham-based Crazy Coffins company, who has been manufacturing unusual caskets for 25 years, says the company has allowed people to meet their maker in mobile phones, railway carriages and even a Viking boat.

She says the coffins mean a lot to those whose dream it is to shuffle off this mortal coil in something that's a little different.

"We make things to commission," she says. "The people who are asking us to make them have all got very good reasons for their requests.

"For example, a Nottingham man who runs a successful skip company asked us to make a skip coffin for him. We did it, it looks amazing, we just have to add a bit of rust to it to make it a little more authentic.

"There's a lady who remembers as a child sitting under a grand piano watching her mother perform ballet. She has a ballet shoe coffin in pink satin. We have aeroplanes, barges, boats, musical instruments, whiskey bottles, corks, cork screws, all kinds of things.

"They have to be fit for use. For example the whiskey bottle coffin that we made, the neck of the bottle comes off so it can be disassembled to fit in the back of a hearse.

"A customer in Scotland wanted a reed canoe built and wants to be taken to the funeral in an old ambulance, so we got the dimensions and worked around it. They are like theatrical props. They are the focal point of a ceremony but then for burial they can be reduced down."

Ursula says that far from being grave, customers find the process of picking an unusual coffin to make their final journey rather uplifting.

"We get a lot of commissions for people who are terminally ill," she says. "People can find it uplifting to have an artistic project surrounding their death. It gives them a way of facing the funeral without the distressing and harrowing shape of a normal coffin. I think it really does help people.

"It helps transcend a really grim time and it gives the whole thing a significance."

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