Pagan practice fears over green burial site plan in Northern Ireland
Critics of plans for Northern Ireland's first green burial site have raised fears about possible pagan practices.
The proposed woodland site is close to the spot widely believed to be the resting place of St Patrick in Downpatrick, Co Down.
It is also near Slieve Patrick, where a large statue of the Patron Saint overlooks the place he is believed to have landed on his return to Ireland to convert the natives to Christianity.
A group called Down to Earth has developed the proposal at Lough Money, but it has met opposition from some residents.
Concerns have been raised about "pagan elements", potential contamination of the lough and upkeep of the site.
The group insists the plan is about reducing carbon footprint and getting back to nature.
Within the woodland graveyard there would be no headstones, and no ordinary coffins. Instead, thousands of trees and wildflowers would be planted to make a memorial nature reserve.
People wishing to be buried there would use cardboard or wicker coffins, and no embalming fluid would be permitted.
GPS technology would be used to ensure that people who want to be buried with family members can identify grave locations. It is estimated 750 burials could be accommodated in the first phase, with more later.
Down to Earth member Ciara Campbell Crawford said there was nothing pagan involved. "I think people are afraid of the unknown. Some are afraid to move away from the traditional church setting," she said.
"All we are trying to do is bring it back to nature. Many of us in the group are from different backgrounds. Some have faith, some don't.
The group is carrying out public consultations before submitting an application to planners.
However, SDLP MLA Colin McGrath said local people had raised a number of concerns.
"As it is not a traditional burial plot and is not Christian in a sense, there are real fears that there is some pagan element to it," he said.
"Some are worried that there could be contamination issues as the site is on a hill which slopes down into a lough. Another big concern is that, because it is a private company, what happens if it goes into liquidation? Who has responsibility then?"
Down to Earth will host a community consultation meeting at Paddy's Barn in Saul on March 25, 12.30-2.30pm.