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The number of Irish funeral services being watched online every week by mourners in the US has doubled in the space of a year.

Funerals Live was established less than two years ago to enable emigrants and relatives living in far-flung countries to take part in the grieving process without having to pay huge sums of money to return home.

Alan Foudy, the Co. Clare-based entrepreneur behind the venture - the only one of its kind in Ireland - said he's now covering up to four funeral services on a weekly basis, twice as many as this time last year.

He said: "I didn't expect the business to expand this quickly, but it's become very accepted now, as word has spread that it exists.

When I started out there were one or two mourners who'd give me strange looks, but nobody bats an eyelid now.

"People are much more aware of it and the undertakers freely forward my details to families to let them know that a service like this is available.

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"Also, I've had a great response from parish priests, who have welcomed it and like the fact that it brings the funeral service to mourners who are unable to physically be there."

Whilst the service is primarily targeted at emigrants, predominantly ones living in the US and Australia, Foudy, 35, said it has also been used for mourners in hospitals and nursing homes.

The private broadcasts on the website are made available online no more than two hours after the funeral service.

He said: "There have been about a dozen occasions over the past year where the funeral was broadcast in nursing homes or hospitals across Ireland for mourners, and I'll be looking at making the service available in prisons too.

"But it's still primarily used by emigrants and mainly by mourners in the US and Australia. In the case of the US, it's literally a lifeline for illegal immigrants, who have no way of getting back to Ireland for a funeral. Even if they could afford to return here, they wouldn't be able to return to America and so would risk losing everything.

"So it gives me a feeling of great satisfaction that I'm helping mourners who can't get to a funeral take part in the grieving process."

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Such is the increased popularity of the virtual funeral broadcasts that Foudy has recently taken on a receptionist and a part-time videographer.

He had previously spoken of his ambition to launch his business in Britain, but said expansion plans have been put on hold because he's so busy in Ireland.

He added: "The reason this has worked so well is because we provide a professional, discreet and respectful service. We make sure we respect the sensitivity of the occasion and the filming is not

intrusive and takes place at an appropriate distance away, so as not to disrupt the ceremony."

For more information, see www.funeralslive.ie.