A cemetery in Manchester, England, has ordered families to remove flags from the graves of their loved ones to restore it as “a quiet place of reflection.”
Notices were recently placed around Southern Cemetery in Chorlton by the Manchester City Council ordering families to remove the flags – many Irish tricolors among them – from graves by Sunday, April 3, after which time the graveyard’s Bereavement Services will remove them.
The notice stated that the action was being taken because of “an increasing number of requests from bereaved visitors and the local community.”
Dozens of national flags have been placed on graves around the cemetery, one of the largest in Britain, as well as the flags and colors of many soccer and GAA clubs and counties.
The council’s request has come as a blow to many grieving Irish families in the city who wish to display a tricolor on the grave of their family members.
Manchester has one of the largest Irish populations in the UK with around 35 percent of the population having some kind of Irish ancestry. The city has been a destination for Irish immigrants since the time of the Great Hunger with 10 percent of the city’s population in 1841 hailing from Ireland.
Adam Collins, whose Irish grandfather James Collins is buried in the cemetery, spoke to the Manchester Evening News about the upset the decision was causing his family.
The family had placed an Irish flag on the grave of their grandfather, who died in 2014, aged 81, to show how proud he was of his Irish heritage but will now be forced to remove this small nod to his country of origin.
Branding the decision as “disgusting,” Adam, aged 20, said that his grandmother Eileen in particular was greatly upset when she received the letter from the Bereavement Services requesting the flag’s removal.
“My grandad was born in County Mayo and he was really proud of his heritage and being Irish,” Collins said.
“We have had a flag up ever since my grandad died. My Nan got really upset about it when she got the letter. We were disgusted.
“We’ve never had any complaints before. It’s not big or intrusive. We wouldn’t even mind a compromise by using a smaller flag.”
Manchester City Council has told bereaved families they must remove flags from Southern Cemetery by next Sunday. pic.twitter.com/GjPPYrsWom— North West Tonight (@BBCNWT) March 28, 2016
The cemetery’s Bereavement Services, however, has stated that, although they appreciate the flags from various football clubs and countries may be a source of comfort to some, they must take the comfort of all those visiting the cemetery into consideration.
“Cemeteries are a shared space and we have to be sensitive to the feelings of all those who visit them to remember loved ones,” said Barrie Jones, general manager of bereavement services.
“While we completely understand that some people have found comfort in these flags – which include those of football clubs, as well as nations – this is an issue we have received many complaints about from bereaved families and the local community who feel they are inappropriate.
“We appreciate that this is an emotive subject, but on balance, especially given the number of flags involved, we believe that asking people to remove the flags is the most sensitive course of action,” he continued.
Other families have also spoken out in support of the council’s decision stating that they don’t see the need for flags to "mark the person's nationality."
Read more: Do you know the story behind the Irish flag?
Any flags left on graves come Monday, April 4, will be removed and kept for collection by the cemetery staff.
An online petition has since been started arguing against the flags’ removals with some arguing that in such a large cemetery flags were the only way in which they could easily locate a grave.
“I'm signing this because these flags are on my family's [sic] graves. Southern cemetery is a huge cemetery compared to graveyards in Ireland and it's the only way we can find our loved ones graves when we visit,” wrote Nicola Mallon from Co. Cork.
“These flags bring comfort to all of us who have loved ones at southern cemetery,” said Lynne Carlyon from Eccles in the UK.
Do you agree that an Irish flag is not needed on a grave to mark a person’s nationality or is a flag an important way in which we can remember our Irish relatives? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section, below.