A savvy businessman from Co. Louth has come up with a unique idea that has people talking. 

John Finlay, 41, is in the business of selling caskets and urns, but not just any kind of caskets.  Finlay’s are uniquely Irish. Each casket is adorned with a symbol of Ireland. 

The Heritage Casket Company, which also specializes in Italian designs, both in the traditional European coffin shape and in the traditional American rectangular casket shape, has been in business in New England since 2005, but Finlay’s family has been in the casket business for five generations. 

“Our family business, Finlay’s of Ardee, supplies funeral homes across Ireland and the U.K.,” said Finlay. 

According to Finlay, the business idea came to him after several people living in the U.S. with Irish backgrounds contacted his family business back in Ireland to inquire about specialized Irish burial products for sale in the U.S. Although at the time Finlay had nothing to offer them accept a measured apology, a seed was planted in his mind. 

After carrying out some market research in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland, Finlay discovered that there was a niche market ready to be availed of. 

“We made the decision about five years ago based on a lot of research, including the fact that 40 million people in the U.S. claim Irish heritage,” he said. 

Although there are already thousands of funeral homes located in the U.S., not one of them catered specifically to the needs of Irish Americans. 

Finlay, who now lives in Scituate, Massachusetts, moved to the U.S. two years ago with his family to “directly manage the business” himself. 

“I set up Heritage specifically to provide a new line of Irish themed memorial products for families in America for whom their ancestry or heritage is important,” Finlay said. 

Already Finlay’s company has made a name for themselves. The family of actress Natasha Richardson, who was married to Irish actor Liam Neeson, chose a Heritage mahogany casket with the claddagh symbol to lay Richardson to rest last month after her tragic skiing accident in Montreal. 

Some of Heritage’s customers choose the claddagh design for its symbolism of eternity. Others choose the St. Patrick design as an expression of their Irish ancestry. 

Each casket has a different name. For example, “Galway” is a solid mahogany claddagh coffin with brass handles and a piano gloss. “Waterford” has a carved image of St. Patrick and is an oak casket also with brass hardware.  It is finished with hand rubbed satin. 

Taking the business to the next level, the Heritage Casket Company has signed a new multi-million dollar strategic partnership deal with the leading supplier to funeral homes and cemeteries in the U.S., Matthews Casket Division. 

“Our partnership with Matthews means that in a few months time we will be able to offer our products across the U.S. through the Matthews network,” Finlay said. To date, his company has only been able to distribute their products throughout the North East. 

While it has been difficult to get established in the U.S., Finlay is certain their partnership with Matthews Casket Division will elevate business sales. 

 “Also it offers us a terrific opportunity to build our knowledge of the U.S. market, and will help us to develop our plans for new products and services that we plan to offer to Irish America over the next three to five years,” he says. 

The partnership will also allow Matthews to market its caskets and funeral service products in Europe through Heritage’s sales and distribution network. 

Although the company specializes in authentic caskets, with the claddagh casket being the most popular, they also provide a range of Celtic themed cremations urns which symbolize the full circle of life. The urns are made from Irish clay and hand crafted on the legendary Cooley Peninsula on Ireland’s east coast.   

“We are also developing a line of memorial tributes including boak wood sculpted pieces which can be given to a family as a token of remembrance,” adds Finlay. 

Branching out slightly, the Heritage Casket Company also sells and plants remembrance trees in Ireland and is currently in the middle of relaunching a new campaign with the Irish oak forest foundation. 

“We offer something that forges a sense of identity at a time of the funeral and we base our designs around that,” added Finlay. 

To sample some of the company’s options log onto www.heritagecaskets.com.