Demand for funeral celebrants has surged across Ireland, as more and more families look to lay their loved ones to rest in non-religious ceremonies.
According to one prominent funeral director, as many as 15 out of every 100 funeral services are now taking place outside the traditional church setting, up from one in every 100 just a decade ago.
Lorraine Mancey O'Brien, who up to recently has focused on providing wedding celebrants through her organization Marry Me Ireland, has
responded to the growing demand by setting up a course specifically to train funeral celebrants.
Although humanist ceremonies remain a popular option for those looking for non-Catholic, secular funerals, Mancey O'Brien, the founder of the Institute of Celebrants, said her focus is on providing personalized ceremonies which are not attached to any particular group or set of beliefs.
"We started a course last year to train funeral celebrants, which we're rolling out every six months, and by June this year we will have 30 funeral celebrants on our books,” she said.
"As Ireland becomes more secular, people are looking for alternatives, not just in weddings, but also in funerals. We set up the course in response to funeral directors, who approached us to provide fully-trained celebrants because they've noticed there's such a growing demand for it among their clients.
"It's about providing a very personal ceremony, which has no agenda and which is specifically designed around the deceased and the wishes
of his or her family. If the family wish, the ceremony could certainly involve a bit of spirituality or religion, or a prayer or a hymn. It is entirely up to them, but the focus is on making the event as meaningful and empathetic as possible, whether that be in the choice of music or the words that the celebrant says at the service.
"For example, at a recent funeral for a man who enjoyed a drink, it was his family's wishes that a bottle of whiskey was brought to his coffin. That might not have been allowed to happen in the Catholic Church.
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"Our celebrants conduct their services in crematoriums and funeral homes. We'd be delighted if the ceremonies could take place in the Catholic Church, but we're not allowed. I hope that changes in the future.
"There's been a lot of enthusiasm from people wanting to become funeral celebrants and the people we are training have often been touched by acute grief themselves. Amongst the people on our books, we have funeral directors, embalmers, a couple of parents and a former Catholic priest."
Trish Cameron, a registered celebrant with broad-based spiritual group Temple of Eiriu, said she's conducted a dozen funerals over the past few years, but stressed she thinks the number could be much higher if people realized there was an alternative to traditional services.
"They are definitely becoming more popular, because chief mourners want services that are more personal to the deceased. But we need to get the word out there that there are other options other than church funerals and that we are available,” Cameron said.
Meanwhile, celebrants have also noted a steady rise from parents looking for alternative options to christenings and First Communions.
"I've done oodles of baby welcomings over the past number of years, which are very easy to organize and usually take place in the family home,” Cameron said.
Mancey O'Brien added, "Baby welcomings and alternatives to Communion or confirmations are still quite peripheral, but we will definitely see a rise as the country becomes more secular. It's important that people who don't want a church ceremony for significant events in their children's lives have another option."