Abbeyfeale is running out of room to bury the dead

Maurice O’Connell of Abbeyfeale Community Council and James Harnett, local undertaker, at Abbeyfeale Cemetery. Picture: Keith Wiseman

WITH a population of 5,000, Abbeyfeale is faced with a situation where it could be without a graveyard by the end of the year as the current burial site Reilig Íde Naofa nears full capacity. Reporter Alan Jacques visited the West Limerick town to investigate this grave issue.

by Alan Jacques

Maurice O’Connell of Abbeyfeale Community Council and James Harnett, local undertaker, at Abbeyfeale Cemetery.
Picture: Keith Wiseman

THE dwindling burial space in Reilig Íde Naofa graveyard in Abbeyfeale has been a crisis waiting to happen in the West Limerick parish for some time now.

But with only 20 graves remaining in the cemetery on Hill Road, the issue can no longer be ignored.

In fairness to the six councillors of the Newcastle West Municipal District, it’s an issue that is brought up ad nauseam at every monthly local authority meeting.

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And while we are being fair, Limerick City and County Council have assessed numerous sites in Abbeyfeale, but none have met the rigorous planning regulations and HSE requirements for a burial ground.

Reilig Íde Naofa cemetery, which was opened in 1962, is ironically still referred to as ‘the new graveyard’. The first burial took place in this five-acre site on October 3 that same year.

With an estimated 2,500 plots in total, it currently costs €900 for a single plot and €2,100 for a family plot in the graveyard.

According to local undertaker James Harnett of Harnett’s Funeral Home, there are about 20 grave plots that remain unsold, which equates to ten family plots. He expects that this number will see the community through the remainder of 2017.

“However, unless we have a new cemetery in place for next year, local families will face the prospect of burying their loved ones outside the parish, be it in Templeglantine, Tournafulla, Brosna, Duagh or Athea,” Mr Harnett told the Limerick Post.

“People who were born and reared in the parish, who were educated in the parish, who worked and lived in the parish, surely deserve to be allowed the opportunity to be laid to rest in the parish?”

Without giving the project the kiss of death, the truth is that establishing a new cemetery will take time. A suitable site must first be located and purchased. Planning permission needs to be obtained and parking, footpaths and layout must be completed.

“I know that it may be difficult to find a suitable site, but an immediate start must be made if we are to cater for the needs of the community,” Mr Harnett insists.

In recent years, several prominent members of the community along with local councillors have been highlighting the need for a new burial ground in or near Abbeyfeale town.

Chairperson of Abbeyfeale Community Council, Maurice O’Connell feels it is now a matter of real urgency and one that is causing concern for everyone throughout the greater Abbeyfeale area.

“Limerick City and County Council have been out to conduct a number of ground tests at various locations for this particular purpose. However, with all previous sites failing the strict ground and water level tests, the situation has now escalated to such a point where we are running out of space,” he explained.

“We have been going to extra lengths over the past couple of months to highlight this issue to various officials. We have also submitted details of a number of new sites at an elevated and south-facing position not far from Abbeyfeale town with lots of road frontage.”

With a timeframe of just six to nine months before all new burials will have to be transferred to locations outside of Abbeyfeale as well as the obvious six to 12 months it takes to prepare a new site to the standard required for a new burial ground, the Council are cutting it very fine indeed.

“Yes, it is coming close to the point where members of the public and officials will have to deal with some very sensitive and upsetting situations that no one wants to face.

Abbeyfeale Community Council will continue to search for possible locations and ask any members of the public who may know of a suitable site to bring it to the attention of one of the local councillors or to any member of the community council and we will pass it on to Limerick City and County Council,” Mr O’Connell commented.

When the Limerick Post visited Reilig Íde Naofa cemetery last week the urgent need for a new burial ground was plain to see. In the bottom right hand corner of the cemetery, a small green area that might fit a dozen parked cars at a squeeze, indicated the only available space left onsite.

Local priest Fr Joe Foley joined us on our walk around Reilig Íde Naofa cemetery and stressed the need for a new cemetery in the town.

“We need a new burial ground. We need a site of around five acres for the people of Abbeyfeale and we need it now,” he declared.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein councillor Seamus Browne was among those calling for action at this month’s meeting of Newcastle West Municipal District.

“This is causing a lot of concern in the community and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Limerick City and County Council needs to secure a suitable site in the next few months before the present graveyard reaches full capacity and is closed for further burials,” he said.

“If a new site is not found in the very near future then burials will have to be transferred to locations outside Abbeyfeale and this is raising serious and legitimate concerns among the public. It is now time for action.”

A spokesman for Limerick City and County Council said that the local authority is aware of the pressing need to provide extra land in Abbeyfeale to be used as a cemetery.

“A number of sites have already been assessed, however they were deemed not suitable. This has been due to a number of factors chiefly percolation issues.

Land, which is planned to be developed as a cemetery must meet stringent planning regulations and meet HSE requirements, due to the nature of its usage.

The local authority, in conjunction with Abbeyfeale Community Council, have identified a number of other potential sites, which are currently being inspected.

Once a feasible site has been identified, site investigation tests will follow. If these tests are passed, the council will then endeavour to acquire and develop a new cemetery without delay,” the council statement concluded.

What the councillors say

Cllr Francis Foley (Fianna Fail): “I have raised the issue of a new burial ground in Abbeyfeale on numerous occasions and I know that the council have been actively looking for a suitable site, but unfortunately the sites that they had visited have been unsuitable as they failed percolation. The council have been fully supportive in our efforts to find a suitable burial site. We now find ourselves in a serious situation as the present burial ground has nearly reached full capacity. I know that in the last few weeks a number of other sites have been put forward so hopefully one of these sites will be suitable.”





Cllr Michael Collins (Fianna Fail): “The Abbeyfeale graveyard issue is dragging on for a number of years now. It is constantly being raised at district meetings. Several sites have been identified in those years but unfortunately were deemed unsuitable for various reasons. The biggest issue in relation to site suitability is the underlying soil conditions and soil conditions in the Abbeyfeale area are challenging when it comes to site suitability for graveyards. The Council are fully aware as to the urgency of the situation as the current graveyard is nearing capacity. I as a public representative for the area along with my colleagues will make sure that the situation is resolved to a satisfactory conclusion.”


Cllr Liam Galvin (Fine Gael): “It is coming down to an emergency situation now. Grounds have to be provided for a new cemetery. If you check the minutes of the council meetings, you will see this issue has been highlighted regularly over the last three or four years. The community council have been bringing it up as well. A new site is needed urgently. It has to be a dry plot of land, and a substantial site of five or six acres. The council could straight away prepare about two acres of the site with lighting and footpaths for the cemetery and maybe sublet the rest of it to a farmer. They could then expand the graveyard, as it’s needed. There is no point buying an acre or two of land and then finding ourselves in the same position again in two or three years time. It has to be a dry plot of ground, I can’t stress that enough.”




Cllr Jerome Scanlan (Fine Gael): “I am aware of ongoing efforts on the part of Cllrs Galvin and Foley over the last decade to identify suitable lands in close proximity to the town to provide new burial ground. Several members of the local community have also committed to this project. The big issue locally relates to ground conditions, principally that of a high water table. Councillors locally and the Abbeyfeale community will have my full backing in terms of prioritising funding for their cemetery project when lands are identified.”



Cllr John Sheahan (Fine Gael): This has been an issue in Abbeyfeale for some time now. It seems to be proving a terrible problem to find suitable land. But it is important that the proper testing is carried out and I would strike a note of caution and ask for patience. We have to be sure to get the right plot of ground and not take up land that’s not suitable. There is a problem with waterlogged cemeteries in certain areas and it’s not pretty, it is endemic throughout the county.”






Cllr Seamus Browne (Sinn Fein): “I am asking that the council use all means available to it to find a new graveyard for the people of the town and its environs. If a suitable site was found tomorrow it will still take a number of months for planning permission and for the site to be developed and time is running out. There is real and growing concern among the public that the present graveyard in Abbeyfeale will be closed for further burials before a new graveyard is located and this is not acceptable. It is important that the council understands the urgency of this matter. This is one of the most urgent matters facing Abbeyfeale at the present time. Any available sites must be assessed as soon as possible and suitable sites must be found. It needs to be resolved sooner rather than later.”