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Last Updated: Friday, 3 September, 2004, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Crematorium throws open its doors
Over 2,400 cremations were carried out at the cemetery last year
Spending your Sunday strolling through a funeral parlour is not everyone's idea of rest and relaxation, but Northern Ireland's only crematorium invited people to do just that.

About 400 people turned up at the City of Belfast Crematorium on the outskirts of east Belfast, for its open day on Sunday.

The council are hoped that by educating people, cremation will become a more popular option as the city's cemetery space continues to dwindle.

The current trend in the province is the opposite of the rest of the UK with only 16% of people choosing to be cremated, compared to 70% in Scotland, England and Wales.

Sharon McCloy, the council's assistant area manager, said the open day was about letting people know more about their options.

The four new cremators cost over 500,000

"The main objective of an open day like this is to open the building to people who are free from bereavement," she said.

"Most people come here sadly when they have lost somebody and they are not in the right frame of mind to look around or ask questions," she said.

While cremation is being promoted as an option, many faiths are still reluctant to consider it, with many Catholic people still feeling they are not allowed to be cremated.

However, Mrs McCloy said the situation was changing.

"We have more and more Catholic funerals now than we would have had five years ago," she said.

The younger priests are also becoming aware that cremation is a good option and they would advise their people not to worry about cremation, whereas the older priests would still be unsure
Sharon McCloy
Belfast City Crematorium

"Today for example we had 10 cremations and four of them were Roman Catholics.

"We have information leaflets for people who are thinking about cremation in the future but are not too sure where the Catholic Church stands on the matter.

"These leaflets are published by the Vatican and they are available to people who can then come to use if they have any questions.

"The younger priests are also becoming aware that cremation is a good option and they would advise their people not to worry about cremation, whereas the older priests would still be unsure."

Ethnic minorities are also among those choosing cremation.

"Most of the Chinese community in Northern Ireland would go for cremation," he said.

"The Hindu population, every single one is a cremation.

Dan Short, Sammy Simpson, Sharon McCloy and Tom McCullough
Mrs McCloy and her team hope the open day will prove informative

"The only ethnic minority one that we don't cremate is Muslim, because they do not believe in cremation.

"Theirs is still an earth burial, face Mecca and they must be buried within 24 hours so that is their faith, that is their culture and you respect that."

The crematorium also caters for humanist funerals, for people who have no beliefs whatsoever, which are conducted by officiates instead of ministers.

Sunday's open allowed people to go behind the scenes where they saw among other things, the four cremators used at the crematorium.

Recently installed, the four state-of-the-art machines were bought in Manchester at a cost of over 500,000 and make cremation available to even more people.

"Two years ago we realised cremation figures were rising," said Mrs McCloy.

"Our three cremators were coming to the end of their life span and we realised we had the space for a fourth.

"In the past, the cremators couldn't cope with people of a larger build and we had to turn them away.

"That wasn't ideal so when we were getting the new equipment we got a machine wider than the normal size.

Cremation is an option people are going to have to seriously look at in the future because the ground will not be there
Sharon McCloy

"Now we can accommodate all sizes so people's wishes can be carried out."

However, some people, regardless of belief, are still reluctant to consider the alternative to burial.

"It's a generation thing," said Mrs McCloy.

"Cremation is still a new concept in Northern Ireland, by new I mean 40 years.

"We opened in 1961 and for anyone who was an adult then, 40 years down the line, the idea is still fairly new to them.

"Younger people would definitely go for cremation more, but the trend is slowly changing."

With 60% of the 2,400 cremations carried out each year being of people from outside the Belfast area, cremation seems to be gaining popularity across Northern Ireland.

As burial land continues to decline, the authorities are eager to encourage everyone to consider it in the future.

"Belfast City Council are looking to purchase additional land for burial, possibly in conjunction with the neighbouring councils of Lisburn or Newtownabbey because the lack of burial space is getting critical," she added.

"Roselawn has about another 15 to 20 years of burial ground left but we have green field sites around us which is farming land so hopefully we could work something out with the farmers.

"There is a serious shortage of land for graves so cremation is an option people are going to have to seriously look at in the future because the ground will not be there."



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