FAMILIES of those buried in St Joseph’s Cemetery in Hannahstown have spoken of their heartache after finding that flowers and items they had placed on their graves were removed last weekend. 

We previously reported that the Cemetery Committee said they had not received any negative feedback after signs were erected informing leaseholders that flowers were only permitted until the deceased’s Months Mind. 

Last Saturday Michelle Connors, whose son passed away in January 2020, arrived at the cemetery to find that flowers and a photograph that she had left on her son’s grave had been removed. 

Speaking to the Andersonstown News she described the move as “absolutely horrendous".

“My son passed away just over a year ago and I visit his grave three or four times a day,” said Michelle. “I go up at 10 o’clock at night to say goodnight to him. On Friday night the cemetery looked absolutely beautiful and everyone’s flowers and artefacts were on their graves. There was nothing elaborate, just a few flowers. 

“On Saturday morning I arrived and the bins were overflowing. Fresh flowers had been dumped and my child’s photograph was in a bin. I was hysterical. It was absolutely horrendous. I had left the cemetery shortly after 10 o’clock on Friday night and I had returned around 10.30am on Saturday. Within twelve hours they had removed everything from people’s graves. 

“Personal belongings just thrown in the bin. What is a flower? My son climbed into a bin and took a photograph out that had been smashed to smithereens. This is horrible. The dead are doing no harm at all.”

Addressing the previous statement issued by the Cemetery Committee, Michelle said: “There was not one bit of positive feedback at that cemetery on Saturday morning. People were heartbroken, grown men were crying taking their mother’s stuff, their wife’s stuff, their children’s stuff out of bins. I don’t see that as positive feedback. 

“The signs that went up say that flowers are to be removed. The way we gathered that was it was to be dead flowers. How can they tell us this is to allow maintenance when the grass does not get cut at this time of year? The columbarium [wall for the storage of funeral urns] doesn’t require maintenance. Are they going to tell us on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day that we can’t put flowers on our graves? There was a gentleman buried in the cemetery on Thursday and by Saturday morning his wreaths had been dumped. The sign says that they have to be removed by the Months Mind – that was only three days. It is disrespectful.”

Louise Watson’s sister passed away three weeks ago. She learned of the situation after her mother saw posts on social media.

She told us: “My mother phoned me on Saturday in a terrible state after seeing posts on social media. I was absolutely devastated. There were lots of others at the cemetery who were crying, it was absolutely awful. 

“My sister has only been buried three weeks so you can imagine how my mother feels knowing that one small trinket that she had put on for my sister has been thrown aside with the rubbish. The rules need to change for everyone’s sake. I can understand asking for the grass areas at the graves to be kept clear but surely families should be allowed to put a few flowers in their headstone.

“The columbarium is all that we have. All we have is a small plaque and many families like to leave something small there to remember their loved ones. It makes us feel better and it is a really important part of the grieving process which has been taken away from us. The families keep the cemetery beautiful  and I can understand asking for dead flowers to be removed but to just lift trinkets and small memorials and to chuck them aside is completely heartless.”

Bins full of flowers and ornaments at the cemetery

Bins full of flowers and ornaments at the cemetery

We also spoke to Sean Shields who heard of the move when a friend in Canada phoned him to ask what was going on.

“I visited the cemetery about a week ago to place flowers on my friend’s grave,” he said.  “It cost me £50. The money isn’t an issue, but do we now have to write a date on the flowers so that those working in the cemetery know when they were put on?

“I would like to see the marble plaques and sentimental items replaced. I don’t think it is morally right that someone should come along and effectively desecrate a grave and remove items and flowers that friends and relatives place on them.”

Geraldine Hope’s parents' ashes are stored in the columbarium. Speaking to the Andersonstown News she said: “When I arrived it broke my heart. My mum and dad were cremated and there was a plaque with their photograph on it at the columbarium which had been there for seven years. When my grandchildren visit the cemetery they can see the photograph and know that that’s their Granny and Granda in heaven. When I go up I get comfort in being able to look at my mum and dad. Why after seven years have they removed that?

I witnessed people standing at graves crying and when I got home I saw a photo on Facebook that someone had posted of the cemetery. I then got upset when I noticed the photo of my parents in the middle of the pile of rubbish. 

“I witnessed people standing at graves crying and when I got home I saw a photo on Facebook that someone had posted of the cemetery. I then got upset when I noticed the photo of my parents in the middle of the pile of rubbish. I totally get where they are coming from as I know that sometimes people can go overboard with balloons and teddy bears and such, but the majority of us look after the place.”

A spokesperson for the Cemetery Committee said: “We wish to remind everyone that the cemeteries and Columbarium at St Joseph’s, Hannahstown, and St Peters, the Rock, are owned and solely maintained by the Parish (the generous support of others is acknowledged and appreciated).

“This work commenced on Wednesday 17th February by the removal of a volume of wreaths, flowers, candle holders, ornaments etc. which had accumulated in Our Lady’s Cemetery and had not been disposed of properly. This clearance was carried out by volunteers as will all the proposed tidy-up works.  The Parish and Cemetery Committee wish to express their gratitude and thanks to all the volunteers who give up their free time to maintain our cemeteries and columbarium in an acceptable condition to all.

“The tidy-up continued on Saturday 20th February and the cemetery office has received some complaints since then. We will endeavour to respond to these issues and where we made mistakes we unreservedly apologise.

“This tidy-up that commenced on Wednesday 17th February is part of the maintenance programme and necessary to facilitate the incoming grass-cutting season and the cleaning and polishing of the marble tablets in the columbarium, similar to the work carried out last year,” added the cemetery spokesperson.