The annual Irish invasion of Cheltenham is set to be taken to the afterlife with the opening on Thursday of a registration process for slots in a polished granite wall close to the hallowed turf, which has the capacity to hold the ashes of 800 people.
The wall is the brainchild of an Irish company, Spirit of Sport, founded by Jim O’Toole and Colm Hannon who are confident their punt will prove to be a dead cert and will allow die-hard fans of the sport of kings to be forever at the races.
While the so-called Columbarium Wall has attracted serious interest from high-profile sporting venues across Ireland and Britain, the home of jump racing was first past the post when it came to in offering the service.
With a history stretching back to Roman times, a Columbarium is a wall made up of individual spaces known as niches, into which urns are inserted containing the cremated ashes of loved ones.
The niches Cheltenham are being offered are on a 30-year lease at a cost of £5,000 (€5,690) and at the end of that period the ashes of the interred will be buried underneath the racecourse.
Annual members of the racecourse will be handed a priority window of six weeks up to the end of the Cheltenham Festival in the middle of March to reserve their space before the niche sale will be opened up to the wider racing community.
The number of niches is limited to 800 and are being offered on a first come, first served basis.
The wall is situated by the Centaur Bridge at the entrance to the racecourse and provides a resting place that can be visited all year round as it sits outside the course infrastructure.
As part of the process, a ceremony will take place to give friends and family of the deceased the chance to visit the Cheltenham Columbarium Wall and raise a glass in their memory, after which the niche will be sealed with a granite slab carrying the occupant’s name and age and the date of their passing.
While Cheltenham is the first high-profile sporting venue to move, Mr O’Toole is betting there will be others coming down the track in the near future. “We have a taxi rank of organisations lined up to see how it goes and are at contract stage with two of them at the moment,” he said, while declining to be drawn on who they might be.
“It is lucrative, it is a whole new revenue stream for venue owners,” he said.
He said a brick in the wall could be reserved by someone before their own death with the service also be available to those who already have the ashes of their loved ones safely stored.
He said the ashes of as many as 30 per cent of people who have been cremated are left in a loved one’s home “and often that is in the absence of any clear instructions as to what to do with them”.
Sports fans who have tried to arrange for their ashes to be scatted on a particular field of glory have often found it impossible, Mr O’Toole said. “In the modern era of high performance, pitches don’t want you putting ashes on the grass as it can kill it and they don’t want high-performance athletes rolling around in people’s ashes, and even when it does happen, it happens without any dignity.”