Secular headstone placed on plot for remains donated to science

Atheist Ireland chair requested change ahead of burial of his late wife in Glasnevin

The medical schools at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI), University College Dublin (UCD) have agreed to neutralise wording on a headstone over the plot in Glasnevin cemetery where remains of those who donated their bodies for research are buried.

It follows a request from Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland whose wife Anne Holliday is to be buried in the Dublin Medical Schools plot at Glasnevin tomorrow. She left her body to Trinity College's Medical School following her death in 2011.

Mr Nugent told The Irish Times that he was contacted by Trinity Medical School last May to say his wife's body was ready for burial.

“Anne wanted a secular burial. I then discovered that the plot had a memorial stone with a symbol of a cross and this religious inscription: ‘The Dublin Medical Colleges (symbol of a cross) Here lie those who have assisted us in the study of man. Pray O traveller for their souls that they rest in the peace of God’.”


He contacted Trinity’s Medical School and asked them “to consider replacing the stone with an inclusive inscription, that referred either to no religious or philosophical beliefs or else to all religious and philosophical beliefs.”

Last June he met Dr Nick Mahony, head of the anatomy department at TCD "who was very supportive of the idea. He said that the old stone had been there since the 1970s, when the plot was last renovated."

Mr Nugent continued: "the three Medical Schools met in mid June, and again in early July. They contacted me on July 8th to say that they had decided on a secular approach. The new inscription would be: 'The Dublin Medical Schools (RCSI, TCD, UCD) This ground is dedicated to the memory of all those who have contributed their bodies to medical education and research'. They said they would move the present headstone to their Trinity Anatomy Museum. "

Anne Holliday (57) died on April 9th, 2011. In 2009, after being diagnosed with cancer, she married Mr Nugent her long-time partner.

A founder member of New Consensus, which called for the revision of the Republic's territorial claim on Northern Ireland, she was involved in organising the first Peace Train journey from Dublin to Belfast, as part of a campaign to end disruption of the north-south rail link by the IRA.

A member of Fine Gael, she later joined the Progressive Democrats. A one time personal assistant to then National Museum director Pat Wallace, she later worked in media relations and special projects for various government departments.

Mr Nugent said that prior to her death “she had made preparations to be able to take her own life if she needed to, but she died naturally in the end”.

It was why he was now involved with Tom Curran (Marie Fleming's partner) in lobbying for legalised assisted dying, so that is "another posthumous contribution that Anne is making."

Ms Holliday will be buried, following a secular ceremony, at the Dublin Medical Schools plot in Glasnevin cemetery at 9.30am tomorrow.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times