Pushing up the daisies
Sir, – Olivia Kelleher’s article on grazing a graveyard in Templebreedy Church cemetery, Co Cork, is to be welcomed if it encourages environmentally sensitive management practices (“No acting the goat when it comes to cleaning up Cork graveyard”, News, May 26th).
At Magorban graveyard in Co Tipperary we have been grazing sheep for a number of years. There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to this approach. Primarily a graveyard’s function is to provide graves, and people require access to visit these. Closely cut or grazed grass makes for an easy visit.
Graveyards are places of peace and quiet and lend themselves to the additional function of nature reserves. Complete abandonment encourages wildlife but the resulting extensive growth of vegetation may make visiting impossible. Intensive mowing and strimming makes easy access, but is labour intensive, burns fossil fuel, and may create a tidy but semi-sterile graveyard. On the other hand, grazing animals kill shrubs and trees and can damage graves or objects left on graves such as flowers.
Our experience has been to graze during the summer months and remove the animals for the winter. All trees and shrubs have to be protected and we only plant small fruit-bearing trees such as rowan, cherry or crab-apple. We have eliminated as much as possible nettles and thistles as we feel they are not welcoming to visitors. We are encouraging the growth of spring-flowering bulbs which have completed flowering before the main grazing season.
Those people that are concerned about their family graves have erected small protective fences round them. The number that opt for this are few and are only continuing the Victorian habit of metal railing enclosures around a grave plot.
For us this policy of a semi-natural but managed environment seems to work. There are frequent visitors enjoying the graveyard even though it is in a very rural area, being ten kilometres to the nearest town.
We are grateful to Tipperary County Council for a small annual maintenance. This has paid for some tree planting in the past.
The earliest gravestone is from about 1760 and there is an active functioning church completed in 1816. The church is heated by a modern Woodburn stove. Electricity is not considered necessary as the norm is a mid-morning service. There is, however, free stabling offered if you choose to ride to church!
Long may this apparently harmonious relationship between God, nature and human beings (both dead and alive!) continue to exist. – Yours, etc,