Health and Fitness

‘Would you like to visit my grave?’ The farmer planning a house burial

There is an outdated marble gravestone half buried among the many dandelions and lengthy grass behind Martin Neary’s dwelling within the townland of Madogue, Co Mayo. I’m making my method to his door after I spot it. Despite the torrential rain, I’m startled into stopping, not sure as to what I’m . Is this a grave in a again backyard?

The names carved on to the gravestone are household names; Martin and Elizabeth Neary. The dates are 1949 and 1980.

It shouldn’t be day-after-day I present as much as interview somebody and need to go an deserted headstone to entry their home. For a second, I’m wondering if I’m hallucinating as a result of, because it occurs, the rationale I’m right here to interview Martin Neary is that he lately acquired permission to be buried on his land. He is seemingly considered one of solely three individuals in Ireland who’ve acquired this uncommon permission. I had been considering of burials on the drive from Dublin, and now I’m a gravestone the place I didn’t anticipate to see a gravestone. But it’s not his: Martin Neary has appeared on the door, waving to me.

Electricity got here in 1954, or 1955. I keep in mind the oil lamps. Certain native homes would promote oil, and sure retailers within the countryside would promote it

Inside, beside a full of life turf fireplace, I ask gingerly in regards to the gravestone within the lengthy grass.

“Ah, that was the old one,” he says. It was the unique gravestone that marked his mother and father’ grave in Bushfield Cemetery in close by Charlestown. He has since commissioned a brand new one. “The sculptor, or whoever he was, dropped it there. It’s there maybe a year. The council reckon that they might build a wall. There is a pile of stones out there and it would be a way of doing something with them. And they said they might put that headstone into the wall somehow.”

“It’s kind of unusual to have two headstones, isn’t it?” I enterprise.

“’Tis, I suppose,” Neary replies, laughing. “It’s too heavy to move myself. I would need help. So there it lies.”


Martin Neary is 78, a retired farmer, who reclaimed over time some 30 of the 37 acres that his land consists of. His father died when he was a toddler, and his solely sibling died aged a number of months. His mom died 42 years in the past. He by no means married, and doesn’t have youngsters, or shut kin. He has bequeathed his land – on which he will likely be buried – for public use. The Martin Neary Woodland Park has been planted with a wide range of native broadleaf timber by the native council and the Western Forestry Co-op. These many timber embody alder, rowan, hazel, birch and oak.

“We farmed seven acres when I was a child. We had a few cattle,” he says. “Electricity came in 1954, or 1955. I remember the oil lamps. Certain local houses would sell oil, and certain shops in the countryside would sell it.” His mom cooked on an open fireplace. He walked to highschool. “When I was going to school, there were 19 children going out of this village, and now I don’t know if there is a single child going to the national school.”

Fine resting place: Martin Neary beside the plot on his Woodland Park in Madogue, Co Mayo where he will be buried. Photograph: Conor McKeown
Fine resting place: Martin Neary beside the plot on his Woodland Park in Madogue, Co Mayo the place he will likely be buried. Photograph: Conor McKeown

Neary left faculty at 13, after doing three months at secondary faculty. He didn’t see the purpose of staying on. “There was no work, you went to England, that was it. I farmed the land for a couple of years after leaving school, and then I went to England, to Shropshire, to work in the sugar factory. I only went for the winter, September to February. I went over there for eight years. You made a bit of money and you could do something with the land when you came back, and you could increase your stock of cows. I would have liked to stay in England, but I was attached to the land and then I would have had to come home to look after the old people [his mother and an aunt].”


Neary is a bit of exhausting of listening to now, which implies he has the ringtone on his cellphone turned as much as the utmost. When it rings, because it ceaselessly does throughout our dialog, it’s the unignorable sound of a blaring siren. I’ve solely ever beforehand heard the sound of air raid sirens in films, however throughout one afternoon this week in rural Mayo, I heard it 5 occasions.

Well, after I die, I gained’t be going to Heaven or Hell. I don’t consider in any of that. I’ll have to depart the land behind, and I believed I used to be as properly to stick with it

The Woodland Park in his identify was formally opened solely a fortnight in the past, which is why his cellphone is now ringing so typically. After one name he says: “People are saying I did something good, by leaving the land, and getting it planted with woodland. But I was doing it to please myself. I wanted somebody to look after the place after I would go. I reclaimed all the land, it kind of took a lifetime to do that. I wound up with 20 Limousin cows, and then the bypass came, and they took four aces of land, and then I was old enough to retire.”

Why did he need to be buried on his land?

“Well, when I die, I won’t be going to Heaven or Hell. I don’t believe in any of that. I’ll have to leave the land behind, and I thought I was as well to stay with it.”

Several years in the past, Neary engaged the providers of an architect, in order that he might get planning permission to be buried on his personal land. Permission was turned down by the council, however he appealed to An Bord Pleanála, which ultimately granted it. “I wasn’t expecting to get permission, but by God, one day they gave permission. They said if I was buried on the land, there would be less waste from me than from an ordinary house, is how they put it.”

Does he know who the opposite two individuals in Ireland had been who additionally bought permission to be buried on their personal land? He is aware of who considered one of them was.

“A woman in Donegal [Judith Hoad] buried her husband in the garden. I rang her one time. She was into herbs and all that kind of thing. She wanted to know what kind of coffin I wanted. I wasn’t thinking of coffins at the time. She would be into wicker coffins. She mentioned who was producing them in case I was interested. So her husband was one. I don’t know who the other one was.”


Madogue is sort of distant, a townland situated a ways off the Charlestown-Swinford highway. To get to Neary’s home, I’ve needed to drive up an extended avenue, which has a large backbone of grass within the center.

Does he ever get lonely?

“If I have something to read, I never feel lonely. I love to read,” he says. There are stacks of books piled on the dusty mantelpiece. Agatha Christie’s Poirot. The Works of Lord Byron. Frank McCourt’s ’Tis. He has simply completed John McGahern’s Memoir. “I bought two books there lately in a car boot sale. One was about Oscar Wilde and the other was by, what’s his name? That fella who went to France? Beckett! Jesus Christ, that was a hard one to read. I kept turning the pages, but nothing was happening. I was waiting for something to happen.”

Martin Neary in the Woodland Park he has created beside his home in Madogue, Co Mayo. Photograph: Conor McKeown
Martin Neary within the Woodland Park he has created beside his dwelling in Madogue, Co Mayo. Photograph: Conor McKeown

Over the years, Neary has had a succession of sheepdog collies. There’s a portrait of considered one of them on the wall behind us, Salman. “After Salman Rushdie. The man who painted it was reading a book by Salman Rushdie at the time, so I thought I’d call the dog after him.” Other collies had been Fidel (“that was after Fidel Castro”), Beethoven and Conor Cruise O’Brien. “But I wasn’t too pleased with O’Brien’s later activities in politics. The dog was all right, but not the man.”

His most up-to-date canine was Van Gogh, who died simply earlier than Christmas. “The postman hit him. He didn’t mean to, though.”

He’s presently searching for a brand new canine, however not a pup this time. “I’d like an older dog. I wouldn’t be able to keep up with a pup.”

The fireplace has died down, and the rain has ceased. “Would you like to see my grave?” he asks eagerly, which once more, is a brand new one on me, regardless of greater than 20 years of reporting.

Picnic tables

We exit the again door and go by the outdated gravestone, whose trendy new twin is now in Bushfield Cemetery. The lots of, if not 1000’s, of timber which were planted within the woodlands he’s leaving to the general public had been planted three years in the past. They are thriving. There are some benches and picnic tables scattered across the woodland, in addition to some noticeboards explaining the provenance of the Martin Neary Woodland Park. (It’s a disgrace that somebody from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, whose identify seems on the underside of those boards, didn’t take the care to proof-read the textual content earlier than immortalising it for the general public. The public can, apparently, take pleasure in “picnic area’s” within the park.)

The two of us stroll by way of rows of alders and hazels, and thru a small picket gate to the plot the place, sooner or later, Neary will likely be interred within the land his household farmed for some 170 years. There is a big, as-yet-uncarved gravestone at one finish. He regards it with quiet satisfaction.

What does he do subsequent, I ask.

“I was thinking I could have a wake every year. There is great fun at a wake, but the person who is dead cannot enjoy it at all. But I could have one every year,” he chuckles.

I drive away considering that the fella who went to France – Samuel Beckett – would approve of those plans for a number of “wakes”.

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