A Carrickfergus funeral director has spoken of the “honour and privilege” of being able to help so many families in their hour of need.
Peter Mulholland was reflecting on over half a century in the undertaker business, from which he has just retired.
The horse-drawn hearse used in the final funeral he conducted at Victoria Cemetery provided a fitting conclusion to a career which began in his early teens. Peter followed familiar footsteps into the role, those of his father Bob and one of his abiding memories is of his dad on duty beside a horse-drawn hearse a year before his death.
Mulholland of Carrickfergus has always striven to be sensitive to the needs of clients and this may be traced back to the firm’s own difficult introduction.
Peter explained: “The business was started on the 8th February 1966 by my parents Bob and Bridie. It was a bitter sweet day for us as a family as my grandfather Reeves Mulholland died that same day. What a start for any business!
“My first introduction to the business was at the tender age of just 14, when I would go out with my father and help him with funeral arrangements and embalming families loved ones in their own home. In the early years my sisters Anne and Eileen played an active role and helped in the business before they emigrated to Canada.
“Many Carrick people will fondly remember ‘Carrick Taxis & Mulholland’s Coach Tours’. We also operated several lorries carrying freight across Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom.
“However Mulholland’s main business was providing a professional, caring, sensitive and compassionate funeral service to bereaved families in the Carrickfergus and East Antrim areas. Linked to the funeral service was our highly successful wedding limousine hire, which was used by bridal couples throughout Northern Ireland.
“It was a great honour and privilege to be invited to provide our services to the entire community. My late father’s standards were the highest possible. As a young lad he instilled in me the importance of meeting his standards, he would often say: ‘If that was your mother would that be good enough?’.
“He only wanted for others what he would want for his own family. Those same standards have been the benchmark for over 50 years and are still being maintained by the staff at Mulholland’s today.”
Peter left school in 1968 and his desire to help people during the most difficult times meant one thing. “I was only interested in working alongside my father, I wanted to mirror him in every way.”
Over the next number of years he studied and passed examinations for the National Association Funeral Directors Diploma, the British Institute of Embalmers and also became a member of the British Institute of Funeral Directors.
Fate also had a cruel hand in Peter’s professional development as he candidly revealed. “One of my hardest knocks came in 1981 with the death of my second son Brian. I thought I knew all about death, dying, grief and loss but truth was until then I really knew very little. Although I had lost my grandad this was pain like no other pain. I now understood more of how people hurt - and it did. I believe it made me an ever better funeral director,” he said.
“I needed to help others improve their skills and knowledge and put something back into the funeral profession, as others had helped me. I prepared for and passed the tutors examination for the British Institute of Funeral Directors this enabled me to run evening classes for the Diploma in Funeral Directing in Downshire School and many of my ex-students are still in the funeral business today.”
In a distinguished career, Peter served as NAFD NI chairman, first BIFD vice-president and Carrickfergus Junior Chamber president. He also fitted in membership of Carrickfergus Camera Club and helped with his church’s bereavement support team.
Although funeral traditions have remained fairly much as in the past five decades, there have been a number of noticeable changes. “Funeral arrangements and embalming of the deceased had generally been carried out in the family home. Today most families elect to come to the funeral home to make funeral arrangements and caring for the deceased is carried out in high quality preparation rooms at the funeral directors,” said Peter.
“The use of the family’s church or the use of funeral home for funeral services would have been very rare years ago, today it’s the norm. Seldom will you see a hearse full of flowers, donations in lieu of flowers in memory of a loved one is now more usual.
“The mid-1980s saw the introduction of the large funeral groups into Northern Ireland. Mulholland’s was acquired by Funeral Services Northern Ireland in 1988 and although this brought many changes the high standards set by my late father were and are still being maintained.
“We have always played an active part within our community. Staff members are involved in many activities from helping community group, raising monies for the Northern Ireland Hospice, use of limousines for fundraising events, competing in charity cycle rides, bereavement groups and annual Christmas memorial service to support the bereaved.”
Reaching the significant milestone of 65 years of age on May 28, Peter, who has covered around 35,000 miles since returning to cycling six years ago, aims to clock up more time in the saddle. But his first love is his family.
“I plan to spend a lot more time with Linda, my son Stuart, daughter Paula, son-in-law Martin, my beautiful grand-daughter Alice, visit my sisters in Canada, and catch up with family and friends. Many know that I have suffered with stress and depression in recent years and found cycling a great help, so I plan to do even more cycling. I also plan to hunt out my SLR camera and rekindle my love of photography.”
Whatever way he chooses to spend his retirement, he will do so with the best wishes of the community he has served.
“I have been truly humbled by the many, many heartfelt comments placed on Facebook, in letters, on cards and in telephone calls. I was privileged to be invited into people’s homes at their most difficult time as ‘The Undertaker’ but often I left as a family friend.”
It’s the end of one chapter in the life and history of Mulholland’s but it’s also the start of a new chapter.
Peter emphasised: “The staff that remain and work at Mulholland’s are as committed to serving family’s in needs as I and others have in the past.”