A couple have spoken of their distress at the “neglect” of Islandmagee’s new cemetery after branches were left lying on graves for a month.
Mary and Robert Hilditch made the discovery, which they say shows “shocking disrespect” for the people buried there, after they visited the site to tend to a friend’s grave.
In addition to branches, grass clippings were left to rot on top of graves for a week instead of being collected after cutting.
Mary told The Times: ““It was never like this in the past.
“We feel that since responsibility for the cemetery transferred to Mid and East Antrim Council in the past month, the cemetery has been neglected with trees and bushes lying on top of graves.”
The couple say that they spoke to relatives whose loved ones were buried at the site, and who told them they had been forced to bring their own tools to the cemetery to clean up the site.
“We met a man who had brought his own things to cut the grass, and another who was using hedge clippers. Another person had come down with a brush.
“The cemetery was dishevelled, it was in a shocking state which showed disrespect for everyone who is buried there.
“Some people have their graves set up beautifully with wee sentimental things, and it’s terrible to see the grass on top of them, it’s like a hay field with it lying there.”
The pair say that the state of local rural cemeteries is of particular concern, including the old and new cemeteries at Ballycarry.
“Craigyhill is well-kept, as is Victoria Cemetery in Carrickfergus,” said Robert.
“It seems like the small rural grave sites are not kept well, they are left like a jungle. It’s distressing for local people who are there to see it like that.
“Ballycarry’s old and new cemeteries are similarly neglected.
“When we were there we spoke to two grave diggers who said that funerals are still going on with the graveyard in that condition. I wouldn’t like to have my loved ones buried there.”
After speaking to the Larne Times, Robert contacted the Larne DUP office.
When Councillor Paul Reid raised the issue with Mid and East Antrim Council staff, a team were sent to clean the three cemeteries this weekend.
However, Robert says that the cemetery should be regularly maintained.
“It’s not right that we had to go to the paper and the DUP to get it done, people who are paid to do a job should do it regardless,” he stated.
“Hopefully this will encourage the council to be a bit more careful and to maintain it regularly in the future.”
Councillor Reid commented: “I have received a number of complaints about the state of the cemeteries and I raised it with the council who put in a crew of six to eight employees to clean the cemeteries.
“The issue was that the sub-contractors were late in getting up and running so the grass had got long and out of control.
“After the grass was cut there was quite a lot left and the sub-contractors blew it out of the way but it went over the graves.
“These graves were well-maintained by loved ones who found it insulting that the grass had been cut and had blown over the top of the graves.
“I am saddened that families who have loved ones there have had to have another layer of sorrow added to it. There is frustration with families who are going to pay their respects to loved ones.
“As a Minister I understand the distress it can cause and I am glad to have helped get the issue resolved for the families.”