Disputes over graves and who should be buried in them are nothing new in this country but last week came news of an unusual case about a local family locked in dispute with Tipperary County Council over the reburial of exhumed remains in Carrick-on-Suir.
There were two, detailed reports in The Clonmel Nationalist by former Waterford based journalist, Aileen Hahessy, and they are worth reading in full about this complicated but clearly emotive row.A short version is that the exhumed remains of John Stokes have lain in an undertaker’s premises for over five months due to a dispute with the Council over his re-interment.
The story begins in 1948 when Mr Stokes’ pregnant wife, Mary, and her one-year-old daughter, accidentally drowned in the River Suir at Lower Ballylynch, Carrick-on-Suir. They were buried in St Mary’s Cemetery in the town beside other family members. Years later, in 1967, when Mary’s husband, John, died, he was buried in a cemetery in Kildare town.Fast forward to last September when John’s family organised the exhumation of his remains with the intention of burying him with his wife and child in Carrick-on-Suir. The Council deemed the family grave to be full and it was agreed that Mr Stokes would be laid to rest in a vacant plot next to the family grave.
However, the reburial ceremony was cancelled just an hour before it was due to take place on the morning of September 14th last after grave diggers found skeletal remains of an adult in the empty plot.
The Council contacted the Gardaí and the State Pathologist’s office. The remains of a child were subsequently also found in the plot and forensic anthropologist, Laureen Buckley, who visited the cemetery concluded in a written report that the bones were consistent with the remains being that of Mary Stokes and her child.
The Council proposed that the reburial of Mr Stokes’ remains should go ahead in this plot but the family had concerns over the identity of the remains found there and asked for DNA tests to be carried out. Older members of the family say they are sure that Mary and her child were buried under the headstone and not where the mystery remains were found.There was a lot of discussion between the Council and the Stokes’ solicitor and, two weeks ago, a letter was received from Martin Nolan of the Carrick-on-Suir Municipal District Administrator, proposing that Mr Stokes’ remains be interred in a new plot in the currently active part of St Mary’s graveyard and that the remains of Mary Stokes and her child be exhumed and interred with him. Tipperary County Council Director of Services for the Carrick-on-Suir Municipal District, Pat Slattery, said the local authority was working with the Stokes family in an effort to resolve the matter.