Cash from Ashes
“Man, when he burns, leaves only a handful of ashes.
No woman can hold him . . .”
A celebrity hit the headlines recently when he stated publicly that
he had snorted his father’s ashes. He gained further publicity when he
denied it. Jokes about spilled urns are legion but how many people think
about the commercial side of it? I know I didn’t until about a year ago.
It was the Friday of Writer’s Week 2006. I was walking up William
Street, Listowel, minding my own business when I was accosted by one
William Joseph Keane, (AKA Billy Keane) publican, journalist, author,
raconteur, comedian and entrepreneur.
After I had congratulated him on the publication of Moss Keane, The
Last of The Heroes and his most erudite newspaper articles, In The Irish
Independent, he said, “Matt” (he always drops the “ie” because he says
Matt is the opposite to gloss). “Matt” says he “ you are logical,
methodical and mathamathecal and you must have people and survival skills
since you have managed to stay on the pay-roll of Dublin Bus for more than
thirty years, I have a business proposition for you ”. It turned out that
he had come up with the idea of building a crematorium in Lyracrompane and
he wanted me to be his business partner. He had even settled on a name for
the project, The Pyre in Lyre. In tones more stentorian than soft I set
about convincing him that a mobile crematorium would be a better idea
(have you ever tried convincing a Keane about anything?)
“Listen” says I, “Kerry has held an almost permanent lease on Croke
Park for most of the twentieth century, has a thriving tourist industry
since the Famine (if not before it) and now you have Fungie and John O’
Donoghue. You produced Brendan Kennelly, Kitchener and Paudi O’Shea”. (I
didn’t, at the time know that they were going to send Micko Dwyer up to
Wicklow). “And now” says I “you want to locate the only crematorium
outside Dublin in Kerry.”
I did lower my voice on spotting the arrival of Dublin poet Martin
Delany. Martin has a, Bronte like, penchant for writing about graveyards
and I didn’t want to upset his sensitivities. After all a man who
commemorates the faithful departed in iambic parameter mightn’t favour
their being reduced to ashes by conflagration. He believes they should
spend eternity under a weathered tombstone.
I pointed out to Mr.Keane that although I was familiar with all the
writings of his father, the late John B. I couldn’t find any reference in
his works to the incineration of the dead. He burned midnight oil writing
about wakes, funerals grave digging and other allied activities but not a
word about cremation. I asked him where he got the idea for the
crematorium from but he was abruptly and conveniently distracted by the
arrival of two visiting literary heavyweights. Frank McCourt and Clive
James arrived on the scene. (Whatever about the apparel proclaiming the
man it doesn’t appear to reveal anything of his background; the man from a
rain-sodden Limerick sported an open, short-sleeved, shirt while the
affable Aussie wore a buttoned up leather jacket). After their departure I
continued with my pitch and I could see that he was weakening and we
finished up shaking hands on the partnership.
His parting shot, in true cute-hoor-Kerryman fashion, was “OK, you do
the research on it and get back to me”.
When I heard about the hullabaloo about the proposed Poolbeg
Incinerator I set the wheels turning straight away by writing to the
Department of the Environment to ask what, if any, restrictions and
regulations governed the operation of a Mobile crematorium.
While I was waiting for a reply I made some enquiries about the
necessary equipment needed for the project, hereinafter referred to as the
MC. I found out that in the USA Patent 6729247 has been taken out on
The following jargon is used:
“The mobile crematorium comprises: a first combustion
chamber, wheels, and a trailer hitch. The deceased remains are then
heating in the first combustion chamber to a temperature of at least
1000.degree. thereby creating combustion gases and non-combustible
materials. The combustion gases are allowed to exit the first combustion
chamber and the non-combustible materials are removed and placed in a
storage device such as an urn.
The incinerator comprises a first combustion chamber with a first
combustion source and a second combustion chamber with a second combustion
source. Combustion of the deceased occurs in the combustion chamber. Gases
created by the first combustion are further combusted in the second
It is possible to disguise the MC as a boat, being towed, or as the
designer puts it,
“. . . the incinerator provides the visual perception of a ship. . .The
flue may be utilized with additional chambers for further combustion or
they may be aesthetic.”
I think I have a better idea for this part of the world. Why not use
a tractor to tow it and disguise it as a threshing mill? I’m sure P.J.
Murrihy wouldn’t object to me writing a bit of a parody on “The Old
Thrasing Mill” to use as a jingle.
Further technical tips are given about the construction of the
“Typical insulators comprising oxides of silicon, calcium, and magnesium
with lower levels of aluminum and iron oxides are particularly suitable
for the present invention.”
After weeks, having not received a reply, I wrote to the Department
of Environment again. That’s several months ago and at the time of writing
there’s not a word from Dick Roche. Since silence gives consent and there
appears to be no restrictions or regulations on the construction and/or
operation of a MC the way is clear, apart from getting permission from the
inventor and striking a deal with a firm of bodybuilders.
I started kicking around a few ideas about a name; something catchy.
Then John Cassidy, a Donegal Undertaker, pointed out to me that funeral
directors and those in allied professions, who deal with the departed, do
not use trade names, but family names to advertise their business. I told
him that I wouldn’t mind having “Mattie Lennon” or even “M.J.Lennon” in
foot-high letters on the side of an ice-cream van or the fleet of a
Plaster-moulding company but I’d prefer not to have my moniker on
something as sombre as a MC vehicle.
“ It doesn’t have to be your own name. Where are you from?” says he.
“Wicklow” says I.
“And what is the most common surname in Wicklow?” says he.
“Byrne”, says I.
“There you have it” says he “C.U.BYRNE”
Click on author's byline for