By SHAWN POGATCHNIK, Associated Press Writer
In Ireland, they bury people quickly and now they're harnessing the
speed of the Internet to help families grieve across the globe.
A Northern Ireland mortuary director has launched a pioneering service
of broadcasting funerals on its Web site for mourners too distant, ill
or busy to make it in person. It's reckoned to be the first of its
"We have one camera to give you the perspective of the minister
looking out to the congregation, one showing the hearse and cortege of
mourners outside, and one that looks like you're sitting in amidst the
mourners," said Jim Clarke of Clarke & Son undertakers in Newtownards,
an eastern suburb of Belfast.
The family-owned firm, founded in 1918 by Clarke's grandfather, began
experimenting with streaming audio and video of funeral services two
years ago at its other mortuary and chapel in another nearby suburb,
It is launching new software and a suite of cameras at its second
funeral home in Newtownards this week; a development that, to the
surprise of Clarke, has spurred international interest.
Clarke said more funeral homes should take advantage of the Internet,
particularly in places like Ireland, where funerals typically happen
within three days of a death and a tradition of emigration can mean
cousins from Calgary to Canberra.
"It used to be that we'd be asked: Is there any chance you can take a
tape recording of the service for our friends in Canada? We always did
that. Now we can offer so much more," he said.
About 20 percent of the company's clients use the Web broadcast, or
about 50 funerals so far at the two chapels beside the mortuaries,
according to Clarke. It carries no additional charge.
He said the service last year proved invaluable for two brothers -- one
living in New Zealand, the other in the United States -- who had traveled
back to Northern Ireland to visit an ill relative who then died.
"They said, `There's no way we can get our wives and families here at
such short notice,' and we had the solution to hand. It really removes
a burden for some families," Clarke said.
Just last week, he said, the funeral home negotiated with an internet
service provider in New Zealand to upgrade one woman's connection
temporarily to high-speed broadband so that she could see her sister's
funeral without freezing screens or dropped audio.
Not just anybody can log on to eavesdrop on the grief. The service
requires special software downloads and password access controlled by
Clarke & Son. "It does not just run over and over as in 'on demand';
the service plays once; ISPs customarily provide us the courtesies
given to any funeral procession regards special technical help needed
by the bereaved families, and so forth. Our customer service personnel
at the funeral home make all the arrangements, sending out
announcements requested by the clients; we deal with the ISP in your
time of grief," noted Mr. Clarke.
"We're trying to use the latest technology to help families in a time
of need," Clarke said. "We're not trying to encourage morbid
curiosity. There is far too much of that on the Internet already. We
respect the dignity of our clients and their families and friends. No
extraneous messages on the screen during the service; none of that."
On the Net:
Clarke & Son on-line funerals,
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.
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