Jeanne Rathbone


DIY FUNERALS.unusualcoffins 6

I have noticed that quite a few people who check out my blog have googled  GALWAY HUMANIST FUNERAL. I am assuming that they are sussing out if there is a Galway based celebrant and generally trying to find out about Humanist funerals and ceremonies. I have written in the Death and Funerals page about funerals but think there is a need for a DIY piece. I am prepared to help anyone who wants to conduct a non-religious funeral. I can be contacted through the British Humanist Association website under celebrants and citing my postcode SWII. If any genuine inquirer wishes to contact me by telephone or email I can ring them back on their landline as we have one of these free calls deal to Ireland! I am very happy to help anyone, without charge, who wants to lead their own non-religious funeral or memorial ceremony. I can talk them through a typical funeral and I have encluded a partial script of the general section of a funeral service below.

I was prompted to do this when I read about the death of that lovely Galway actor Mick Lally who died untimely and suddenly at 64. I remember seeing him acting with the Druid Theatre Company in The Coachman which was a tiny space at the back of a hotel in Domnick Street. I had assumed that the Druid founders had come directly from UCG Dram Soc but it transpired that he had acted in Taibhearc na Gaillimhe  and was approached by Gary Hynes and Marie Mullen to form Druid. He was a big man who played, inevitably, those roles reflecting his physique, personality and his blas as a native speaker from Tourmakeady which is a gaeltacht – an Irish speaking area. I encountered his sister Rita many years ago as an activist in the Irish community in London.

I was heartened that his family held a Humanist funeral for him in the Crematorium in Dublin lead by fellow Humanist celebrant Brian Whiteside. By all accounts there were wonderful, honest, poignant and humorous tributes paid to him and his memory. There they could pay proper tribute to him, without the false promise and  religious stuff  which would have been so wrong for an atheist/humanist who thought religion was codology.

Left Right Sunflower DJ Chocolate Box Gone to seed Cognac Pictures

Whenever a Humanist funeral of a well loved and well known person happens in Ireland it will always publicise Humanism and the increasing numbers of good, honest, moral people who reject religion and the supernatural. It helps others to come out as humanist/atheists although it still seems like there is a long way to go as parents still insist on imposing the shameful infant exorcism  on their babies when they have them baptised.

DIY HUMANIST FUNERAL SERVICE. The Humanist Association of Ireland booklet The Humanist Philosophy has a section on ceremonies. The British Humanist Association also has a booklet on conducting Humanist funerals called ‘Celebrate a life’ .

(1) WHERE to hold the funeral. A funeral should be able to be held in any venue that can accommodate the numbers of mourners/ people attending and the coffin. In practivce this could be the funeral home, hotel/ pub/community centre function room/at home/ in a marquee or in a field. Obviously there would need to be a plan B weather permitting for outdoors – umbrellas and gazebos.


Unlike a church funeral there will usually be just one service followed by a burial or cremation. If it is to be a burial locally then, of course, it will be probably during business hours for the cemetery/graveyard. A hearse isn’t necessary as a large vehicle can accommodate the transport of the coffin. If you are using a hearse provided by a Funeral Director then their availability is a constraint.

CREMATION. If a cremation is chosen then it may well be only immediate family and friends who will accompany the coffin to the crematorium in Dublin.

(3) MEMORIAL SERVICE. It may be that you decide to hold a memorial service after a brief private burial/cremation which can give some more time to prepare for what is a very significant occasion. A MEMORIAL SERVICE is a funeral without a coffin and may give you more flexibility in time.

A typical Humanist funeral ORDER OF CEREMONY would be

Music to enter

Introduction by Celebrant

Lifestory of the deceased.

Tributes/memories by family and friends.


Music to reflect on the person who has died.

The Committal

Closing words.

Music to leave.

An ORDER OF CEREMONY  might include a photo on the front and a collage of photos as well as words of readings and a selection of tributes/quotes from different people.



We have come here today to honour and commemorate the life of x. This funeral service is a time to share thoughts and memories of xx and to provide some consolation to her family and friends who will miss her greatly. This is also a farewell ceremony and so we are here to say ‘Goodbye’ to her and this (Humanist) ceremony is in keeping with her understanding of life.

I want to welcome you as we pay tribute to her and her long, happy and fulfilling life and to share thoughts and memories of her as you express your love and admiration for her. When someone who is very much loved dies their death causes sorrow and grief as they are now, no longer, part of our every day life.

We know that death is in the natural order of things just as night follows day. Yet we know that it is hard to face death as it represents the loss of someone we loved and who played a unique part in our lives.  You are sharing your grief as you mourn her and I hope that you can derive some comfort from this as you remember her and the wonderful memories you have of her, some of which you hold in common but others are very personal to each of you. We know that your grief is a measure of the love you had for X

At every funeral we are reminded of our own mortality and of others close to us who have died and where we share the intensity of our common humanity.

Those people who have been a strength, inspiration, good company and who have enriched our lives by giving love and friendship and who have derived mutual fulfilment from this these are the people who give meaning and value to life.

We create value, purpose and meaning for our existence that is based on reason as we search for knowledge and answers through science and the infinite variety in humanity, the wonder and beauty of nature, the arts, music and literature but especially by the love of those in our life.

These people like X who have a philosophy of life and ethics based on human nature and the natural world are Humanists and they recognise that we have to take responsibility for each other, for solving the problems of humanity and for keeping a balance between our needs and nature. Humanism has grown over the centuries in our search for truth, knowledge and a good and happy life and in our empathy with other people.

In striving to live our life honestly, in developing our capabilities, in our commitments to our family and friends and in our empathy with others we will leave the world a better place.

By her caring nature, her love, her friendship, her gentleness, her tolerance, her empathy, her passions, her generosity of spirit, her creativity, her sensitivity, her sociability, her sense of fun, her joie de vivre and her very individual quirky ways she has made her contribution to making the world a better, happier, more beautiful and more interesting place.

X had a full and rich life and was so loved by you all and she knew it.

Her influences will live on in the unending consequences that will flow from her happy life and wonderful, warm character. It is you who carry the memories of her smile and laughter, the good times together, her kindnesses and generosity.

It is in those memories, in the myriad of influences and impressions and in the genes and character traits of our successors that give us our sense of continuity.

XX will live on in the hearts and thoughts of all those whose life she has touched. Each one of you feels enriched because you knew her. You were fortunate and privileged to have had her in your lives and she will always be part of your family and circle of friends.

The pleasure and joy of having had a devoted wife, sister,….and friend, neighbour and colleague to many over the years this will never be lost.



The life that we are celebrating and honouring today began ….



Could you now please stand for our final act in our farewell ceremony where we say ‘Goodbye’ to x.

We have been remembering with affection and gratitude the life of x and recalling what a loving, happy, compassionate and good person that she has been.

So, in sorrow, but with deep love and affection we now commit X’s body to its end- to be transformed into the ultimate elements of the universe.

We rejoice that she lived.

You took delight in her friendship.

You treasure that you shared in her life.

You cherish your memories of her.

With love we leave her in peace.

With respect we bid her farewell.


We have been recollecting with love, respect and affection the life of x.

Let us now return to living our own lives with these memories of her which, I know, you will cherish and with a determination to live life more intensely.

On behalf of X I thank you all for coming here today and sharing in this celebration of X’s life and for all the warmth, sensitivity and support you have given them these last few days and weeks and that you will continue to offer that love and understanding in time to come as they strive to adjust to everyday life. As you return to x I know that you will go on sharing further memories of her, go on talking about her and, I am sure, smiling and laughing at some of those memories.


A Humanist funeral is a bit like the TV programme THIS IS YOUR LIFE when the biography of the person who has died would be read.  When I take a funeral I try to get the family/next of kin to write it as they know the facts and can tell it exactly as they wish to.

However, I do talk it through with them starting with date of birth, name of parents, where born and brought up, what they were like as a youngster, what they were into sports etc, school/ college/ work/marriage/ partnership/ how they met/children/ grandchilddren, interests, passions/politics/ reading/newspapers/ crosswords/holidays, pets, homes./gardening etc. recollections of family, colleagues, neighbours and friends from remarks/cards/letters/requested memories etc. HUMOUR is important.

Usually, the biography/lifestory comes first followed by tributes and memories.  You will need to decide how long/how many pages of lifestory to do. I regard a page of A4 font 14 ( even with reading glasses!)  to take 3 minutes. Typically it would be 4-6 pages, sometimes a little longer if we have booked a double time slot.

Sometimes it gets divided chronologically and contributions/tributes/memories from people who knew them at each stage would speak/have their contribution read by someone else – either because they can’t be there or would find it too difficult.

HOWEVER, I would always encourage people to speak telling them that they will not regret doing it but might regret NOT doing it. Humour/funny/honest stories/anecdotes/appraisal is important even when circumstances are very sad or tragic.


You will need to be quite aware of timings and the number of speakers/readings and music. Typically there would be about three tributes and 1-2 readings/poems. Being Ireland there might well be a live musical tribute as well as CDs. Speakers would typically have 3-4 minutes. The order would tend to be work colleagues, friends, family ending with the most significant but can vary depending on the circumstances/relationships of the deceased.

MUSIC. Usually three pieces. The music as we enter and the coffin is brought in tends to be more background and needs to be long enough for all the mourners to come in. The music to leave to tends to be a lively/upbeat to help us all leave and the piece during the ceremony, usually after all the talking/tributes either as a reflective piece or simply a favourite of the deceased or a something that the family likes/finds consoling.

FLOWERS. Nowadays, with Humanist funerals there is resistance to lots of flowers and donations to charity instead is recommended. However, I do encourage the idea of immediate family and friends or all the mourners to bring a single flower/piece of greenery from their garden unwrapped – no ribbons /cellophane – to place on the coffin at the burial or on the coffin if it is a cremation.

MEMORIAL BOOK. I suggest that a memorial book is a good idea. This for people to send tributes/memories/ before or after the funeral  but you will need to invite them to do it. I believe that this is important for the bereaved for later but it is also cathartic for some of those close to the person who has died.

DRESS CODE. Often with Humanist ceremonies people are eschewing the Victorian black mourning clothes but it might need to be mentioned in the funeral notice along with the single flower idea. Bright colours is the phrase often used!


Whoever is the celebrant/MC will need to have a script. IT IS IMPORTANT THAT THE CONGREGATION CAN SEE THAT THERE IS SOMEONE IN CHARGE OF THE PROCEEDINGS AND TAKING CHARGE FROM THE BEGINNING.  The celebrant/MC can have as much or as little imput to the ceremony but should remain at the front as they speak/introduce speakers and music. The celebrant/MC may just begin and end the ceremony with others reading the lifestory and other tributes. If many of the people are new to this type of funeral service then it is good to either have an order of service or for the MC to mention at the beginging what is about to happen eg there will be a reading of X’s  lifestory follwed by tributes from family and friends, a poem and music  to listen to while we reflect on her life.  eotherintHAVE FAIRLJjust begin and end the ceremony and introduce the speakers. Even the introduction of speakers may not be necessary if there is an order of service/ceremony sheet. Different speakers could read the lifestory/biography.

I hope this is of help to those who really do want to conduct a Humanist/non-religious funeral either because they can’t get a celebrant in the time or because they feel that it would be right and, indeed, a privilege to do it themselves in honour of their loved one.

A funeral is such a significant event – it is a time to say Goodbye, to celebrate the life of the person who has died yet so often, in Ireland and the UK, it has been hijacked by priests/vicars and the church. This has to change and those who can’t/don’t believe in the supernatural stuff peddled by religions can do it themselves or use a humanist celebrant. IT IS TIME TO TAKE FUNERALS BACK FROM THE CLERGY.

If anyone wants to contact me about conducting a Humanist/non-religious funeral or memorial I am only too happy to help. I have helped various people in Ireland over the years to organise a funeral when they did not want to have Catholic funeral. These are people I would have encountered while conducting a funeral in London or, indeed, at a wedding or naming ceremony. I regard it as my privilege if I can encourage and help someone to organise a funeral for their non-religious/atheist/Humanist loved one. I have been lucky to have found my vocation as a Humanist celebrant and am keen to ennable others to DIY one of the most important things that they can do – to say Goodbye properly to someone they love who has died.

The Ballet Shoe CoffinThe Ballet Shoe Coffin
The Skateboard coffinThe Skateboard coffin

6 Responses

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  1. Karen Goodge said, on July 29, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Thank you so much for this!! My name is Karen Goodge, I live in New Zealand and am currently in the process of applying to become a Celebrant. I am not religious and this format is perfect for me. Most funerals I go to now are non-religious and usually quite personal and informal.

    Again, I have found this information invaluable.

    • sheelanagigcomedienne said, on July 29, 2015 at 10:04 am

      Hi Karen,

      I am glad that you found this useful. I would be happy for you to email me with any query/support/moan that you might have in the future. I do see our role as facilitators and I do encourage people to be involved as much as possible as I think it is good for them if they feel they did their best and said what needed to be Said.
      Good luck with your training and I am sure that you will find the work very engrossing and satisfying.

      • Karen Goodge said, on September 13, 2015 at 1:28 am

        Karen here again 🙂 Well I took my first service last week and used these inspiring words as she IS a free spirit, will always be a loving friend, wife and mother. Artistic and creative and I was so honoured to be asked to do this for her and her family. XXXXXXXX

  2. sheelanagigcomedienne said, on September 13, 2015 at 10:35 am

    Well done Karen, it is quite a watershed when you take your first funeral and realise that you have made the right decision to be a celebrant and help people to have a secular funeral. You will feel privileged to share in celebrating such interesting lives. I often say I don’t need to read fiction any more.

  3. Terri Charles said, on December 20, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Dearest Sheila

    I have found the above so very helpful, I am also looking at embarking in honouring our loved ones as a humanist celebrant.
    I am feeling rather nervous as the requirement for excellent writing skills and impeccable English scares me. However, Sheela your words and service felt loving, natural and perfect in honouring both the person and the grieving family. I will move forward now with less fear and in the knowledge that I am able to ask for help should I need too.
    With love and gratitude
    Terri Charles Marlow UK

  4. Adrian Gallagher said, on September 13, 2016 at 5:47 am


    I found this site helpful when preparing the funeral ceremony for my atheist brother.

    However I think you do yourself a disservice by saying things like funerals have “been hijacked by priests/vicars and the church”. If there is no God then you and I are just a collection of atoms that through some random process have combined in a way that to us seems “to work”.

    So what does it matter if some of the results of whatever happened over the last 14B years think there’s something more out there? It seems to make a lot of people happy. Why begrudge them that?

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