Northern Ireland

Young west Belfast mum's family told to remove headstone

Loretta Nolan beside her daughter Emma's grave in Hannahstown Cemetery. Picture by Mal McCann
Loretta Nolan beside her daughter Emma's grave in Hannahstown Cemetery. Picture by Mal McCann

THE family of a young mother who died after a painful battle with alcohol addiction have been told to remove her headstone as it "does not comply" with cemetery rules.

A solicitor's letter was sent to Emma Nolan's family giving them 28 days to remove the pink butterfly-shaped headstone from Hannahstown Cemetery, on the outskirts of west Belfast.

Her family have expressed their anger and have vowed not to remove the headstone.

Emma, a mother-of-one, died almost a year ago aged just 23. Her son was at the time only five-years-old.

A once promising sportswoman who played football for her local GAA club and school, she became gripped by alcohol dependency and later drugs.

Despite repeated stints in rehab, she died last July of liver failure after a "staggered overdose" of medication as a result of "alcohol excess".

Read more: Murdered west Belfast boxer Eamonn Magee's family told to remove headstone

Loretta Nolan beside her daughter Emma's grave in Hannahstown Cemetery. Picture by Mal McCann
Loretta Nolan beside her daughter Emma's grave in Hannahstown Cemetery. Picture by Mal McCann

Her mother Loretta Nolan said the butterfly-shaped headstone was chosen by Emma's son, James.

"I just feel so sad that we can't put up something that symbolises our daughter's life," she said.

"We were looking something that showed the kind of person that Emma was to us. We thought a butterfly was a beautiful thing."

Mrs Nolan said they applied for the headstone late last year, but after it was finished they were told it would not be allowed to be put up.

"It wasn't until really the headstone was finished once they found out it was a pink butterfly they said no, it couldn't go up," she said.

The headstone was erected in April, but Mrs Nolan said they received a letter last week asking for it to be removed.

Emma Nolan
Emma Nolan

"I can't understand what the problem is. It's a normal-sized headstone," Mrs Nolan said.

"I just wish they would let her rest in peace. She has been through enough, and so have we."

The 57-year-old said some other bereaved relatives have also received letters recently about removing headstones.

The Parish of Hannahstown Cemetery Committee expressed regret at the "distress to both bereaved families and the broader parish community".

But it said that, in common with most burial places, regulations have been established on headstones and memorials.

These are for "efficient maintenance" and to ensure memorials are "suitable for the setting and that the dignity of the cemetery is maintained", a spokesman said in a statement.

Families and funeral directors "sign such leases with the parish cemetery committee which include an agreement to observe the regulations of the cemetery".

"In accordance with the established regulations, a number of individuals who have erected headstones in recent months without the approval and permission of the cemetery committee have been contacted and advised to remove or replace these non-compliant headstones," he added.

The committee said to "avoid such situations in the future" it should be approached by sculptors in advance "to ensure that the proposed design falls within the cemetery regulations".

Read more: Murdered west Belfast boxer Eamonn Magee's family told to remove headstone