Graves: unmarked

Hundreds of impoverished Irish people with no known family are buried in unmarked mass graves in London every year by their local councils.

In a case recently highlighted by the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain, working under the auspices of the Irish Bishops Council, Galway native Patrick Duggan would have been buried in a 'pauper's grave' by Southwark council, had not outreach workers from the chaplaincy been able to trace Duggan's family.

The Irish Elder Persons project, based in the Camden Irish Centre and run by the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain, tracked Duggan's relatives and his remains are to be returned for burial in Ireland.

Helen Kerins, whose family has roots in Galway and who works at Southwark council, said that of the 50 or so people whose funerals are organised and funded by her borough annually, about half are elderly Irish men.

"It tends to be men mostly, because women are more likely to tell someone of their predicament than men are in my experience," she said.

Upon being informed of a death from hospitals, care homes or the coroners office, Kerins has the responsibility of gathering information about any wishes the deceased may have had in relation to their funeral, and also to try to obtain any information about a next of kin.

But in the event of a family member not being located or being unable to help, the local borough councils have a statutory obligation to provide burial. There are 22 boroughs in London alone.

Each borough has slightly different procedures, but the majority of those buried in "paupers' graves" are laid to rest without anything to identify them and in graves with the remains of up to 25 other people.

Camden Council doesn't have any specific data on the number of Irish people it buries in these mass graves but 100 people who are not claimed are buried by the council each year, double that of Southwark council, which buries 25 Irish people each year.

Camden also has a significant Irish population, as does Islington.