News Irish News

Friday 13 December 2019

'Please let me bury dad in the garden' - Man's plea to reunite his parents

Stephen Sacker (38) has failed to get official consent to bury Hugh (92) next to his mother in their garden

Stephen Sacker, standing by his mother's grave, wants permission to bury his father Hugh there
Stephen Sacker, standing by his mother's grave, wants permission to bury his father Hugh there
Alma died in 1992
Stephen pictured with his father in the family home

Alan O'Keeffe

A man whose mother was buried in the family garden is seeking permission to lay his father to rest beside her when he dies.

Stephen Sacker (38) has failed to get official consent to bury Hugh (92), next to his mother, Alma, under a yew tree at their Co Wicklow home.

Stephen is his father’s full-time carer and the pair live together in their home in rural Wicklow.

“I’m extremely worried about all of this and I just want to ensure my parents are not separated in death,” Stephen told the Herald.

His father did not seek permission when he buried 46-year-old partner Alma in the garden in 1992.

Alma, a mother-of-six, died following a battle with breast cancer.

Stephen pictured with his father in the family home
Stephen pictured with his father in the family home

The Sacker family home is situated on two acres near the village of Donard.

The couple did not want to integrate their family into the local community so their six children were home-schooled.

“People came to pay their respects when she died but I sent them away,” said Hugh.

“I’ve a long history of being difficult,” said the former professor of German at Trinity College.

Alma died in 1992
Alma died in 1992

He resigned his post in the mid-1970s and became a full-time parent.

The couple arrived from England in the early 1970s after Hugh, a fellow of Caius College, Cambridge, was given a post at Trinity.

Alma was 20 years younger than Hugh and their five youngest children were all born in the remote Wicklow homestead.

When Alma died, a doctor travelled from Dublin and issued a death certificate.

Hugh and a friend dug the grave under two yew trees in the secluded garden, a few feet from the door of the house.

“We dug a hole and reverently laid her in it,” he said.

Hugh said he does not believe in organised religion and described himself as “a non-violent anarchist” who did not believe in laws and regulations.

He said he successfully dealt with the enquiries of officials, gardai and churchmen about the unorthodox burial and eventually received a letter from Wicklow County Council granting retrospective permission for the grave.

For the first time since Alma’s death, the family have decided to allow her burial place to be photographed and visited by a member of the media.

A simple metal cross and a small standing stone mark the grave, while a statue of an angel also overlooks Alma’s resting place.

Hugh said the metal cross was placed on the grave in deference to a friendly local priest.

Another priest, an Irish missionary in Kenya, had reassuringly said home burials were common at that time in Africa.

Stephen said his five sisters want him to receive prior permission from Wicklow County Council to unite their father with their mother in the grave when he dies.

Stephen, who is unmarried, said the council told him to request permission from Planning Minister Simon Coveney.

In his letter to the minister, he wrote that their garden was “designed as a place of sacred beauty and pilgrimage for all time to come by my father who believes our species is entering our perfected stage”.

“I do not know myself what to believe but I cannot bear the thought of my parents being separated in death,” said Stephen.

A ministerial reply stated it was a matter for Wicklow County Council.

The county later informed the Sackers that it was the council, rather than the minister, that could give consent for an interment outside an official burial ground.

It then declared in a letter last November that it would not be granting permission for Hugh to be buried in the garden.

Stephen hopes the council will make an exception to the rules on compassionate grounds and allow his parents to lie together.

He said he was 14 when his mother died and he still grieves her loss.

Hugh said the loss of Alma was “an absolute disaster”.

“I believed she did not belong in a cemetery. She belonged here at home with her family,” he said.

He added that he “begrudged her body being handed over to the world” and burying her at home “was the simplest thing to do”.

He said he realises his son is very anxious about wanting to bury him with his mother, and he had not tried to persuade him to conform and bury him elsewhere.

“I wouldn’t tell my son to do something he doesn’t believe in. That would go against everything I’ve stood for all my life,” he said.

A spokesperson for Wicklow County Council told the Herald that it “does not consent to any burials” in the gardens of properties.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News