Terenece’s gravely important job

GRAVEDIGGING may be considered an unusual career but one Convoy man has helped to lay to rest hundreds of people over the past thirty-five years.

Although Terence McClintock (52) hadn’t always planned grave digging to be his career, it was an opportunity he felt he had to take when he was asked to help out at his local Church.

“The local Church put out a call for a volunteer to help the gravedigger so I said ‘I’ll give it a go’. That was all them years ago,” he said.


“I was working alongside George Scott and we were digging graves by hand. He was in his seventies at the time and was a man of great experience. When I started out, he said that you can never dig a grave too big but you can dig it too small. That has always stayed with me,” he added.

In those days, George and Terence might have to hand dig between eight to ten graves a year.

“The local Priest in Convoy then asked me to dig their graves when his man retired and it’s taken off from there,” he said.

Today, Terence McClintock Gravedigging Services looks after a total of 17 graveyards in Raphoe, Convoy, Drumoghill, Ballybofey and Newtowncunningham as well as all the cemeteries in Letterkenny.

“When Liam Sweeney was retiring he rang me one day and asked would I be interested in moving into Letterkenny and it went from there,” he said.

Before a funeral, once the grave has been dug, Mr McClintock and his team prepare the green matting around the site.

“It’s hard work and not as simple as some people think,” he said.


But the hard labour of only pat of the job.

After the ceremony, he waits until mourners have left before completing the process.

“Then we do everything in reverse – fill it back in, put the flowers on, tidy it up and make it look pretty,” he said.

Sensitivity and compassion are necessary for a gravedigger.

“You are doing a service for people who have lost loved ones and it’s important to always remember that. We take our time and have a lot of pride in what we do,” he said.

Yet with this pride comes sadness and Terence spoke about difficult days digging graves for those younger than himself.

“The worst part of this job is the babies and young people who we have buried over the years,” he said.

“It affects you sometimes, I’ve come home in tears because it’s such a sad thing. But you have to get on with things. You have to do a job at the end of the day.”

Mr McClintock said the size and shape of burial sites depended on the deceased person and, at times, the shape of the casket.

“Every plot is different and you have good days and bad days – like any job. You can hit rock, then there’s bad weather and, in old cemeteries in particular, you’re still digging most graves by hand. It can take two men three hours to re-open a grave while they could be there all day for a new grave depending on the nature of the ground,” he said.

The Covid-19 pandemic also left its scars.

“It was a very tough and sad time to see eight to ten people at the graveside and the rest of the family standing out at the road looking in due to restrictions. It’s nice to see us getting back to more normal funerals again. It’s important for the families,” he said.

While there’s a lot more cremations today, Terence admits to being busier than ever.

“We dug more than 230 graves in Donegal last year. Yes, there are more cremations but those ashes are often buried, albeit in a smaller plot, in the graveyard,” he said.

McClintock Gravedigging Services is a family business with Terence’s father David and his son Ian working with him together with his brother-in-law Brendan.

“I owe an awful lot to Ruth (wife) and my four kids Ian, Matthew, Rhonda and Rebecca for their help and support. It’s a real family business,” he said.
Terence and his team have also started doing maintenance work at some of the graveyards, keeping the ground presentable and empty overflowing bins.

“It’s not changed the way I think about death, it’s just one of those things that happens. I’ve buried some very good friends over the years and that’s been difficult. It’s my job and it’s important that I try to make their day that bit easier when it comes to the graveside but making sure that everything is clean and tidy,” he added.
















Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere

and get access to our archive editions dating back to 2007
Every Thursday
Every Monday

Donegal News is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. St. Anne's Court, Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland