I’ve no time for roadside memorials and I get quite annoyed when I see them. If people feel the need to build shrines to their deceased loved ones they ought to do so in the cemetry, or in their homes or gardens. I don’t see why they should be allowed to use the public highway to mark the place of death of their dear departed family member. Perhaps I am being heartless. Yet people die all in all sorts of places and nobody marks their place of passing. Others die in tragic road accidents and their families don’t erect headstones or plaques to mark the spot. Why isn’t a grave enough?
These shrines are quite unnerving for a number of reasons. Firstly, their presence is a distraction. Driving along at eighty or ninety kilometres per hour one catches a glimpse of a colourful floral tribute laid at one of the shrines. This lapse in concentration by a driver could result in the loss of another life. The deaths that these memorials mark often occurred at dangerous stretches of road. This worsens the effect of the distraction. Then, when the shrine is being tend to, there is the added danger of parked vehicles and people around which to manoeuvre. Another accident waiting to happen.
Many of the shrines are vulgar and ornate, adorned with teddies, plastic flowers, dead flowers, candles, beer cans and other symbolic memorabilia. In truth these are litter. The teddies fade and rot, the flowers wilt and the plastic packaging survives for decades and is hazardous to wildlife, the beer cans get blown into the road and soon the entire site becomes a mess.
There are also the issues of planning and trespass. In many instances memorials contravene the planning regulations and it is likely that are incidents of trespass on both NRA and on privately owned property.
While I was reading about this phenomenon I found a few interesting snippets. For example there is a website, Irish Roadside Memorials, which documents a substantial number of shrines. I have to say I found the mere existence of this website to be a bit eerie. There is also a memorial to a communally owned cat in Bath, England. And I also found that at least one County Council in Ireland permits the erection of a roadside shrine. In the FAQ section of the Dún Laoighaire Rathdown Council website question #25 (approx.)
Can I erect a roadside shrine without permission?
Yes, subject to maximum area of 2sqm, max height is 2m above the centre of the road opposite, and it is not lit.
I would be extremely unhappy if there was a fatal accident outside my house and a shrine of this proportion was erected there. And what if there was a fatal accident on the 46A to Dún Laoghire and seventy people died? Would we accept seventy memorials along the N11?