It is a powerful way to say our final goodbyes. A recognition that from the earth we come, and from the earth we shall return - from ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
The act itself finds roots in many world cultures and traditions, and can be traced back through the millennia. Ancient Jewish cultures viewed the tradition of throwing earth on top of a coffin as the ultimate act of charity. By each throwing a handful of dirt, the community was doing a service to the one that they have lost - burying them in the earth while expecting absolutely nothing in return.
The tradition is equally as strong for the Irish. For the Irish, their roots; their homeland is at the essence of what defines them. Their heritage shapes who they are, and how they live their lives, and how they wish to be remembered.
For Irish families in the United States, a handful of earth from the Old Country can bring back floods of memories. Holding the rich, dark dirt of the home of their ancestors evokes centuries of secrets, mysticism, and heritage. However, of the 33 million Irish-Americans living in the United States today, many have never had the opportunity to set foot on Irish soil, let alone have access to the earth of Ireland in the United States.
As such, for Irish families living in America, the tradition of placing a handful of earth from the Old Country on to the coffins or urns of loved ones had all but become obsolete. Many stories exist of family members flying over from Ireland with a container of Irish earth stashed away in their luggage, with the hope of honoring the deceased with this final act of respect. Due to strong legal restrictions on the transfer of earth, the majority of these mourners were stopped, or the earth itself was seized by border agencies.
But we, the founders of Handful of Home were insistent that this is a tradition that absolutely should exist for the Irish in America. Coming from backgrounds where waves of our ancestors had emigrated, lived and died in the US, we understood just how much a handful of the old sod would have meant at their funerals. As such, we were determined to develop a process that would successfully treat the earth, leaving it risk free and allowing it’s import to the United States. After years of hard work, and support from teams of lawyers, agricultural scientists, and border agencies in both Ireland and the United States, it is now possible for Irish families in the United States to bury their loved ones with a handful of earth from the Old Country.
The ability to bury our loved ones amongst the earth of their ancestors, to do them the ultimate kindness by letting them rest for eternity in the land of their forefathers is a powerful thing. It should not be underestimated. It is the last gesture we do for our loved ones before laying them to eternal rest.