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'You can only do a funeral once, and you have to do it right': The story behind RIP.ie

We speak to one of the siblings behind the death notice website.

shutterstock_554702944 Source: Shutterstock/Sementer

‘SHUSH, THE DEATH notices are on!’

It’s something we’ve all been told – or said ourselves – at some point when the presenter on our local radio station begins reading out a list of the recently deceased from the area.

We’ve all cast a cursory glance over them in the back of a local paper, or received the call from a mother or father inquiring if we’ve heard that so-and-so in No 123 had passed away.

Nowadays, it can be automatically emailed to you.

The significance of funerals in Ireland means that the Irish have a unique fascination with death notices – and the decline of traditional media and the waning influence of religion doesn’t seem to have affected that.

This is evident in the success of RIP.ie, an ‘end of life matters’ website that has become something of an institution in Ireland, and is dedicated to publishing death notices from across the country.

A loved one passes away, the family – usually through the funeral director – can publish details online, including when and where the funeral will take place.

Although being made quick and easy, the process is still treated sensitively and with care.

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“The funeral is such an important thing in Ireland,” RIP.ie founder Jay Coleman told TheJournal.ie.

We really celebrate the life of the person who died. The community gathers around at the time of the funeral, and the whole process is something we’ve all held close to our hearts.

Jay and his sister Dymphna,  based in Dundalk, Co Louth, set up RIP.ie in 2005. Neither come from a tech background – one worked in an office and the other on a farm – but gave up their day jobs to pursue the idea.

The idea for the site grew out of the frustration the siblings felt after finding it difficult to get details online of funerals, or after missing funerals completely because of poor communication.

They set out to create a space that would not only inform the public of funerals, but that would allow them to “interact on a more personal level” with the death notice, Jay explained, “and in a way that didn’t preclude people who were living far away or abroad to feel more involved”.

Not a crowded space

The online death notice space wasn’t a crowded one back in the mid-noughties. Jay said he was curious as to why it hadn’t taken off properly before, given the important role they play in Irish society. A few websites were dabbling in the area, but most were haphazard, infrequently updated and scant on detail.

The Colemans saw the chance to gain a foothold if they avoided these mistakes. The pair also set out on the process of meeting as many funeral directors as they could across the country to get them onboard at an early stage.

There was plenty of apprehension from the industry, Jay explained, as the internet at the time was still in its relative infancy and associated with “some of the less savory aspects of society”.

Most funeral directors were also were quite traditional and set in their ways, unwilling to change their tried-and-test formula:

They have a phrase, ‘You can only do a funeral once’, and because of that it had to be done right.
To really convince the funereal directors to put their trust in us, we were going to read every condolence notice prior to publication, as we still do today.
Obviously when you’re dealing with a very sombre moment, they don’t want to be taking a chance with anything and were obviously very resistant at first. Now, they absolutely see the value in it.

Jay said the vast majority of notices submitted to the site are without issue, but occasionally one will appear that might need minor tweaking, such as language which although used earnestly may accidentally cause offence.

Convincing those organising funerals that these quality controls were in place was key to gaining their confidence.

This careful approach resulted in a handful of significant funeral directors getting on board with RIP.ie from the start, and gave it momentum.

At the time, it may have seemed like a novelty to some, but now more than a decade on, user habits have shifted in favour of the Colemans – people are more likely to see the internet as the most reliable way to get information out there about a death, rather than relying on local radio or newspapers which people may not be paying as close attention to anymore.

shutterstock_409400233 Source: zhu difeng/Shutterstock

Jay says both of these legacy mediums still serve a purpose – some people may not have access to the internet, and it is simply family tradition to have a notice on the radio or in the newspaper – but online notices serve another purpose again, as it provides a lasting record for families to check.

RIP.ie has now grown to be one of the top 100 sites in Ireland. According to figures provided by the Colemans, the site receives more than five million visitors a month, with most death notices being viewed at least 1,000 times, while others will receive multiples of that.

It has also gone beyond simply a noticeboard for deaths. Users can set up email alerts based on surname, town, county, and church, as well as posting a range of ‘family notices’, such as month’s minds, anniversaries and birthday memorials.

The future for the site, he said, lies in allowing those who knew the deceased to interact with the condolence notice in a way that makes them feel as involved as possible; there are plans to allow users to send flowers or make donations, for example.

A website of this scale – also with a payroll of four staff – doesn’t come cheap. Some kind of funding model is necessary.

As the question of money is a particularly ugly one when it comes to organising funerals, Jay and Dymphna were eager to not make this an issue for families.

Unlike traditional notices in newspapers and local radios, both of which can run into hundreds of euro, RIP.ie doesn’t charge for notices. Instead, funeral directors can pay for advertising around the death notices.

Occasionally a family billed after a funeral will notice a charge for RIP.ie, but Jay explained that this is an administrative fee charged by the funeral director themselves.

Jay stresses that the firm is dependent on the advertising which appears on the site to keep it up and running.

The company behind RIP.ie made a profit of almost €94,000, according to its most recently filed accounts for 2015.

Read: ‘If you thought about setting up a business too deeply, you mightn’t do it’ >

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About the author:

Nicky Ryan

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