Such was the discovery of journalist Roy Greenslade this week, following the death of his mother last Saturday.
Her remains could not be buried in Donegal. She was buried in a Derry city cemetery instead.
A humanist funeral service for Joan Greenslade took place last Monday but, her son told The Irish Times , that "according to the church people I approached - and underlined by the undertaker - an atheist cannot be buried (in Donegal) because the churches, Catholic, Church of Ireland and Presbyterian, own the graveyards. Therefore, unless one is willing to compromise one's beliefs by agreeing to a religious service, it is impossible to be buried."
He spoke to a former Church of Ireland rector on the matter who advised him it was "out of the question" for his mother to be buried in a Church of Ireland graveyard there.
His mother was buried in Derry on Tuesday.
The city council's cemeteries department, when asked if they could bury an atheist, said they had different areas in the municipal graveyard for Catholics, Protestants and even Muslims.
Asked whether they were starting an atheist section for Mrs Greenslade the reply was: "No, we're putting her in with the Protestants."
A spokeswoman for Donegal County Council said it had responsibility only for old and unused graveyards.
A spokesman for the Church of Ireland diocese of Derry and Raphoe, which includes north Donegal, was mystified by the situation.
Strictures on who could be buried in a Church of Ireland graveyard was news to him.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church said ownership and administration of its graveyards could vary from parish to parish and diocese to diocese.
"Such diversity is one of the glories of the Catholic Church," he said.
Dick Spicer of the Humanist Association of Ireland expressed amazement that there was a county in Ireland which did not have a municipal graveyard.
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