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Irish Wake Rituals - 2

Definition: Additional Irish Wake and Funeral Rituals


Many rural folk say that the day an Irish person has died is their "third birthday". The first birthday is obviously when they came screaming into this life. The second, when they were baptized, and the third, when they entered eternal life. So waking the dead was a good reason for a celebration. It was a fitting farewell to a loved one. Some old folk say that it was always good to go to a funeral "fully armed", that is, a bottle of booze in every pocket!

There are many documented accounts during cholera epidemics, of people being genuinely being buried by mistake. Many had 'woken up' and scratched their way out, with bloodied hands, from their burial spots, to the horror of people witnessing the act. Others weren't so lucky and died of suffocation, 6 feet under. And Ireland is no stranger to cholera epidemics in the past. So the fear of your loved one being buried alive can make people compelled to sit around them for days, hoping to speak with them again.

If a person had died at home, all of the clocks in the house are stopped at the time of death. This is so anyone who calls for the wake will know what time the person died, and it is also a sign of respect. The other tradition is that all the mirrors in the house are turned around to face the wall. Down through the ages, mirrors have been seen as gateways to other worlds. It was thought that a soul projects out of the body and into mirrors. Which is why they are turned at the point of death, so that the soul can go straight into heaven.

A general rule is that once the body is laid out and the wake has started, the body cannot be left unattended for the entire wake. A person, generally female, sits nearby. It is normal for many people to be in the room with the body, all talking about the person, or about other things altogether. I have been to a wake with children playing around the coffin. It does remind you that life goes on, and that children only care about themselves and cake.

If you knew the deceased, but you weren't a close relative or BFF, then you attend from about 5 pm to about 8 or 9pm. The people who come after that were in the deceased's inner circle and they are there for the night, pretty much.

People drink, and talk about the deceased and about their life, and get merry throughout the night. It is a welcome relief from all the mourning. And it eases the way of those deeply bereaved to see people and be lubricated by some very strong alcoholic beverages and be around other drunk people telling tales about the departed.

After the wake, the following morning, comes the 'removal'. This is when the people from the funeral home come into the house, and seal the coffin. Then they put the coffin in the hearse and drive it to the church. In small towns, the mourners walk from the house of the dead, behind the hearse, to the church. In cities it is cars all the way. After the wake comes the God stuff: in Ireland there are usually two masses held. The first one is just after the wake. Once the coffin is in the church, a mass is said over the body. The coffin is left overnight in the church, ready for the next day's funeral mass.

The next day's funeral is simply another mass. During the funeral mass, not much is said about the deceased. This is normal done at the wake and the mass is to bring the soul into heaven.

After the funeral mass, the body is then put into a hearse and driven very slowly through town. In large cities, people get in the cars and follow the hearse with their lights on. If you see a funeral procession somewhere in Dublin you drive like a maniac to avoid it, because once you are stuck behind it you will be 3 hours late to your appointment. However in the country, people attending the funeral mass walk behind the hearse, in a large group, and the whole town stops. The hearse drives very slowly, so if you can't take the heat, you are allowed to drive behind the walkers. If the group stops at any crossroads, these represent the cross of Christ, and prayers are said.

Many shopkeepers, if they aren't attending the funeral mass, shut their shops and pull down the blinds while the funeral is passing. People on the street bless themselves as the hearse passes. If the graveyard is within walking distance, then people will follow the hearse on foot all the way to the graveyard. If it is too far to walk then people would have left their cars somewhere along the route beforehand: they then drive from there to the burial.

After the burial, these days it is usual to host a proper lunch somewhere like in the posh local golf club, and whoever attended the funeral is invited to come along. And everyone does! And of course there is more drinking. And some more. And then some more.


Irish Wakes and Funeral Traditions


Related Categories:

| About Funeral Wakes | Irish Wakes | Irish Wake Customs and Traditions | The Legends of the Irish Banshee | Irish Superstitions Concern in the Dead | Irish Wake Rituals | Irish Wake Games |


  external linkOld Moore's Almanac | Irish Wakes for the Novice



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