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"AN IRISH WAKE"

 
 
The traditional Irish Wake was commonplace around Ireland up until about the 1970's. The customs of the Wake worked on many levels and also served the living in many ways. A proper Irish Wake is worth the time and effort required to return to the old customs. It is hard to imagine a passing being complete without one!

WHAT IS AN "IRISH WAKE"?

The Wake is the period of time from death  until the body is conveyed to the care of the church which is generally the evening before the day of burial.

THE FOLLOWING ARE THE STEPS IN THE PROCESS OF THE WAKE:
1. Neighboring women experienced in laying out the body gather at the house of the diseased.
2. The body is washed.
3. A habit is put on the body.
4. A bed is prepared for the body.
5.  If the body is of a man - he has to be clean shaven before the habit is put on.
6. A crucifix is placed on the breast and rosary beads are put in the fingers.
7. Sheets are hung over the bed and along two or three sides.
8. Candles are lighted in candlesticks near the remains.
(This process takes about two hours)
'KEENING & CRYING'
See also the extensive keening page click here . The vocalizations over the dead is very important.
1. The women who prepared the body join the family.
2. The mourning family produces either muffled sobs or loud wailing related to the depth of sorrow.
3. In the event that the death was considered a “great loss” (a parent leaving a large family or tragic or early death) Keening is most intense and heartfelt.
4. After a while of Keening mourners are led away from the bedside by a few neighbours  and are consoled.
5.  Word is sent out to distant relatives and is spread with the help of a local shop or village.
6.  Preparation and then Keening does not wait for the arrival or others.
7. If the person  dies late in the evening the main Wake is not held until the following night so as to give neighbours and distant relatives time to attend.
'PREPARATIONS & REQUIREMENTS FOR THE WAKE'.
1. Two men - a relative and a neighbour take part.
2. The Coffin is ordered (traditionally made by a local carpenter at  the Wake house).
3. Supplies are brought in - bread, meat, food of all kinds. Whisky, stout, wine, pipes, tobacco, snuff. (Tobacco and snuff are extremely important as is alcohol).
 
'SET UP OF THE WAKE HOUSE'.
1. A plate of snuff is taken to all for a pinch.  A clay pipe filled with tobacco is given to all and all are provided with food and drink - traditionally a meal.
2. Pipefulls of tobacco are offered.
3. The place for the corpse is determined by the house itself. A table, settle or bed in the kitchen or one of the rooms is used. A loft may be used.
4. The clocks are stopped as a mark of respect. (Roslea).
5. All mirrors are turned toward the wall or covered. (Roslea).
 
'WATCHING THE BODY AND RITUAL OF VISITING THE CORPSE'.
1. A corpse must not be left unattended for the entire Wake.
2. A person, generally a woman or more sits nearby.
3. On entrance, the mourner makes their way to the side of the corpse, kneels down and silently recites a few prayers for the departed soul.
4. Mourner is then welcomed by the relatives and expresses  sympathy. “I’m sorry for your trouble”...then the mourner speaks kindly of the deceased and then walks away.
5. The mourner is offered food and drink for the hours spent at the Wake. If the weather is good the men congregate outside - if not, they go to the  kitchen (this is very important and traditional). The corpse is often in the parlor and there is a division between the room of the corpse and celebration.
6. The mourner stays for a few hours. The old men and women come in the morning and with the end of the working day others in the community stop in.
7. The visitation lasts until midnight.
8.  The Rosary is recited once or twice - at midnight and then towards morning. The  Rosary is lead by an important figure - teacher or leader who recites the first decade then the relatives take part. A truly traditional Wake will have a special rosary for the dead and traditional prayers. The rosary is said around the corpse with those around the house reciting the responses.
9. Most visitors leave at midnight.
10. Close neighbours remain till morning.  They drink  tea, whisky or beer and talk about general  affairs. Anecdotes are told with quiet laughter but within a solemn and decorous mood.
11. There are two funerals for the corpse, one in the evening and the second is when the body is taken to the graveyard on the next day.

Note:

Sadly, this form of send off is not practised anymore in Ireland except probably in remote areas where Irish traditions are still very much alive.
 
Sources:

O'Suilleabhain,Sean., Irish Wake Ammusements., Mercier,Dublin, 1976.

Uris,Leon.,Trinity., Doubleday,New York, 1976.

To the Main Irish Studies Menu click here

The above is curtesy of the following: http://www.toad.net/~sticker/wake.html#Wake%20basics

The information contained in these pages is provided solely for the purpose of sharing with others researching their ancestors in Ireland.
MICHAEL BRENNAN July 2001. All Rights reserved

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