- 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
WHAT IS AN
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.
FOLLOWING ARE THE STEPS IN THE PROCESS OF THE
- 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
- 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
- 8. Candles are lighted
in candlesticks near the remains.
- (This process takes
about two hours)
- See also the extensive
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.
& 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
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
- 4. The clocks are
stopped as a mark of respect. (Roslea).
- 5. All mirrors are
turned toward the wall or covered. (Roslea).
THE BODY AND RITUAL OF VISITING THE CORPSE'.
- 1. A corpse must not
be left unattended for the entire
- 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. Im sorry for your
trouble...then the mourner speaks
kindly of the deceased and then walks
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
this form of send off is not practised
anymore in Ireland except probably in remote
areas where Irish traditions are still very
O'Suilleabhain,Sean., Irish Wake
Ammusements., Mercier,Dublin, 1976.
- Uris,Leon.,Trinity., Doubleday,New
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- 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