WHAT IS AN "IRISH WAKE"?
The traditional Irish Wake was commonplace around
Ireland up until about the 1970's. This was the process
of Laying out the body of a departed relative in the
house where they lived and /or died. All of the family
and quite a few of the deceased ones neighbours and
friends would gather at the house. The body was usually
in a coffin in the parlour of the house or living room.
There would be lots of food and plenty of drink to be
consumed. People would come and socialise and remember
the departed person's life. This wasn't a time for
tears to say the least, it was more of a party than a
funeral. It was the traditional Irish way of
celebrating one's life and ensuring that they had a
good send off. 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
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. Neighbouring women experienced in
laying out the body gather at the house of the
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
(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
2. The mourning family produces either
muffled sobs or loud wailing related to the depth
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
5. Word is sent out to distant relatives
and is spread with the help of a local shop or
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
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. Pipefull's 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
5. All mirrors are turned toward the wall or
'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
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
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 parlour 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
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.
Sadly, this form of send off is not practiced
anymore in Ireland except probably in remote areas
where Irish traditions are still very much alive.