Irish funerals tend to be slightly different to funerals in other countries. ‘Tis a fact. I lived with my grandmother for years in Dublin and she was without doubt on of those strong loud Dublin women who had made her way through a hard life.
She was one of those women who would occasionally impart some pearls of wisdom, although at the time we’d hardly listen to her, which is something I regret to this day.
When her sister passed away in the 1970’s she was bereft and cried for days. As the days passed she said ‘People are more alive in us as they die’ which I didn’t really understand for many years.
‘Death is part of life’ she told us. ‘You have to deal with death it happens’ She was a wise old woman who took us in and cared for us.
The truth is nobody does death like the Irish, I mean nobody.
The thing about an Irish wake is that is a party, I kid you not, it’s a party. It’s a party where the deceased is the centre of attention. The corpse is laid out, usually at home. Family, friends and neighbours come to pay their respect. They all stand around the corpse with a drink in their hands and on occasion they’ll drink to the deceased health, I’m not joking it’s happened.
There’s more food than you can eat, an EU mountain of sandwiches. There’s music and Guinness but more importantly laughter. There is profound sadness at the loss but stories abound between family and friends and it usually ends with laughter.
It’s unfortunate that the best party of your life might actually be your wake, and you miss it, even thought you’re front and centre.
The death notice will say if it’s an ‘open house’ or not, it’s usually an open house, just means everyone is welcome. So between glasses of whiskey and pints of Guinness the great wake discussions occur. ‘Which priest is doing it’ which only means which priest will be saying the funeral mass. ‘Oh he does a lovely one’ translation, it’ll be a quick mass.
People declare how well the corpse looks. ‘Shur he looks at peace with himself’ or my favourite ‘Shur he doesn’t look like he’s dead at all’. I’m of the opinion that when you’re dead you look dead.
Then of course there is the nomination for someone to stay behind in the house to ward off would be robbers, while everyone is off at the funeral. I’m sure this is not just an Irish thing.
The Young People
As the Wake draws to an end everyone declares that ‘we must meet up in happier times’ everyone agrees, unfortunately the next time we’ll meet will be at another funeral, all of us hoping that we won’t be the centre of attention. Now that I’m older I understand what my grandmother meant when she said that ‘death is part of life’ fortunately for her she had great faith and this helped her deal with death. At a recent family funeral I watched how upset the younger members of our family coped with death.
It’s very different to how we were taught to deal death, we were told that ‘shur they’re in heaven’ and we believed that, it made it easier for us as younger people.
Sitting in a pub in Dublin I asked a young family member how she coping with the funeral ‘It’s grand she’s happy’ she declared. I was slightly confused by her confidence and asked how she knew. She held up her phone ‘Irish psychics live that’s how I know’
Her grandmother asked what she was talking about ‘the psychics said she was fine and happy where she was’
We sat baffled looking at one another ‘Shur if it helps her leave her be’ her grandmother said now let’s have a Guinness and drink to family.
The Joy of Molly Keoghan my very special grandmother