...The Irish practice of watching over the body by candlelight the
night before the funeral and the often wild feasting which followed.
This may have developed simply because mistakes sometimes
happened. The purpose of the wake, therefore, was to create enough
of a clatter to ensure that the deceased was truly dead, and to help the
mourners forget their grief and resume normal life once they were sure.
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 steps, that were in the process of the Wake, are provided below:
1. Neighboring women experienced in laying out the body gather at
the house of the deceased.
2. The body is washed
3. A habit is put on the body
4. A bed is prepared for the body.
5. If it is a man who has shaved, the body is shaved before the
habit isput on
6. A crucifix is placed on the breast and rosary beads are put
7. Sheets are hung over the bed and along two or three sides
8. Candles are lighted in candlesticks near the remains.
(The process takes about two hours)
Keening and Crying: (The vocalizations over the dead are 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
4. After a while of Keening, mourners are led away from the bedside
by a few neighbors 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 of others.
7. If the person dies late in the evening, the main wake is not held until
the following night so as to give neighbors and distant relatives time to
Preparations and Requirements for the Wake:
1. Two men - a relative and a neighbor take part.
2.Coffin is ordered (traditionally made by a local carpenter at the
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. Pipefulls of tobacco are offered.
2. 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
3. The clocks are stopped as a mark of respect.
4. All mirrors are turned toward the wall or covered.
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 his 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 it is 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 old women
come in the morning; and, with the end of the working day, others in
the community stopin.
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 neighbors remain till morning. They drink tea or 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 to the graveyard on the next day.
12. The corpse is delivered to the church. (If horses are used, their
hoofs are blackened and straw is laid in the street outside the wake
house to deaden the sound.) Catholic coffins would be covered
in a brown cloth, while the coffins of the Protestant dead were
covered in black.
13. Relatives and maybe a few neighbors return to the house .
14. The Corpse is buried and a few relatives or neighbors stay to help
clean the house putting things back in order.
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