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Painting: "An Irish Wake"

The truth about the Irish wake: lewd songs, pranks were part of the tradition

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Painting: "An Irish Wake"

Merrymaking was a common part of the traditional Irish wake and was a part of the grieving process, according to an article in the Irish Independent. Pagan ritual was a huge part of it and much of the carrying-on was frowned upon by the church.

Storytelling, mischief making, and games were all part of the send-off and eased the suffering for the deceased's family.

According to the article, the custom "most likely has its roots in the ancient Jewish custom of leaving the burial chamber unsealed for three days with relatives returning during that time to check for any signs of life.

"As in other Celtic countries, Irish mourners adopted the custom as a way to keep vigil over their dead until the time of burial, and it evolved into an occasion of sadness and merriment."

Lewd songs, pranks, and games with names like "Priest of the Parish" and "Hide the Gulley" were commonplace at wakes up until the mid-1900s.

Even contests of strength, which included lifting the corpse, was common. Also common was hiding under the corpse’s bed and shaking it when someone walked in scaring the daylights out of them

These activities, which originated in pagan culture, were severely frowned upon by the church, which tried to stamp out the custom but action was only taken when a wake turned particularly scandalous.

According to the Independent, the wake began when neighbor women washed the body of the deceased. It was then covered in white linen adorned with black or white ribbons.

"Custom dictated that crying could not begin until after the body was prepared, for fear that evil spirits would be attracted which would take the soul of the deceased.

"Female keeners were often hired, and they wailed and cried and recited poetry lamenting the loss of the loved one, with the mourner at the head of the bed striking the first note or wail."

While wakes are still held in the more rural parts of the west of Ireland,  funeral parlors have sprung up across the country in the past few decades.

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