A scene from "Waking Ned Devine"

Wake decorum: What to do at an Irish Wake


A scene from "Waking Ned Devine"

1. Upon entering the wake house, you should first go to the corpse and say a few prayers for the soul’s repose. Then, greet the family. The traditional phrase is, “I’m sorry for your troubles,” especially to a widow.

2. There is no mourning in the house until the body has been properly prepared. We don’t want the fairies or the Devil to catch the soul before the angels do!

3. Clocks should be stopped at the time of death as a sign of respect. Mirrors should be covered or turned to the wall. This is a time for more important reflections.

4. Keening (Caoine) is more than crying; it is praise and lament for the deceased. In the past, professional keeners and bards were hired to recite the genealogy and virtues of the dead and to lead the mourning.

5. The drinking of whiskey and poteen (poitin, a.k.a. moonshine) has long been a part of the mourning process. It is not moderated.

Likewise, pipes and tobacco were considered an essential part of the wake. Smoke supposedly “purifies” the air and relaxes mourners.

6. Food and drink are provided as the household is capable. Neighbors contribute as needed, for a good feast is a sign of respect. Salt 7. is also a charm against evil and is often provided.

8. The corpse is never to be left unattended or in the dark. That would be the worst sort of disrespect.

9. “Sing a song at a Wake and shed a tear at a birth.” Songs, games and stories are a part of the wake. They celebrate the life of the deceased and continuation of life among the survivors. Giving the dead “a great send-off” is a matter of pride and sign of respect.

10. However, the Church has tried to suppress the drinking, feasting and keening at wakes for centuries. Therefore, please tone it down if a priest happens by.


Visit Katie of the Fairies' Web site at: www.irishteller.com or email her at: storyteller@dublin.com


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