“My Father's Wake - How the Irish Teach Us to Live, Love, and Die” by Kevin Toolis is the September 2023 selection for the IrishCentral Book Club.

Each month, we will pick a new Irish book or a great book by an Irish author and celebrate the amazing ability of the Irish to tell a good story for the IrishCentral Book Club.

Published in 2018, "My Father's Wake" by Irish author Kevin Toolis is described as "an intimate, lyrical look at the ancient rite of the Irish wake–and the Irish way of overcoming our fear of death."

You can read an excerpt from "My Father's Wake" here, or listen to an excerpt, read by Toolis, here:

Synopsis of “My Father’s Wake”

Death is a whisper for most of us. Instinctively we feel we should dim the lights, pull the curtains, and speak softly.

But on a remote island off the coast of Ireland’s County Mayo, death has a louder voice.

Each day, along with reports of incoming Atlantic storms, the local radio runs a daily roll call of the recently departed. The islanders go in great numbers, young and old alike, to be with their dead. They keep vigil with the corpse and the bereaved company through the long hours of the night. They dig the grave with their own hands and carry the coffin on their own shoulders. The islanders cherish the dead–and amid the sorrow, they celebrate life, too.

In "My Father’s Wake," acclaimed author and award-winning filmmaker Kevin Toolis unforgettably describes his own father’s wake and explores the wider history and significance of this ancient and eternal Irish ritual.

Perhaps we, too, can all find a better way to deal with our mortality — by living and loving as the Irish do.

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Reviews for “My Father’s Wake”

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

"Visceral and profound." - New York Times Book Review

"The windswept Irish island of 'My Father's Wake' is one of the final remote outposts of true death engagement in the Western world. Toolis's book is both memoir and anthropology, and serves as a refreshing counterpoint to the industrialized, for-profit death industry we've come to wrongly believe is our only option." - Caitlin Doughty, author of the New York Times bestsellers "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and "From Here to Eternity"

"This is a moving family story, a memoir of loss and exile, a deep understanding of what makes us alive, casting a cold eye on what is precious and so often denied." - Hugo Hamilton

"Contemporary western ideas about death are dominated by individualism; 'My Father's Wake' is a lyrical description of how community and tradition help us deal with our mortality." - Seamus O'Mahony, author of "The Way We Die Now"

"A heartwarming and very personal account of a life well-lived." - Irish Times

"A gut-wrenching exploration of death from an Irish perspective...A fascinating view of what most of us try not to consider: the end of life...This book is not for the faint of heart, as the experiences [Toolis] shares will leave readers emotionally raw. It is unquestionably rewarding, however, a thought-provoking argument against a sterile and industrial view of death...Intimate, eye-opening." - Kirkus (starred review)

"[A] poetically written and heartfelt memoir." - Irish Voice

"In this stimulating and poignant narrative, Kevin Toolis armed with his Irish heritage gives a heart wrenching description of the death and wake of his father as he delves into the broader history, rituals, and meaning of the Irish wake...With an inspiring and refreshing message at its core, 'My Father's Wake' rejoices in the spiritual depth of the Irish views on mortality."—New York Journal of Books

"Syntax and word, rhythm and rite roll and surge in this tribute to a wordsmith's dying father, Sonny-and to the neglected Irish practice of 'waking the dead'...A worthy read."—Englewood Review of Books

About Kevin Toolis

Kevin Toolis is a writer and BAFTA-winning filmmaker. The author of a celebrated chronicle of Ireland’s Troubles, "Rebel Hearts: Journeys within the IRA’s Soul," he has written for the New York Times Magazine and the Guardian and reported on conflicts around the world. His family has lived in the same village on an island off the coast of County Mayo for the last 200 years. Toolis makes his home on the island and in London. You can learn more about Toolis on his website and Twitter.

(*Synopsis, reviews, and biographical information from Da Capo Press.)