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Cultural Spotlight: Irish Funeral Traditions

by | Jan 5, 2017 | Cultural Spotlight, For Families

A row of waterfront buildings in Ireland

Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.

But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.

This article looks at Irish funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Read about Mexican funeral traditions, Greek funeral traditions and indigenous Australian funerals.

Where is it held?

A traditional Irish funeral is held at the home of the deceased or a family member’s home, where the parlor is prepared for the deceased.

Funeral homes are becoming more popular options for viewing the deceased, especially in the cities, but wakes held at home are still common in rural towns. Cremations also are more common in larger Irish cities, but rural Ireland towns still typically bury the deceased.

A window is left open in the viewing room to allow the spirit of the deceased to leave the house. It’s important you don’t get in the way of the path to the window, because it could prevent the spirit from leaving or bring you bad luck. After two hours, the window should be closed so the spirit can’t come back in.

It’s also common to cover or turn over mirrors, close curtains, and stop the clocks in the house at the time the person died as a sign of respect.

Who attends?

Children don’t usually attend the wake, unless they are close relatives of the deceased. Anyone is welcome to attend, unless it’s invite-only.

Everyone is welcome to stay anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, depending on the closeness of the relationship to the deceased.

What happens?

The wake is a place of celebration where family and friends can eat and drink while sharing funny stories and memories about the deceased.

The deceased is dressed in nice clothes and covered with a shroud from the chest down, leaving the head and hands visible.

Family members may mourn their loved one by viewing the deceased, and, if they choose to, saying a prayer, briefly touching the hands or head of the deceased, or sprinkling holy water. If you are unsure of what is acceptable, it is best to follow the example of others.

At a traditional Irish funeral, keening would occur; which is when the women family members cry and wail over the deceased. They have to wait until the deceased is laid out, though, or else the keening could draw evil spirits.

Another superstition that the Irish believe is the legend of the Banshee, a fairy that is believed to be an omen of death. When you hear her scream, that signifies a death in the family.


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