I know. This is a delicate topic. And totally unfunny. But, I really want to share about it for two reasons: 1. my experience with Irish funerals is far different than my experience with American funerals and 2. If you are ever wondering if your Irish farmer boyfriend is telling the truth when he says he is going to a funeral up to 2-3 times/month it could definitely be true.
Here in the Irish countryside many things are still done the old-fashioned way and this would definitely apply to funerals. Imagine my surprise when the first visitation I attended was right in the home of the dearly departed with her laying in her own candlelit bedroom with people paying their respects at the bedside. I have to be honest and say that I was absolutely terrified. I had never in my life been required to be intimately close with a deceased person. But, I had to shrug off my fears and go in because it was R’s amazing grandmother who was also a very special person to me. She had lived to see so many changes in Ireland and left us at the ripe age of 91. I loved listening to her stories of gun hiding and squabbles between political parties. She also had great style and an unexpected sense of humour. She always asked me the same question when I walked into her home, “would you like a drop of Baileys?” and we’d have “drops” of Bailey’s in teeny, tiny, sweet little cordial glasses while I listened to her anecdotes and gossip and felt so wonderfully content in her presence. I remember once she was telling me about a trip she had taken to an island called Lough Derg and was describing how beautiful it was and that you had to go barefoot and walk on these rocks and then you’d stay up for 3 days and only drink broth with salt and pepper. I totally thought she was talking about some sort of natural spa experience where you’d go for really intensive 3 day cleansing detox. It is actually a religious retreat. She thought I was mad…..but I know she also loved that about me. She had discussed her precise wishes regarding her funeral arrangements with her family and had it all sorted out before she left us . The family followed through as directed.
Generally speaking, up until 15 years ago, a country Irish wake would always take place in the home. It was very much a social event and open to the public. The corpse would be dressed in a dark, neutral coloured habit or shroud and “layed out” on their bed or in a small coffin. No embalmment techniques or fancy makeup. A prayer book might be propped under the chin to keep one’s mouth closed. Mourners would fill the room and sit beside the dead and would be there to support the others who came to sympathise. Often, a punch made of cloves, sugar, whiskey and boiled water would be served and a barrel of stout would be on hand. Men smoked white clay pipes and sniffed snuff. This celebration would go on for 1-3 days as they never wanted the dead person to feel alone which, to my mind, is a lovely gesture. Three days of crying, laughing, eulogizing, agonizing. Sounds pretty cathartic to me…and not such a scary idea after all. After the wake, there was the funeral mass and burial. The coffin is carried on shoulders and walked around the circumference of the graveyard before stopping at the gravesite. One month later, the “month’s mind” takes place in the local church to remember the person. Each year after there is an anniversary mass as well.
The introduction of funeral homes have taken the responsibility off of the immediate family to entertain mourners in their homes and wakes are now called “removals”. These funeral homes are very different from the what I would be accustomed to in the States….no plush carpets and rugs, ambient music, heavy drapes, displays of flowers here. In fact, very much a low-key event. The rural village funeral home is designed a bit like a garage where the a big door is opened to the street, the coffin is in the middle of the room, the family in chairs in a semi circle around the coffin. The family receives all the sympathisers who, in a single file cue, come through and shake hands with them all and walk out. Out here it still is similar in the way that people gather from far and wide…whether you were a first cousin or a friend of a friend of a friend, you will be at the removal. It is important to be a part of the community and show your respect. This is why R goes so frequently. In America funerals are much more discreet. You might not think so right off the bat, but really, compared to Ireland they are more private and formal affairs if you will. Very rarely would you go to a funeral of someone you’d never personally met at least once. It’s just in my American nature to feel like an interloper going to a removal of someone I didn’t know. Not to mention I don’t have enough dressy clothes anymore to keep up with them all.
I was hoping to feature Mr. McDonnell and the farm for this post, but he’s sooooooo slow and stilllllll writing his answers to all of our quirky questions. By the way, if you have a fun, funny, embarrassing…even dorky question, please drop me a line: email@example.com.