Discover the Irish Wake: Fascinating Superstitions & Sombre Mythology

Irish Wake

Updated On: November 13, 2023 by   Ciaran ConnollyCiaran Connolly

Since the beginning of time, civilisations worldwide have had their own interpretation of life, death and the afterlife. It may seem macabre, but our fascination with death is a normal part of the human experience.

Death can be painful beyond belief, but it is something we all must face. Cultures deal with death in different ways; these differences are shaped by the traditions of our societies and the dominant religion in every culture.

Irish Wake
Irish Wake | Many traditions of Irish Wakes have changed over time.

What is the meaning of life? The answer to this question is not simple. Somewhat ironically, we often appreciate the value of something more after we experience the opposite. In other words, you appreciate health when you are sick, food when you are hungry and warmth when you are cold.

Among life’s many mysteries, one thing is certain: you start appreciating what life has to offer when you experience death.

In this article, we will explore the Irish wake and Irish funeral traditions, as well as some of the interesting superstitions Irish people follow, popular Irish funeral songs, and more. Scroll down to read through the blog, or click on one of the highlighted sections below to jump ahead!

Discover the Irish Wake: Fascinating Superstitions & Sombre Mythology
Irish Wake | Irish wake traditions formed over centuries.

An introduction to the Irish funeral

Another aspect of death that many cultures share is funerals. No matter where you come from, you’re always going to mourn the loss of loved ones. So, what differentiates our way of processing grief in Ireland from other countries and cultures?

The difference lies in how you deal with death when someone you cherish is gone. Irish culture and heritage have always had eccentric customs and traditions, but you may be surprised when you learn about the Irish wake and its associated beliefs. While other countries do carry out wakes, the Irish wake is deemed to be unique to the Emerald Isle.

Funerals can be seen as a way of celebrating someone’s life, which may help to explain some of our unique traditions. It is also important to remember that, traditionally, Ireland was a predominantly Catholic country that took its religion very seriously, and this is reflected in our traditions.

Every culture has its own way of celebrating the important milestones in life, from birth and marriage to death. Many cultures have influenced Ireland throughout its history. We have created our own unique traditions by combining aspects and elements from others.

Death and Grieving in Different Cultures

Death is a part of every community and culture. Despite how harsh death can be, it also has the power to unite people and bring them closer together. When someone dies, people become more aware of their own mortality and reaffirm what is important to them, including their friends and families.

Discover the Irish Wake: Fascinating Superstitions & Sombre Mythology
Irish Wake | Every culture handles death differently.

Family, friends, and acquaintances of the deceased gather to grieve and mourn, which offers them a chance to reconnect. Grieving and mourning the loss of a loved one has always been part of death, but we do not all grieve in the same way.

Each culture has its own methods and practices of mourning. The same applies to Ireland; traditionally, grieving in Ireland means carrying out an Irish wake. The Irish wake is a tradition that has been performed for centuries. Despite its significance to our culture, Ireland has grown more diverse and nowadays, the wake is less common.

The Irish wake mainly takes place in rural areas rather than in towns and cities, which are generally more diverse. That is not to say it doesn’t happen in cities; it is just less common. The mass emigration of Irish people to places such as the USA and the UK means that many people with Irish roots may be aware of the Irish wake and want to learn more.

What is an Irish Wake?

The Irish wake is a tradition associated with death and funerals, yet surprisingly, it is a kind of celebration. This may sound shocking. However, it is not meant to be a fun party. It’s a grieving method where people have one last opportunity to share a special moment with the deceased person.

Irish people believe that the wake is a way to let the dead and the living be bound together one last time.

Why is it Called a Wake?

Transitional periods in ancient Ireland were a time when the laws of nature became a bit blurred. For example, at Samhain, one of four ancient Irish festivals that date back to pagan times, people celebrated the end of the Celtic year and a transitional period from summer to winter. During the celebrations, the veil between our world and the Otherworld became thin.

Discover the Irish Wake: Fascinating Superstitions & Sombre Mythology
Irish Wake | The body is not allowed to be left alone at an Irish Wake.

Celtic people in Ireland believed that this meant spirits could slip from the afterlife or Otherworld into our own world. These spirits could be the souls of loved ones or evil spirits and monsters. This actually forms the basis of many Halloween traditions, such as dressing up as ghosts and monsters, trick-or-treating, and even pumpkin carving (although we used turnips).

Similarly to the changing of one year to the next, death was not believed to be an instant process but a transitional period. Irish people believed that the soul remained in the body for a day or two. When left alone, it was vulnerable to being taken by evil spirits, so the only way to make sure the soul safely passed on to the afterlife was by having a wake.

There are two theories about the meaning of ‘wake’. Some misconceptions include assuming wake refers to staying awake around the body or checking to see if the deceased wakes up. However, ‘wake of the dead’ used to mean a vigil or guard, which makes much more sense when considering the belief that the deceased had to be protected.

Irish Wake Customs

The Irish wake takes place in the home of the deceased or in the place of someone who was close to them. A room is prepared, and items belonging to the departed are placed near an open window. Supposedly, the open window is the point from which the spirit of the departed would leave the house.

Among the performed customs, lit candles are put at the foot and the head of the deceased. The departed person is dressed in their best clothes, and the body should be visible to the visitors. In some cases, families wrap rosary beads around the hands of the dead person.

Irish Wake | The Parting Glass is one of the most popular songs played at Irish wakes and funerals.

Although the wake takes place in a specific room, there are traditions that extend to the rest of the house. The following customs are part of the Irish wake; however, some no longer occur during modern wakes.

Irish Wake Superstitions include:

  • Opening the windows allows the soul to move out of the house through the window. Practically speaking, this helps to preserve the body.
  • Closing curtains in every room except where the deceased is laid out.
  • Covering mirrors ensures the soul is not trapped inside the mirror.
  • Stopping the clock to match the time the death occurred and covering it is seen as a way to prevent bad luck. It may also be a way to signify the importance of the person.
  • Lighting candles around the coffin of the deceased was also common. The wax was watched to see the pattern it would form, which could signify more death in the area.
  • Wearing black was a sign of mourning but was also used to appear ‘in shadow‘ so the soul does not accidentally enter your body.

Who Attends an Irish Wake?

Those who attend the wake are usually family, neighbours, and close friends of the departed. Although it is usually reserved for the parties mentioned, some families allow anyone who knew or cared for the deceased to attend.

Typically, death and funerals create a gloomy atmosphere. But at an Irish wake, you can come across people who laugh and share fond memories they had of the deceased.

Once all of the attendees arrive, the wake begins. The prepared room embraces the body of the lost loved one. In the past, the body was kept in that room for about three nights, but nowadays, it is usually held at home for the night before the funeral only.

Irish Wake | Danny Boy is another popular Irish funeral song.

This allows the loved ones to visit the house and see the body. Each person is allowed to grieve by spending time with the deceased. They either recite prayers or simply say goodbye for the last time. After that, they leave the room and share a drink with the rest of the visitors. That is how the celebration takes place.

The local catholic priest or a family member who is a priest usually attends the wake. They will preside over prayers at the house. The priest at the wake will usually be the same priest who performs the Irish funeral mass.

Check out what Irish Comedian Dave Allen said about the tradition of the Irish Wake in this article from The Journal.

The Origins of the Irish Wake

The actual origin of the Irish wake remains a mystery. However, there are some sources that claim that the tradition derives from religious rituals. They say that Paganism was the reason that the wake came into being.

At first, the Church didn’t approve of the practice. However, it was not unusual for Celtic customs to be adapted into Christian celebrations in Ireland when the first pilgrims arrived, so this is a plausible theory.

Discover the Irish Wake: Fascinating Superstitions & Sombre Mythology
Irish Wake | Christian churches did not approve of the traditional Irish wake.

It is widely believed that the ancient tradition dates back to a Jewish custom. In Judaism, the sepulchre, or burial chamber of the recently departed, was left open for 3 days before it was closed up for good. During the three days, families would visit frequently in the hopes that their loved ones would wake up.

There’s another claim about how the Irish wake came to be. The claim states that there was lead in pewter tanks, which held beers, wine, and other beverages that people consumed during ancient times. The lead was transmitted to the cups and would cause lead poisoning. This caused the drinker to enter a Cationic State, which resembled death.

As the drinker could regain his/her consciousness after hours or days, the wake happened in order to ensure the person was actually dead and not just poisoned. This version of events is seen as more of a myth than an actual fact, however.

You probably have heard of the Irish drinking culture; we have embraced it as part of our tourism. If you are visiting Ireland, be sure to check out our ultimate pub guide of over 80 bars in various cities across the Emerald Isle.

The custom of a wake is a part of many religions, but it is probably most associated with being a part of the Irish culture. It is not really important how it came to be because one thing is for certain: the wake allows time for people to process the loss of a loved one with family and friends.

Discover the Irish Wake: Fascinating Superstitions & Sombre Mythology
Irish Wake | Guests often bring snacks to a wake to help the deceased’s family.

Often, funeral planning and expenses can take up all of a person’s time during the grieving period, so the wake allows guests to celebrate the life of a loved one while helping the chief mourners by being present.

The Third Birthday

The Irish wake is pretty similar to a viewing before the funeral. However, people in Ireland believe that is a cause for celebration. In modern times, the wake celebrates the life of the deceased person. It gave the guests a day to remember and cherish the times they crossed paths with their lost loved ones.

On the other hand, people in the ancient world celebrated death too. There was a notion that death was the third birthday. The first birthday was the day you were born. The second birthday was during your baptism, as your soul was born with new beliefs. Finally, the third birthday was entering the afterlife.

The third birthday is just one of many unique Irish sayings that Irish people use every day.

The Procession of the Irish Wake

The wake takes place after an embalmer or funeral director prepares the body of the deceased. Traditionally, it was a job reserved for women because it was believed that women washing the dead would bring fortune. However, any professional can do this task nowadays, regardless of their gender.

Irish Wake | A bagpipe cover of Amazing Grace, a song with an incredible history.

The body would then lay near a window to let the spirit fly away to its eternal rest. The window had to remain open; if anyone shut it, they were believed to be cursed for eternity. Below are the rituals that follow placing the dead body near the window:

Wailing or Keening

After preparing the body, it is preferred that it is never left unattended on its own until the time of the burial. If the family members were not around, then there was to be a woman who watched over the body. Wailing and crying is a spontaneous response to death and loss in almost every culture; it is a natural response to trauma and grief.

However, in ancient Ireland, while grief was expected, there was also a tradition to be performed. Keening is a form of sean nós singing, similar to wailing.

In ancient Ireland, you weren’t supposed to cry unless the preparation was over. If you did, evil spirits would gather and take the soul of the person instead of allowing it to travel on its own. The wailing would start after the preparation was over, but there was an order to the crying.

There had to be a lead keener, typically a woman. She’d be the first person to weep over the dead body and recite or sing poetry. During that time, all the women at the wake would join in and wail together. Keening was an integral part of the Irish funeral ritual until the 18th century. By the 20th century, the practice was almost entirely extinct.

Irish Wake | A video going into detail about the process of keening.

The process of keening:

  • A bard (Celtic storyteller) prepared the keen in advance.
  • The body was rested on an elevated spot and decorated with flowers. It is still traditional to place the coffin on top of a table during a wake.
  • The relatives and keeners were separated into two groups at the head and foot of the body.
  • A harp accompanied the lamenting lyrics.
  • The lead keener began singing.
  • The rest of the singers would join in.

Throughout the night, family, friends, and neighbours take shifts sitting in the room with the body, reminiscing about the loved one’s life, telling funny stories, and enjoying each other’s company. It is actually quite a wholesome experience, as everyone is allowed to be sad, but there are also pleasant moments of celebrating the deceased’s life.

Of course depending on the nature of the death, a wake can be very different. A tragic, sudden, or young death will always be extremely sad. Attending the wake of a much older family member who had lived a long, happy, and healthy life is usually a wake that has a lot of joyful reminiscing. In all cases, it is important to be respectful.

The Blend of Joviality and Grieving

After the wailing is over, the mourning process starts. For many cultures, this kind of mourning may seem eccentric and peculiar, but hundreds of years ago, it was common practice in Ireland.

Irish Wake | The Gaelic lament has an almost magical allure.

People in the Irish wake shift between celebration and tears. They would celebrate by drinking and eating plenty of food. Singing was part of the celebration, as well as sharing entertaining and amusing stories about the departed person. Interestingly, people would often play fun games, too.

Funeral Games, or memorial games, were athletic events held in honour of someone who had recently passed away. It was a way to create an enjoyable day in the memory of a loved one. Memorial events are still common in Ireland.

In the past, the church never approved the practice of the wake. It believed it was ill-mannered and disrespectful to the dead, even though that was never the intention of the hosts. The church had spent years trying its best to discourage the Irish wake, but they failed because, ultimately, families and loved ones should be allowed to grieve in the way they want.

In general, traditions can be altered and changed to suit a person’s wishes. It is not seen as disrespectful to break tradition nowadays if a person does not want to have a wake. However, it is disrespectful to tell someone they shouldn’t have one if they want to.

Paying Final Respects

The morning of the funeral is everyone’s last chance to pay their respects to the departed person. On that day, the funeral is started by placing the body in a coffin. They bring the coffin outside the house to take it to the graveyard. It is the time when the mourners kiss the dead goodbye and bid their last farewell.

Discover the Irish Wake: Fascinating Superstitions & Sombre Mythology
Irish Wake | Traditionally, all windows were left open during an Irish wake.

The journey begins at the local church and then heads to the graveyard. People carry the coffin and walk on foot until they reach the final destination, the cemetery. Once they reach the cemetery, they lower the casket into the grave, and the priest says a final prayer.

The Irish Wake and Funeral in Modern Times

As time has passed, the tradition of the Irish wake started to vanish, but it hasn’t ended by any means. Many people still carry out this custom in a very traditional way. In modern times, Ireland has become a diverse country.

We have made new traditions and lost some old ones, but the Irish Wake is still going strong. People in the countryside and rural areas still perform the traditions associated with the wake.

Even though people in the cities rarely hold an Irish wake, they still respect it. Does that mean that people in modern times are no longer familiar with the wakes? Not at all. They’re still familiar with the custom; in fact, there is an updated version of the tradition as well.

Irish Wake | Live traditional Irish music at the reception of Pete St John, a famous singer-songwriter.

The Irish Wake Memorial Service or Funeral Reception

Nowadays, people refer to the custom as the Irish Wake Memorial Service. It is more like hosting a party where people celebrate the departed person’s life. In the old days, viewing was an essential part of the wake. People visited the house where the deceased body was laid out in their best clothes.

However, things have changed, and viewing is no longer required. In fact, the typical Irish wake in the modern world occurs after the burial. During this celebration, people gather to share stories of lost loved ones and have food and drinks.

The Irish wake no longer lasts for days; it only takes a few hours or an entire day at maximum. It is a party that everyone is welcome to attend. It is most commonly held in the local pub, so invites are unnecessary.

Speeches are made, and the family usually caters for guests with dinner and light refreshments. It is almost similar to a wedding celebration, but obviously, much sadder. It is a sign of respect to attend the event and a way to remember the person in a less formal way.

Modern Traditions of the Irish Wake

Throwing an Irish wake party is more flexible than it used to be in the old days. People often discuss their funeral wishes while alive, and families usually want the day to represent the person they know and love.

Discover the Irish Wake: Fascinating Superstitions & Sombre Mythology
Irish Wake | Today, many families host a viewing rather than a wake.

In the West, it is common to have the public viewing in a funeral home, where anyone can attend to pay respects. The Irish wake takes place that night in the family’s home, reserved for close friends, family and neighbours.

Then, the following day, the funeral is held, and the public can again attend. The reception occurs after the burial, which everyone is invited to attend. To summarise the modern Irish funeral process:

  • The body is prepared at the funeral home
  • Public viewing at the funeral home
  • Wake at the deceased’s family’s home
  • Funeral at the church
  • Burial or cremation
  • Funeral reception at a local pub or restaurant

Of course, this is intended to be a fully comprehensive summary of the process. Many people leave out certain elements or follow their own traditions, which is entirely expected.

Food and Beverages of the Irish Wake

Since an Irish wake is a party, there must be food and beverages. The family usually provides food and drinks, whether in a public place, at a house, or even at the local pub. Some families ask their guests to bring dishes. Appetizers are an essential part of a party, from traditional Irish food to hearty roast dinners.

The menu at a wake is simple and usually comprises soup, sandwiches, biscuits, and cakes accompanied by tea, coffee, and traditional Irish drinks. Neighbours and close family usually bring a platter of sandwiches, biscuits, or desserts so families don’t have to worry about making food for guests.

Irish Wake
Irish Wake | Tea and coffee are often served at an Irish wake.

For the proper toasts, beverages should include wine, scotch, Irish whiskey, and beer. On the other hand, there are always alternate choices for non-alcoholic drinks.

Food and drink are served on the family’s finest china with the best cutlery. It was custom to have a set of dishes received as a wedding gift and only used for special occasions, such as a wake or the blessing of a home. Hospitality has always been taken very seriously in Ireland.

Other Activities held at an Irish Wake

The main activities of the Irish wake are enjoying the food and drinks while telling stories about the deceased. While people enjoy their time together, pictures of the deceased are usually on display. The reason behind this tradition is to give room for the guests to remember things about the departed and share them.

The atmosphere is not as gloomy as it used to be in the old times. However, there is a fine blend between grieving and joviality. It is as if people in modern times have taken a different approach to how they perceive death.

The wailing and keening that used to take place in the past are no longer practised. Instead, people sing, tell stories, and enjoy their time together. The death of a loved one often sees many relatives return home for the first time in years, so there is plenty to catch up on during the wake. It is definitely one positive aspect of the difficult time.

Irish Wake
Irish Wake | Celtic crosses in the graveyard at The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Strabane, Northern Ireland

What Happens During an Irish Funeral?

After the Irish funeral mass, the coffin is carried into the hearse. A funeral procession begins, which involves people walking or driving, depending on the distance, behind the hearse from the church to the graveyard.

How the Irish Remember the Dead

The Month’s Mind

The month’s mind is a requiem mass that takes place around 4 weeks after the funeral of a loved one. It is a nice way to gather again as a family and community to honour the recently deceased. Still, it is also a reminder to check in on other family members as people begin to move on from the funeral.

Death Anniversaries

For the long term, there is an optional anniversary mass held once a year upon the request of a family member for someone who has passed. This is a nice way for a community to remember someone who died a few years ago and brings a lot of comfort to families.

It is common for families and friends to return home and celebrate the deceased’s life together after the mass. It is not unusual to have more than one anniversary mass during any Sunday celebration. Multiple deceased family members are usually remembered together.

Lighting Candles

It is custom to light a candle for a loved one when in a church. It is a way of mindfully remembering people who have passed away. Many people will do this on a weekly basis when they attend mass.

Irish Wake
Irish Wake | Many people light candles for their loved ones while at church.

Funerals in Irish Mythology

Irish mythology has always included details about the ancient culture of Ireland. It tells us a lot of fascinating tales about warriors, fairies, magic and misfortune. Funerals have always been a part of the tales of Irish legends. The most common death-related character in Irish myth is the Banshee, a female spirit that wails at funerals.

After holding an Irish wake party, people head to the funeral. They believe that hearing a wailing sound is a sign of the Banshee’s presence there. She has always been a sign of doom and misfortune. The reason why this female spirit wails at funerals is to help make people aware of their own fate and destiny.

However, as we now know, wailing was actually part of the Irish wake, and women usually performed the tradition. It would not be far-fetched to draw a comparison between the organized wailing and the Banshee’s cry. Still, unfortunately, much of Irish tradition was not recorded until centuries after it happened, so it is nearly impossible to know for sure.

Who is the Banshee?

The name Banshee derives from the Irish words ‘bean sí‘ from the old Irish ‘bean síde’. This literally translates to ‘female fairy‘. The Aos sí were the fairy people of Ireland originally known as Celtic Gods and Goddesses. It is believed that most Irish deities retreated underground to the Otherworld. Over time, their descendants became the fairies of Ireland.

Some regions picture the Banshee as an attractive young woman, while others believe she is a mysterious old woman. Either way, she is a female spirit who weeps and wails.

Irish Wake
Irish Wake | A Banshee near a mystical fairy tree.

In the Irish mythology, the Banshee is sometimes depicted as a bird. Legend has it that the bird lands on windows as a sign of death approaching the house’s residents. This could be related to the Morrigan, the Celtic Goddess of War and Death, who would turn into a crow and fly over the battlefield as an omen of death.

Moreover, Scottish mythology also adopts the notion of the Banshee. They believe the Banshee to be a laundress who washes blood-stained clothes, while other sources state that the Banshee washes the armour of soldiers who are going to die in their next battle.

What exactly is the role of the Banshee? According to Irish mythology, her wailing and weeping are a sure omen of death. It is almost as if she is breaking the news to the family instead of trying to warn them. Not every family has its own Banshee, although some believe one Banshee would follow royal bloodlines.

Oddly enough, people believe this female spirit only laments the Milesian descendants. Most Milesians are those whose last names include Mac, Mc, or O’. This may be random, but there is more to this story. The Milesians drove the Tuatha de Danann underground when they defeated them, so the Banshee haunting these families actually makes sense in terms of the mythological lore.

It is also said that the Banshee stays around at the Irish wakes, lamenting the family, which may explain why women wailed at wakes. In mythology, it was believed that a real person could act as the incarnation of a god or deity, as we discuss in our Queen Maeve article.

Discover the Irish Wake: Fascinating Superstitions & Sombre Mythology
Irish Wake | Banshees are one of the most well-known fairies from Irish mythology.

Ultimately, many people are said to have heard wailing before receiving shocking news that someone in their family had died.

The Origin of the Banshee

How did the legend of the Banshee originate? Like everything in Irish mythology, the origin remains shadowy and enigmatic as our myths were not written down until centuries after they were told.

Some people believe Banshees are women who died before their scheduled time or while giving birth. Their belief provides a further explanation of the role of the Banshee as a woman who is mourning her own death and avenging the injustice of her untimely demise.

On the other hand, as we have already discussed, the Irish legends claim that the Banshee descends from the magical race, the Tuatha De Danann. Fairies are believed to be descendants of the Celtic gods, and the Banshee is considered a lone fairy. Like most mythological characters, Banshees are fairies with supernatural powers.

While it would be nice to have a confirmed and fully recorded mythology, there is something mysterious about the Banshee and Celtic mythology in general, which adds to its allure.

Irish Wake
Irish Wake | The Banshee was often portrayed as a mysterious woman washing armour at a river.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Irish Wake

What is a Catholic Wake?

A catholic wake is held after the death of a loved one and before their funeral. It is a night of prayer and celebration where people wait up until dawn with the body. People spend the night praying, celebrating the life of their loved ones, and grieving their death. The body should not be left alone during these celebrations.

How Long is a Wake?

Guests can stay anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on their relationship with the deceased. Modern wakes usually last overnight as people wait up with the body. Traditionally, the Irish wake would last at least one day and sometimes up to two or three.

What Should I Wear to an Irish Wake?

While the wake itself can be upbeat at times, you should wear dark formal clothes. If you are unsure, wear something suitable for the funeral mass to a wake, or wear ‘business/professional’ attire, as it is a formal occasion. Men commonly wear black suits, and women usually wear black dresses or dark outfits.

It is best to keep it simple but formal.

When Should I Go to a Wake?

If you are not too close to the deceased but want to show your respects, you should go early, usually between 5 pm and 8 pm. This allows you to leave early and give the family time alone with each other. If you are close with the family and plan to stay late into the night, you can arrive anytime.

You may even choose to help the family set up early in the day and then return a few hours later for the wake.

Discover the Irish Wake: Fascinating Superstitions & Sombre Mythology
Irish Wake | Some wakes are open to anyone who knows the deceased, while others are just for close family.

Can Anyone Go to an Irish Wake?

If the death notice says ‘house private‘, then the wake is only for family and invited guests. However, if this is not mentioned, anyone who knew the deceased or their family can attend to pay their respects without an invitation.

Where is the wake held?

The wake is commonly held at the home of the deceased or the home of someone close to the deceased.

What is an Irish Wake Like? What Happens at an Irish wake?

You may hear both laughter and tears at the wake. The atmosphere is respectful, and people try to celebrate the life of the deceased, but it is still a sad day. The mood will change from wake to wake, depending on the circumstances of death, so try and read the room to see if the general vibe is cheerful or sombre.

At an Irish wake, people often cry, tell stories, and reminisce about their loved one who passed away. Food and drinks are typically served.

What Should I Do at an Irish Wake or Funeral? What is the Etiquette?

You should first pay respects to the family, who will more than likely be in the room with the body. You should then stand at the body of the deceased and say a prayer or spend a minute with them. If you are unsure what to do after this, just observe what other people are doing.

It is okay to feel a bit awkward; the family will appreciate your visit to the house. There may be a condolence book to sign near the door. The family are often so busy during the wake that they won’t get a chance to speak to everyone, so signing your name is a great way to show your respects and let them know that you stopped by.

What do I Bring to a Wake?

You can bring a condolence card with you to show respects. If you are close to the family, offering to bring food with you to ease their stress is nice. A plate of sandwiches, a tin of biscuits, or cake is a nice gesture.

You could even offer to make dinner for the family on the days around the wake or funeral, as they will be too busy to cook. Close neighbours will bring pots, chairs and tables to the house.

Discover the Irish Wake: Fascinating Superstitions & Sombre Mythology
Irish Wake | Customs and traditions for Irish wakes help us mourn the loss of a loved one.

Should I Attend the Wake or the Funeral?

You can attend both. The wake is more personal; you are in someone’s home and often speak directly to the deceased’s family. The wake is good for seeing the deceased and speaking with their family.

The funeral is more commonly attended by people who want to show their respects but may not know the deceased’s family well. You will still get the chance to speak to the family after the mass, but it is undoubtedly less intimate.

Can a Viewing and a Funeral be on the Same Day?

A viewing in a funeral home is an alternative to the traditional Irish wake. It is usually the evening before the funeral but can be held on the same day if the family wishes. However, if the wake is held at the home, it is usually on a separate day from the funeral.

What is the Difference between a Wake and a Viewing?

A wake takes place at home and lasts an entire night, while a viewing usually takes place in a funeral home and lasts around 2-3 hours. At wakes, it is customary to stay a few hours or even overnight, but viewings only last a few minutes per guest.

At a viewing, people enter the room, shake hands with the chief mourners, and then say a short prayer at the coffin before leaving.

What is the Difference Between Wake and Funeral Attire?

There is not much difference in attire for wakes and funerals. Clothes should be formal, professional and dark in colour. A wake can be slightly less formal, but you won’t be out of place wearing a suit or formal dress.

Irish Wake | A bagpipe version of Dawning of the Day.

The Irish Wake Helps Celebrate a Loved One’s Passing

Death is a saddening incident that can happen to anyone, but Ireland seems to have found a way to deal with the grief through celebration. In the past, Irish people believed that being dead meant transferring to a peaceful afterlife, which was a cause for celebration. We have continued this tradition into modern times to try and celebrate the life of a loved one while grieving.

The Irish wake is an attempt to celebrate a person’s life and be close to loved ones during the difficult process of grieving. It may seem unusual to an outsider, but it is a positive way to embrace hardships as a community rather than leaving people to mourn alone.

Although we have detailed many of the standard Irish wake traditions and customs, not every Irish wake looks like the one we have described. Traditions vary from village to village, and every family does their best to create a funeral that their loved one would appreciate. This is more important to follow than any traditions or customs mentioned.

Learning about other cultures has always been interesting. It changes your perspectives and teaches you to see things differently. Cultures have always shared similarities and differences, and death is no exception.

If you have enjoyed learning about Irish wakes, you may also enjoy reading:

Irish traditions: music, sport, folklore & more | Irish wedding traditions | Irish Halloween Traditions | St. Patrick’s Day Traditions in Ireland

One comment on “Discover the Irish Wake: Fascinating Superstitions & Sombre Mythology

  1. A pleasant way of bidding goodbye, making the spirit to leave peacefully, having no grudges in between. Love you to the heaven.

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