An Insight into the Irish Wake and the Superstitions Associated with it

Updated On: February 07, 2018

Traditional Irish Dishes

What is the meaning of life? The answer to this question may take forever. People rarely do know the reason for their existence in this life. On the other hand, you start appreciating whatever life has to offer when death comes in the way. That is how things go; you appreciate the value of one thing when you learn about the opposite. In other words, you value life when you face death in one way or another. Well, that gets us to a different questioning; what is death? The only common answer that you will get is that death is an inevitable destiny. Sooner or later, it is going to get to all of us. Though, cultures deal with death in different ways. These differences are shaped by the traditions of the society and the dominant religion of every culture.

Another thing that all cultures share about death is the funerals. No matter where you come from, you’re always going to mourn the loss of your beloved ones. Then, where is the difference? The difference lies in how you deal with death when someone you cherish is forever gone. In fact, Ireland is one of the countries that have a different opinion about death. The Irish culture and heritage have always had eccentric customs and traditions. This can be obvious when you learn about the Irish wake and the beliefs associated with it. While some countries do carry out the wakes, the Irish wake is deemed to be a very special one.



Death is an inexorable part of every community and culture. In spite of how harsh death can be, it can surprisingly unite people and bring them closer. That may sound weird, but when someone dies, people become more aware of their final destination. Besides, the family, friends, and acquaintances of the deceased gather to grieve and mourn. Grieving has always been part of death. Conversely, people around the world do not grieve in the exact same way.

Each culture can grieve in its very own method. The same applies to Ireland; grieving in Ireland means carrying out an Irish wake. The latter is a tradition that generations have been performing for centuries. Despite its significance to the culture, Ireland has grown more diverse. That made parts of the country have different customs from other parts. Thus, the wake became more common in the rural areas rather than in the urban areas and the cities.

The History of the Irish Wake Revealed. Click Here


The Irish wake is a tradition associated with death and funeral yet it is surprisingly a kind of celebration. This may sound shocking; however, it is not that sort of fun parties and celebrations. It’s a grieving method where the close ones get a chance to share a special moment with the deceased person. Irish people believe that the wake is a way to let the dead and the alive bound together.

Customs of the Irish Wake

Here is what happens at an Irish wake; first, it takes place in the home of the deceased person. But, sometimes, people hold the wakes at the place of someone who was close to the dead person. They prepare a room and gather the stuff of the departed to place them near an open window. Supposedly, the open window is the point from which the spirit of the departed would leave the house serenely.

Among the performed customs, they put lit candles at both the foot and the head of the deceased. The departed person gets dressed in their best clothes and the body should be visible to the visitors. In some cases, families wrap a Rosary around the hands of the dead person. Although the wake takes place in a specific room, there are traditions that extend to the rest of the house. For example, the family members should stop all the clocks at the time when the death occurred. They shall also close all the curtains and cover the mirrors. These customs are part of the Irish wake; however, some of them no longer take place or occur anymore.

The Attendees of the Irish Wake

Mainly, those who attend the wake are ones who were family and friends of the departed. Although it is usually about the close people, some families allow whoever knew or cared for the deceased to attend. Definitely, death and funerals create a gloomy atmosphere. But at a wake, you can come across people who laugh and share memories they had with the deceased.

Once all of the attendees arrive, the wake starts taking place. The prepared room embraces the body of the lost loved one. They keep the body in that room for about three nights. This gives the opportunity for the loved ones to visit the house and see the body. Each person is allowed to grieve by spending the last few minutes of the dead body. They either recite prayers or say goodbye for the last time. After that, they get out of the room and share a drink with the rest of visitors. That is how the celebration takes place.


Learn what Dave Allen said about the tradition of the Irish Wake, Click Here.



The real origin of the wake thing remains mysterious. However, there are some sources that claim that the tradition derives from religious rituals. They say that the paganism was the reason that the wake came into being. At first, the Church didn’t approve of the practice. Through the years, the custom became part of many religions, but people still believe it’s part of the Irish culture. One of those religions was Judaism. It was claimed that the ancient Jewish were the first to introduce this tradition. The Jews used to leave the burial chamber open for several days. They wouldn’t close it until three days had passed. That was actually because they believed that the departed may come back to life. So, they gave him/her the chance to revive before sealing the tomb. Besides, they also allowed members of the family to see the deceased for one last time.

There’s another claim about how the Irish wake started. The claim states that there was lead poisoning in pewter tanks in the ancient times. Those tanks held beers, wine, and other beverages that people consumed. Definitely, the lead transmitted to the cups where people poured their beverages, leading to poisoning. It led the drinker to enter a state the Irish referred to as a Cationic State. It resembled death; however, they realized that the drinker may regain his/her consciousness after hours or days. Thus, the wake happened in order to ensure the person was actually dead and not poisoned.

The Third Birthday

The Irish wake is pretty similar to a funeral. However, people in Ireland believe that is a cause for celebration. In the modern times, they celebrate the life of the deceased person. They gave the guests a day to remember and to cherish every time the deceased cross their minds. On the other hand, people in the ancient time celebrated during death too. They had the notion that it was the third birthday. How was that? Well, the first birthday was the time when you were born. The second one was during the baptizing, thinking your soul was newly born with new beliefs. Finally, the third birthday was entering the afterlife.



Once a person is dead, the announcement occurs by pinning an envelope to a door. Apparently, people had their own concerns when it came to death. They believed that the person may still be alive but in a catatonic state. We have already stated the reasons behind this notion. Again, the wake takes place after a holy water washes the body of the deceased. It was the job of a woman; they believed that women washing the dead would bring fortune. Then, the body would lay near a window to let the spirit fly to its eternal journey. The window must remain open and whoever shut it would be cursed for an eternity. Here are the rituals that follow placing the dead body near the window.

Wailing Over the Dead Body

After preparing the body, it is preferred that it never stays on its own until the time of the burial. If the family members are not around, then there has to be a woman that watches over the body. Wailing and crying is a spontaneous response to death and loss in almost every culture. Conversely, in ancient Ireland, you weren’t supposed to cry unless the preparation was over. Otherwise, evil spirits would gather and take the soul of the dead person instead of it traveling on its own. The wailing would start after the preparation is over, but there was an order in doing so. There had to be a lead keener; she’d be the first woman to weep over the dead body and recite poetry. During that time, all the women shall join in and wail altogether.

The Blend of Joviality and Grieving

After the wailing is over, the mourning process starts. To a lot of cultures, this kind of mourning may seem eccentric and peculiar. People in the Irish wake mix between celebration and tears. They would celebrate by drinking and eating a plenty of food. Besides, singing was part of the celebration as well as sharing entertaining and amusing stories about the departed person. Interestingly, they would play games too and have so much fun. In the past, the Church never approved of this practice. It believed it was ill-mannered and disrespectful of the dead even though that wasn’t the intentions of the hosts. The Church had spent years trying its best to daunt people’s attempt to hold the wakes, but they failed.

Paying the Final Respects

The morning of the funeral was everyone’s last chance to pay their respects to the departed person. On that day, they start placing the body in a coffin. They bring the coffin outside the house in order to take it to the graveyard. It is the time when the mourners kiss the dead goodbye and do their farewell. The journey starts by visiting the church and then heading to the graveyard. People remain carrying the coffin and walking on foot until they reach the final destination. Once they reach there, they lower the coffin into the graveyard and shovel over it.



As time has passed, the tradition of the Irish wake started to vanish, but it hasn’t ended. A lot of people still carry out this custom. In the modern times, Ireland became a country of wide diversity. The latter aided in introducing new traditions and the reduction of the old ones, including the Irish wake. People in the countryside and rural areas still perform these traditions and embrace. Even though people in the cities rarely do the Irish wake, they still respect it. Does that mean that people in modern times are no longer familiar with the wakes? No, they’re still familiar with the custom; in fact, there is an updated version of the tradition as well.

The Irish Wake Memorial Service

Nowadays, people refer to it as the Irish Wake Memorial Service. It is more like hosting a party where people celebrate the life of the departed person. In the old days, viewing was an essential part of the wake. People visit the house where the deceased body’s existed. However, things have changed and viewing is no longer required. In actual fact, the Irish wake in the modern world occurs after the burial. In this celebration, people gather to share stories of the lost loved one 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 where everyone is welcome to attend. Besides, it doesn’t have to be held at the family house. Some people prefer private places; however, you can rent a bar or a restaurant and hold the event there.

Traditions of the Modern Version of the Irish Wake

Throwing an Irish wake party became more flexible than it used to be in the old times. People no longer have to make it all about a home funeral. In fact, the modern Irish wake does not share the gloomy atmosphere that the old one did. Surely, everyone is sad for the loss of a beloved person, but they turn grieve into a celebration instead. Those who prefer holding the wake in a public place had to include staff and bartenders. They will be responsible for serving the guests and all of the attendees. Because these services can cost a fortune, some people retreat to the cheaper alternative. They do so by hosting the wake at the place of one of the family members.

Food and Beverages of the Irish Wake

Since it is a party, there must be food and beverages. Whether it’s held in a public place or at a house, the family members usually provide the food and drinks. Some families ask their guests to bring dishes along and share them. Appetizers are an essential part of a party; however, there is a specific Irish food that you should go for. The menu should include vegetable platters, cold-cuts, potato wedges, shepherds, seafood, corned beef, and sandwiches. While for the proper toasts, beverages should include wine, scotch, Irish whiskey, and beer. On the other hand, there are always the alternative choices for non-alcohol drinkers, so the hosts shall never forget this.

Other Activities

The main activities of the Irish wake are enjoying the food and drinks while telling stories. While people enjoy their time together, pictures of the deceased are usually on display. The reason behind this tradition is giving 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, it is a blend between grieving and joviality. It is as if people of the modern times have taken a different approach in how they perceive death. Even the wailing room that used to take place in the past is no longer practiced. Instead, people sing, tell stories, and enjoy their time.



Apparently, the Irish mythology has always included everything about the culture of Ireland. It has a lot of fascinating tales about warriors, fairies, and misfortune- everything. Funerals have always been part of the tales of the Irish legends. It is usually associated with a female spirit that wails at the funerals- the Banshee.

After holding an Irish wake party, people head to the actual funerals. There, they believe that wailing is a sign of the presence of the Banshee. She has always been a sign of doom and misfortune. The reason this female spirit wails at funerals is a way to make people aware of their destiny. However, wailing is actually part of any funeral or Irish wake; women usually have the tradition of doing so.

Who is the Banshee?

Some regions picture the Banshee as an attractive lady while others believe she is an old lady. Either way, she is a female spirit who always weeps and wails. However, there are some regions that have a totally different opinion. In the Irish mythology, the Banshee is sometimes depicted as some kind of bird. Legend has it that the bird lands on windows as a sign of death approaching the house’s residents. Moreover, the Scottish culture alongside the Irish one adopts the notion of the Banshee. They believe the banshee to be a laundress who washes blood-stained clothes. Since every culture has more than one belief, the Scottish seem to share more thoughts on the matter. Some sources state that the Banshee’s actually a laundress that washes the armors of soldiers who are going to die.

Well, what exactly is the role of the banshee? According to the Irish mythology, wailing and weeping seem to be the most part agreed upon. Besides, there are other notions that the legends still profess around the banshee. In fact, every family seems to have its own banshee. She lives nearby their residence and warns them when death is approaching. It is also said that in the Irish wakes the banshee stays around lamenting the family. Weird enough; people believe that this female spirit only laments the Milesian descendants. Most of the Milesians are those whose last names include Mac, Mc, or O’.

The Origin of the Banshee’s Legend

How did the legend of the banshee originate? Like every other thing in the Irish mythology, the origin remains shadowy and enigmatic. However, there is always an eccentric tale that revolves around the legend claiming to be its origin. Here is what people believe about the banshees; they’re women who died before their scheduled time or while giving birth. Apparently, people do believe that banshees are wailing women and not birds. Their belief provides a further explanation of the role of the banshee. The latter is known to create an atmosphere of sadness and melancholy. They may be doing so, for they are mourning their own death and avenging being unjustly dead. On the other hand, the Irish legends claim that the banshee descends from the magical race, Tuatha De Danann. As most of the characters of this mythology, banshees are fairies who possess some supernatural powers.


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. They believe that being dead means transferring to the afterlife which seems to be a cause for celebration. 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, giving the world something new to learn about and death is no exception.