The Country Wakes

Nora Williams, late of Clogherboy

Laying out the corpse

I am quite sure the youngsters of today do not know what I am talking about. It was what happened in every country thatched house of the times. Most people died at home, so a couple of neighbours would come and lay out the corpse, a job they were well accustomed to. A good job they did. If it was a woman she was dressed in The Blessed Virgin’s Habit – blue and white – which I thought was beautiful, not dressed in their best clothes like they are today. There was also a nice white bonnet put on and the corpse looked beautiful.

Neighbours pay their last respects

He or she was laid out in the coffin laid across two chairs. The Wake went on all day and night. Candles were lit everywhere and a dark curtain was put on the window. People thronged to the house to pay their last respects. It was the custom then that everyone would be handed a clay pipe as they entered the house. They would bless themselves with it and say a prayer for the dead person. There was plenty of tobacco on the table so everyone filled their pipes. There was also plenty of cut tobacco as a lot of people chewed it at that time, a habit I deplored. They sat nearest the big turf fire so as to have easy access to spit into the fire.

Neighbours would bring various kinds of food or sandwiches. It was more like a wedding than a funeral. Of course there was a quarter cask and everyone drank their fill. Every now and then a decade of the rosary was said and then all was silent for a while.

Corpse never left alone

Each in turn would give the corpse the height of praise, – he or she was such a great worker and a very good Catholic. Then all the crying started for another while. Of course, by then the drink was taking hold. That went on all day, and then another crowd would come for the night. At no time was the corpse left alone.  At that time all the neighbours were so friendly with each other and had high respect for the dead.

Going to the church

Next day, the corpse was taken to the Chapel. There were no hearses then, so it was placed on a horse and cart or maybe a sidecar. The Mass was said with full attendance and then buried in the usual way.

Afterwards quite a few women went back to the house to tidy up and console the bereaved. It was a sad but happy send off.

This page was added on 27/09/2018.

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