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Irish Funeral Traditions

February 4, 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve been to an Irish funeral and it was refreshing to see that even in these post-Tiger days, some of the old traditions still exist.

  • the remains in an open casket at the home of the deceased where friends and family can wake the dead. And everyone brings food.
  • I watched my mam and dad play the role of family Matriarch and Patriarch in a wonderful way. A quiet word in a ear; a hand laid gently on the back; whispered instructions in advance to the professionals; barely noticed organising of the introductions.
  • At the funeral Mass, older people, strangers to the mourners, and who must know their turn is soon, stopping to shake hands with the family and speak their condolences.
  • a crowd of more than 100, young and old, walking behind the hearse all the way to the cemetery even down through the main street of the town, despite the heavy snow and hail.
  • the community police man, who walked discreetly on the path keeping pace with the cortege. He stepped into the street at the junctions to stop the traffic, and even saluted the hearse as it passed.
  • cars going by on the other side of the road stopping till the mourners had passed.

At the cemetery, I was intrigued by the number of gravestones which featured the address of those interred. I have been in that place many, many times, but never noticed this before. Even my grandparents had their address on the stone. I wonder what the origin of this is. I like to think that it’s a subconscious realisation that the dark journey that the dead have embarked on requires some tie to the old place, some fixed location from which to set off.

There was an element of the new Ireland about it too. Margaret’s children to Attallah her husband are named Nadia, Omar, Tariq and Nabila and are half-Egyptian. I loved the way the warm and friendly parish priest came and shook Attallah’s hand during the sign of the peace.


From → Reflection

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