|The Wake Games of Ireland
These games have been collected by Sean O'Suilleabhain in his
central reference work on the topic:
Irish Wake Amusements.(Mercier, Dublin,
1976) These games were
also played at otter functions and celebrations
I include a representative sample and will be adding more of my favorites
I hope you will feel free to modify to play them in this politically
correct and hypoallergenic world of ours!
Lifting the Corpse
A very large man would lie down on his back on the floor. The
legs must be kept straight and rigid. Four men then tried to lift
him off the floor with their thumbs placed under the shoulders right and
left and on the calf of the legs right and left. Each lifter used
only one of his thumbs. If the man was lifted
places were exchanged. If they failed they would have their heads bashed
against the floor (especially if they dropped the man!)
Pulling the Stick- Sweet Draughts
Two man sat facing each other on the floor. Legs were extended
so that the soles of their shoes touched. A strong stick : a handle
of a spade or pitchfork,was laid across the tops of their shoes. Both gripped
the stick, one hand inside and one outside and each tried while holdi ng
his legs rigid to lift his opponent off the floor even as much as an inch.
After three pulls places were exchanged and the test continued similarly.
Sometimes a man who was to be lifted off the floor would make his foot
slip from the opponents shoe. Friends would stand on the coat tails of
the person they did not wish lifted.
Lifting a Chair
A chair was gripped at the base of one of the legs by each contestant
in turn in an attempt to raise it above his head. It was by no means
an easy thing to do, as the old chairs were quite heavy.
Breaking an Egg
An egg was held between the contestants two hands with the pointed
ends against the palms. He then tried to cr ush the egg, and generally
The Stronger Hand
Two men stood facing each other, with their right hands raised against
each other. Pressure was then exerted by each in an attempt to force
down his opponents hand.
A man would enter the house dressed in a suit of straw and challenge
all present to wrestle the Connachtman.
A. A man gripped a stick with his hands at either end and tried to
jump over it. Without br eaking his hold. An open razor edge upwards was
used instead of a stick.
B. 12 men faced each other in two lines, six in each row. The
men in each line stood about two feet apart from their neighb ours.
Each player extended his two arms and gripped the hands of the man facing
him. Other active men at the wake then tried in turn to jump
over each pair of hands in turn, down between the lines without stopping.
This was a very difficult feat to perform.
C. Two men stood with a spade handle or other stick resting on
their shoulders. Two others then tried to excel each other in performing
acrobatic tricks on the stick, like circus performers.
D. Two men competed to do somersault on the floor returning to a standing
Driving the Pigs across the Bridge. Those who arrived
late at the wake house were the pigs . They are scolded for not having
arrived earlier and then someone would shout “We must drive the pigs across
the bridge” The bridge consisted of a number of men, who stood in line
behind one another, with their shoulders bent forward. The “pigs”
were then forced with blows to mount like riders, on the backs of the others;
when all had mounted, they were suddenly thrown on the floor in a heap
on the floor.
Riding the Wild Ass. - A rope with a noose
at one end was thrown over one of the rafters of the house. The man
who wished to show h is agility then grasped the other end of the rope
and put one of his feet into the n oose. He then pulled on
the free end of the rope and tried to raise himself high enough to enable
him to kick against another rafter or couple with his free foot.
The difficulty and danger of the trick came from the fact that one
part of his body (the hands) was pulling against another (the foot)
and he might easily fall on to the floor and injure his head or back.
Stealing the Goats- The player grabbed two
sods of turf, one in either hand, and faced the floor with his hands and
legs extended; only the turf sods and the toes of his shoes were allowed
to touch the floor. The player's objective was a potato which lay on the
floor below his face. He had to pick this up with his mouth without allowing
his stomach to touch the floor or bending his arms or legs. This
was difficult enough to do while uninterrupted, but it became more so when
he had to reply to questions during the attempt:
Questioner: Where are you going now?
Reply: Stealing the goats from Hell.
Questioner: Swear that you are.
Reply: I swear that I am.
Lifting a horseshoe: The shoe was placed
three or four inches out from the foot of the kitchen wall. The person
who tried to pick it up took his stand about three feet from the wall,
and h ad to pick up the shoe without bending his knees. Whenever
he bent forward in making the attempt, his head would touch the wall, and
he was not allowed to use his hands to help straighten himself
Going around Under a Table: The player
would lie face downwards on a table, catching the edges with both hands.
He then was required to bring his body around under the table, between
its legs, and return to his starting point without touching the floor.
His main difficulty was to keep the table from overturning in the process.
Walking on the legs of a Stool: A fairly
long stool would be laid on the floor, legs upwards. The contestant
had to mount the stool, placing his two hands on the front legs and his
two feet on the back ones. To do the trick he had to walk around
on the stool legs with his hands and feet until he returned to his
The Donkeys and Baskets: A man lay face down
on the wake house floor. Two others sat facing each other at
either side of him and extended their legs across his back toward each
other. Each took hold of the other's legs. The Prone
man was now the donkey and the other two the baskets. His task was
to rise up as a real donkey would raising the baskets on his back.
Two groups of three often took part in this test each striving to be the
first in comple teing it.
Spinning the Tin Box- Each of the male players
was given an even number while each female got an odd number.
The players sat here and there in the kitchen while a tin box was
spun in the center of the floor by the man in charge of the game.
As the box spun around he would call out the number of some player
whose duty it then was to rush forward and catch the box before it ceased
to spin. A player who failed to do so was given some penalty.
The Mock Court or The Police Game
Eight or so of the players remained in the kitchen,while everybody
else went outside the door. Those who were inside then divided
themselves up according to their duties in the game; one would act as judge,
two as lawyers; one as court-clerk, and three or four as policemen.
The police would then go outside and drag in somebody as prisoner, while
the others pressed in also to hear the case being tried. The judge
too k his seat, and the clerk read out the name and address of the prisoner,
as well as the offense with which he was being charged. The trial
then proceeded as it would in a legal court, one lawyer prosecuting, the
other defending. The main source of the fun, apart from the charge
itself, was to be found in the sly references made by both counsel to the
private affairs of some of those present, who were dragged into the case.
These mischievous,though irrelevant, hints caused great laughter, as they
were understood by all. Having heard the evidence, the judge announced
his verdict, which was witty and light or severe, according to how he regarded
the defendant. The police had then the task of seeing that the verdict
was carried out; if guilty, the defendant might be handled roughly as punishment,
or even doused nine or ten times in a tub of water. If the first
trial produced a good deal of amusement, as second or third would follow,
until all were tired of the game.
A somewhat similar game, which involved a court-case, was the following.
A man lay down on the floor, feigning illness, and a doctor would be sent
for. The doctor arrived into the kitchen on horseback, the horse
being two fellows clad in straw to resemble an animal. The horse
would be a very wild one and, in the course of prancing around the kitchen,
the doctor would be thrown down on top of the sick man on the floor.
When examined, it would be found that both the patient and the doctor were
dead, and the two who played the part of the horse would be tried for causing
Building the Ship
John L. Prim has provided a garbled account of the way in which this
game was played at wakes in Kilkenny over a hundred years ago.
He mentions how the keel was first laid, followed by the prow and stern
of the ship; then a woman, who was taking part in the game, would raise
the mast with some gesture and speech that convinced Prim that the game
had its origin in pagan times. His account is so unclear that it
would be difficult, for want of additional details, to imagine how the
game was really played.
Henry Morris has noted that his uncle had seen a similar game played
about one hundred years ago in Co. Monaghan. It was a lively game,
with lots of activities going on, he said; the only part he could
remember was the tarring of the ship (soot being smeared on somebody).
Morris said that the game died out in Farney, Co. Monaghan, before the
A Co. Galway man has described the game , as he saw it played there.
Three men sat down astride a stool, one behind the other, all facing in
the same direction. The man in front was the prow of the ship; the
man in the middle, the body of the ship; and the third man the stern.
A fourth player stood on the floor beside them; he was the builder of the
ship. He would ask the company for a hammer or sledge, which he needed
for the work, and he got it-a hard sod of turf, a piece of turnip, or something
like that. Having got the implement, he would walk around the stool,
talking loudly to himself about his accomplishments as a ship-builder.
He would then insert the right hand of the center man under the right arm-pit
of the man in front, and continue to walk around the ship, striking hard
blows with his hammer on the three, as he went. He would next put
the left hand of the center man under the left arm-pit of the first man,
striking blows all the time to make things firm. He then placed
the legs of the hind pair around the body of the person in front of each,
hammering away to keep the timbers from splitting. The trio would
then have to lie back, as far as they could, and the builder would start
to raise the mast. This part of the game was often obscene.
Another game is mentioned by Prim called Drawing the Ship Out of the
Mud, but it is not described.
Building the Bridge
Twelve men or so stood out on the floor and formed into two lines of
six each, facing one another. Each man took hold of the two hands of the
man opposite, thus forming the bridge from which the game took its name.
The bridge had now to be tested for strength. Another player mounted
on the crossed hands and walked to and fro along them. Finding no
apparent fault with its construction, he dismounted. Somebody would
then suggest that the bridge be tested to see if it would take a flood
of water through its eye. This would be done by some rogue who sluiced
the legs and feet of the players with a bucketful of dirty water.
Making the Poteen
This game is both imitative and a booby-trap. Somebody who had
not seen it played previously would be asked to sit on a chair or stool
in the center of the floor. He would be, as it were the still.
The man who was working the still would walk fussily around him, getting
ready for the work, while some others remained outside the house to keep
an eye out for the police or "Revenue men". As the busy preparations
were at their height within, the watchers would rush in to say that the
police were coming. Speedy action was now necessary; the first thing
to be done was to hide the still outside in the dark. The stiller
gave this order to his helpers, and they set to work with a will.
Pity the poor still! The innocent fellow who simulated that was dragged
out into the darkness and flung headlong into the cess-pool of the dung
-hill or some equally unpleasant hiding-place from which he had to extricate
himself without light or help.
Coining the Money
Another booby-trap! Counterfeit money was to be coined, as it were,
and some innocent fellow was got to sit in the middle of the floor to represent
the mint. The players circled around him chanting "Coin the money!
Coin the money!" until somebody rushed in from outside to say that the
police were approaching. The mint had now to be hidden as quickly
and as disagreeably as the still in the preceding game.
Booby-trap again! The master smith and his helpers announced
that they had to make some plough-"socks", or horseshoes or something like
that. A man who had no experience of the game was asked to sit in
the centre of the floor to represent the anvil. As soon ass the victim
was seated ,the master, and his apprentices began to thump him with their
fists, as hammers, chanting in time with the blows:
"Strike him strike, strike together!
Strike, strike, all together!
Having pummeled the anvil well for a time, one of the apprentices would
suddenly shout that the anvil was on fire! It had to be taken out quickly
lest the forge be burned. The poor anvil was taken hold of by three
or four strong fellows and dumped into the cess-pool outside, or else was
douched with buckets of water.
The Kiln on Fire
In this game, players simulated a miller and his men drying corn.
The floor represented the kiln. The miller would order his men to
bring in sacks of corn to put into the kiln. Each man went outside
and came back with a man on his back; this process went on until some twenty
men, as sacks, were lying in a heap on the floor. The were left there
for a while to dry, as it were, and were then turned, those underneath
being placed on top. When this had been done, and the process of
drying the corn was progressing well, one of the workmen would suddenly
should that the kiln was on fire. The miller and his helpers would
rush to pour buckets of water on the sacks, drenching all who were
heaped on the floor, especially those on top. In some areas, only
two players took part, the miller and his daughter.
The Deaf Miller
A player (the miller) sat on the floor, mixing soot and water in a
dish with a stick. As he worked, he carried on a conversation with
himself, his remarks causing great laughter among the audience. One of
his mill-hands would enter carrying another player, as a sack of
corn, on his back, and would tell the miller that the sack was to be ground.
The miller would pretend not to be able to hear him, owing to the noise
of the mill, and would finally order the helper to lay
the sack down behind him. When five or six sacks had thus been deposited
behind the miller, who all the while continued to mix the soot and water
(to simulate grinding) and keep up his remarks in a loud voice, the helper
would shout that the mill was on fire. The miller would have no trouble
in hearing this and would throw the sooty water over his shoulder on top
of the sacks behind his back to quench the blaze.
Lifting the Old Nag
A heavily-built man would hobble into the kitchen, pretending to be
an old foundered horse, and throw himself down on the floor, grunting and
complaining. Some players would gather about him , and he would ask
them to raise him to his feet. Two or three would attempt this and
would fail; others would come to their assistance, but even nine or ten
would not be able to lift the nag. The leader of the game would then
order them to remove their coats. They did so, throwing aside the
coats here and there, and started to lift again, straining every muscle,
but to no avail. The nag was too heavy. The leader would
then order them to remove other garments, and when they had finally got
rid of their socks, they would succeed in their task. At this point,
some mischievous fellow would quench all the lights in the wake-house;
the others would let the nag collapse on the floor and, in the darkness,
set about finding their clothes, which would have been hidden away by members
of the audience. Rough-and-tumble searching went on until the lights
were restored, and the game was over.
Cutting the Timber
A man lay down across the threshold of the kitchen feet outside, head
within. He was to represent the saw. Two players now took hold of
his feet outside, while two others caught his head and should ers in the
kitchen. They pulled against one another, forward and backwards,
as if they were sawing wood, until one pair proved too strong for the other.
The Dry Barber; The Shaving Game
In The Shaving Game, the leader and his assistants went through the
crowded kitchen of the wake-house to find out who needed a shave.
They would pick on somebody whom they might dislike for some reason, and
drag him out to sit on a chair in the middle fo the floor. The barbers
then gathered about him and started to rub water, in which many kinds of
dirt had been mixed, onto his face and head. He was powerless to
resist or escape. Two would then begin to shave him with bits of
stick or something, as razors. The shaving was,needless to say, an
ordeal in itself, and it was finished by drenching the victim with water
to get rid of the soap!
and this is just the beginning! more to come!!!!......
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