The Irish Wake

The Ancient traditions of the wake which some say link Celtic Irish culture with that of India via common Indo-European Roots. The customs of the wake worked on many levels and served the living in many ways.
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Main Menu :How do you know when death will come? Click here for divinations of Death!

Wake Basics Food and Drink Accounts of Wakes Government and Church interference
The Wake  Mentioned in Song A Collection of Wake Games Return to the Irish Studies Customs Page

A few parting lines- click here

What's the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake? One less drunk at the wake.-Traditional Irish Joke.  Perhaps  its  the wedding section you  want then? click here  for a  Guide to  Irish  Weddings
O'Suilleabhain,Sean.,Irish Wake Ammusements.,Mercier,Dublin, 1976
Uris,Leon.,Trinity.,Doubleday,New York, 1976.
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Wake Basics

"I recall with utter clarity
the first great shock of my life.
A scream came from the cottage
next door. 
I rushed into the room,
as familiar as my own home.   The 
Larkin kids, Conor, Liam and Brigid 
all hovered about the alcove in which 
a matress of bog fir bedded old Kilty. 
They stood in gape-mouthed awe.
I stole up next to Conor.
"Grandfar is dead," he said.
Their ma, Finola, who was eight months 
pregnant, knelt with here head pressed
against the old man's heart. It was my
very first sight of a dead person.  He 
was a waxy, bony specimine lying there
with his open mouth showing no teeth 
at all and his glazed eyes staring up at 
me and me staring back until I felt my 
own ready to pop out of their sockets....

"Get to your ma.
I'll need her good hands
to help lay him out...
"Brigid had fallen to her knees
and was crossing 
herself at a furiouspace.
"Off your knees and be 
helping me, Brigid," Finola commanded,
for the corpse was a woman's work."
-- Uris op.cit.p.6.

"The grief of the keen is no personal complaint for the death of one woman over eighty years, but it seems to contain the whole passionate rage that lurks somewhere in every native of the island.  In this cry of pain the whole consciousness of the people seems to lay itself bare for an instant and to reveal the mood of beings who feel their isolation in the face of a universe that wars on them with wind and ses.  They are usually silent, but in the presnece of death all outward show of indifference or patience is forgotten; and they shriek with pitiable despair before the horror of the fate to which they are doomed- John Millinghton Synge,  The Aran Islands.

"Little Brigid Began to weep. "Hush!" her
ma said sharply."You'll not do any crying
until Grandfar has  been properly prepared. 
The house has been
surroundedby fairies just waiting to
pounce and your weeping will  encourage
them to break in
and snatch his soul from us. 
Finola struggledto her feet,
going into a flurry of activity .
Sheflung open the windows and doors to 
let the evil spirts out and quickly covered 
the mirror to hide his image."
- Uris op.cit.p.5-6

" was the signal for Finola to
commence keening.  She
emitted a horrendous, piercing 
shriek that shivered
the place and dropped to her
knees and crawled toward the corpse. 
"Kilty! Kilty! I knew you were leaving us,
for I saw the banshee last night 
with my own eyes!"
Well now, that sobered things up. 
A frightened murmur arose."
-- Uris op.cit.p.15

"Liam, you will be telling the news. 
Be sure to go to the byres and the 
beehives and let the cattle
and bees know
that Kilty Larkin is gone. 
Don't fail or the 
faries will take his soul....
"are you carrying
salt?"..."Ma went to the large 
salt bowl in a 
niche on 
the side of  the fire-place
and doled out a pinch
for my pocket, for Conor 
and for herself to w ard off
the evil spirits"
-Uris op.cit.p.5-6 

"Kilty Larkin looked ever so grand laid 
out in the best room.
There was none the equal of my 
mother, Mairead, in 
County Donegal when it 
came to scrubbing
up and shaving and
tidying a corpse for the waking...
When we arried at the cottage,
Kilty's bed was burning in the yard
as a further measure 
to ward of the fairies and inside he
was stretched out on a wooden slab,
held up by four chairs and covered
saintlike with a fien white linen sheet...
except for his face and
his hands nad his two big toes,
which were tied together to keep 
him from returning as a ghost.
Candles flickered about his head and 
a new pair of boots
were at his feet to help his walk 
through purgatory.
His eyes had been closed restful -like
with a new carved stone crucifix 
on hsi chest
and rosary beads entwined 
in fold ed hands.
...he surely looked
like St. Columba himself,
all stretched out and lovely..."
-- Uris op.cit.p.p13.

"In the best room the
gatherd throng came 
to their feet in infinite
weariness and
most of them took leave,
trudging sttoped to
their own cottages
with only the family 
and dearest friends left to continue 
waking with the corpse.-- Uris op.cit.p.524

"After Tomas arrived, the
coffin was set down into
the ground and covered.
Each mourner passed by
in turn and placed a rock on
it until the
pile became a small cairn.
In twos and threes the men
drifted to McCluskey's
public house 
and the women back to the 
vilage. -- Uris op.cit.p.47


The customs of the wake worked on many levels and served 
the living in many ways. A proper Irish Wake is worth the time  and effort required to return to the old customs. It is hard to 
imagine a passing being complete without one! 

What is a Wake?

The wake is the period of time from death  until the body is conveyed to the  care of the church which is generally the evening before the day of burial. 
The steps in the process of the Wake are provided below: 

1. Neighboring women experienced in laying 
   out the body gather at the  house of the diseased. 
2. The body is Washed 
3. A habit is put on the  body 
4. A bed is prepared for the body. 
5.  If a man who has shaved the body is shaved before              the habit is put on 
6. A crucifix  is placed on the breast and 
     rosary beads are put in the  fingers. 
7. Sheets are hung over the bed and along two 
     or three sides 
8. Candles are lighted in candlesticks near the remains. 

(The process takes about two hours) 

Keening  and crying
See also the extensive keening page click here
The vocalizations over the dead are very important. 
1. The women who prepared the body join the family. 
2. The mourning family produces either muffled sobs or loud 
   wailing related to the depth of sorrow. 
3. In the event that the death was considered a 
   “great loss” (a parent leaving a large family or 
    tragic or early death) Keening is most intense 
     and heartfelt. 
4. After a while of Keening mourners are led away from the 
     bedside by a  few neighbors  and are consoled. 
5.  Word is sent out to distant relatives and 
    is spread  with the help of a local shop or village. 
6.  Preparation and then keening does not wait 
     for the arrival or others. 
7. If the person  dies late in the evening the 
     main wake is not held until the following 
    night so as to give neighbors and distant 
    relatives to attend. 

Preparations and Requirements for the Wake
1. Two men - a relative and a neighbor take part. 
2.Coffin is ordered (traditionally made by a local carpenter at  the wake house.). 
3. Supplies are brought in- bread, meat, food of all kinds, 
    whisky, stout, wine, pipes, tobacco, snuff. 
    (Tobacco and snuff are extremely important as is alcohol) 

Set Up of the Wake house

1. A plate of snuff is taken to all for a pinch. 
     A clay pipe filled with tobacco is given to 
     all and all are provided with food and drink- 
     traditionally a meal. Pipefulls of tobacco  are 

2. The place for the corpse is determined by 
     the house itself. A table, settle or bed in the 
    kitchen or one of the rooms is used. A loft 
    may be used. 

3. The clocks are stopped as a mark 
    of respect.(Roslea) 

4. All mirrors are turned toward the 
    wall or covered.(Roslea) 

Watching the body and 
Ritual of visiting the Corpse

1. A corpse must not be left unattended 
    for the  entire wake 
2. A person generally a woman or more sits nearby 
3. On entrance the mourner makes their way to 
      the side of the corpse, kneels down and silently 
    recites a few prayers for the departed soul. 
4. Mourner is then welcomed by the relatives 
     and expresses  sympathy. “I’m sorry for 
     your trouble”...then the mourner speaks kindly 
      of the deceased and then  walks away. 
5. The mourner is offered food and drink  for 
   the hours spent at the wake. If the weather 
    is good the  men congregate outside 
    if it is not they go to the  kitchen (this is very 
    important and traditional) 
    The corpse is often in the parlor and there 
   is a division between the room of the corpse 
   and celebration. 
6. The mourner stays for a few hours the old men and old women come in the morning and with the end of the working day others in the community stop in. 
7. The visitation lasts until midnight. 
8.  The Rosary is recited once or twice - 
at midnight and then towards morning. 
The  Rosary is lead by an important figure - 
teacher or leader who recites the first decade 
then the relatives take part. A truly traditional 
wake will have a special rosary for the dead 
and traditional prayers. The rosary is said around the corpse with those around the house reciting the responses. 
9. Most visitors leave at midnight. 
10. Close neighbors remain till morning.  They drink  tea or whisky or beer and talk about general  affairs. Anecdotes are told with quiet laughter but within a solemn and decorous mood. 
11. There are two funerals for the corpse one in the evening and the second to the graveyard on the next day. 

"His coffin was lifted from its 
four supporting chairs which
were then kicked over
in accordance with custom 
that also dictated the cofin leave 
the cottage feet first...
Finola had to remain at home, for a pregnant 
woman might surely have a stillborn if 
she attended a funeral and obtained 
the curse of the dead"...
..."The friends and neighbors
rotated as pallbeareers, carrying the coffin on 
their shoulders and 
switching around every several yards.Tomas
walked directly behind them, 
his hands and forehead resting on Kilty's box.
His children marched at his side. Behind Tomas
a dozen men carried spades and behind them 
the entire village formed an  entourage. Father 
Lynch approached the procession wearing
a black vestment for death which had been 
embroidered along with his other vestments
by the women of the village.  Chanting and 
sprinkling holy water, he turned 
and led the way to the church."-- Uris op.cit.p.44

12. The corpse is delivered to  the church. 
    (if horses are used their hoofs were
    blackened  and straw was laid in the 
    street outside the wake house to deaden 
    the sound-Roslea)   Catholic 
   coffins would be covered in a brown 
   cloth, while the coffins of the Protestant 
   dead were covered in black. (Roslea) 
13. Relatives and maybe a few neighbors return 
      to the house . 
14. The Corpse is buried and a few relatives 
or neighbors stay to help clean the house putting 
things back in order. 

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Accounts of Wakes

"It was only a matter of time for this 
fight to have occured,
for there was bad blood between".....
."The two of them reeled about
the byre, more 
jarred by the poteen
than by each 
opther's blows, with 
O'Kanes and MacDevitts squaring
off all over the place and 
the O'Neils leaning toward 
the O'Kanes and 
the O'Doherty's favoring 
the MacDevitts. 
It was shaping ujp into
an epic when the peacemaker 
arrived in the person of
Tomas Larkin"-- Uris op.cit.p.520

 Clearly a quiet wake not traditional! 
Lady Wilde describes a wake click here

Account of Edward MacLysaght: Kildare 1683 
“Their wakes also over  dead corpses, where they have a table spread and served with the best that can be had at such a time, and after a while attending (in expectation the departed soul will partake) they fall to eating and drinking, after to reveling as if one of the feasts of Backus” 

Account  of Maria Edgeworth 1810: 

Pipes and tobacco were first distributed along with cakes, beer and whiskey. A verse 
was provided: 
“Deal on, deal on, my merry men all, 
Deal on your cakes and your wine; 
For whatever is dealt at her funeral today 
Shall be dealt to-morrow at mine; 

Account of Rev. Horatio Townesend (Co. Cork) 19th century- 

“The room, where the body is laid out dressed in white, is filled with people, regaling themselves with liquor and tobacco, and  chatting on the various topics, one of which is praise of the deceased”; 

Account of  T. Crofton Croker (1824) 
“The wake of a corpse is a scene of merriment rather than of mourning.  The body lies exposed in the coffin for two or three nights previous to interment, surrounded by many candles, and with the face uncovered.  To avert misfortune arising form the death of the heads of families, when a man dies his head is placed at the foot of the bed; but this ceremony is not deemed necessary with women, and they are allowed to remain in the usual position.  In the evening a general assembly of the neighbors takes place, 
when they are entertained with whiskey, tobacco and snuff” 

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Interference of the Clergy and 
Government in
Cultural practices

"Fortunately The wake was off bounds
for Father Lynch and Father Cluny,
but we all knew they
were stationed in some
shadowy place within earshot to 
amass evidence of bawdiness,
nudity, dirty languatgether drinking,
kissing, or worse...and all the other 
things in thie endless catalogue of 
carnal sins...It was a good
thing he (Father Lynch) 
was'nt in the house of Tomas Larkin this
night because the loft was getting
severely crowded.  Our
amusement turned to awwe at the 
things they were starting to do to
each other...."-Uris op.cit.p.19

"Father Lynch had abolished some
of the more grisly graveside 
customs such as thrusting the dead
man's hand into a pail
of milk to make the cream rise.
However, hereinstated a loathed tradition of
separating themen and women, 
burying each sex in its own section"-- Uris op.cit.p.5-6

"Slipping the fee into his
pocket, he (Father Lynch)
mounted the steps to the pulpit 
and faced a 
congregation that dropped
to its knees in
unison as though they had been felled by
a single shot."-- Uris op.cit.p.5-46

"...But  God won't know who we are anyhow,
because we've priests here who don't even know
how to pray in the Irish language's that English they are"...
"The priest knew the faith of his people was
bottomless. They obeyed meekly.  Yet with all 
that faith there was one thing more powerful 
and that 
was their memory"-- Uris op.cit.p.45.

Archdiocese of Armagh 

The Snyod of bishops on three occasions (1660,1668 and 1670) ordered that drinking at wakes should be abolished. On the third occasion , they forbade the distribution in wake-houses of whiskey or  brandy; if this rule were disobeyed, they said, no priest would have any connection with either the wake or the funeral. Any priest who who was negligent in  stopping this practice would be deprived of his parish.  The abuse seems to have continued however, On October 8 1660 the Synod of bishops again forbade the drinking of alcohol at funerals. 

Synod of Tuam (1660) 

 Statue 20 forbids excessive drinking and feasting at Catholic wakes. Money for wakes was to be diverted to the poor and to Masses for the souls of the dead. 

Synod of Clones 23/8/1679 
Orders an end to drinking and to wakes. 

Diocese of Waterford and Lismore 

1676- drinking at wakes should cease as it was an insult to God 
1687-  Drinking forbidden 
1750- troubles with drinking  at wakes reported. 

Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly 

1800-abuses at wakes detailed 
“We likewise most strictly forbid all persons to distribute, or give out at wakes of funerals whiskey, or spirits or strong liquors of any sort, even so small a quantity, to any person, through any consideration or pretext whatever.  And all heads of families, whoever they be, men or women, who order or suffer whiskey,or strong liquors of any sort, to be reprimanded in the chapel,and deprived of Sacraments, until they have made a public submission before the altar, for heir criminal disobedience to the order of  the church, with a solemn promise never attain to be guilty of the same transgression. And  we most earnestly exhort all pious, devout persons, who may be at wakes or funerals where such o dious, pernicious, and detestable practices take place, to give immediate notice thereof to the Parish Priest.  Moreover, we strictly charge all our clergy, secular na regular, not to celebrate Mass at the wakehouse, nor bless the clay, nor accompany the funeral to the place of burial, where they discover that whiskey or spirits of any sort are given out...” These orders were to be read each Advent and translated into Irish as needed. 

Archdiocese of Dublin 1831 
“forbid  congregations to provide tobacco at wakes or to spend money on things which would lead people to commit sin” 

The Parish of Tydavnet, Co. Monaghan 

1832- A responsible person would have to promise that tobacco would not be given out. 

Diocese of Ardagh 

1835- speaks out against alcohol at wakes 

Synod of Irish bishops, Maynooth 1875 

Forbids Alcohol at wakes 

Archdiocese of Dublin 
1890- condemns drinking at wakes 

Diocese of Ferns- 1898- discourages using money for wake goods. 

Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise  1903 
Forbids alcohol   at wakes under the pain of mortal sin. 

These are but a few of the decrees issued. 
Whiskey was the usual drink of social occasions- fairs markets, pattern days, weddings wakes and funerals. 
Over time the church has prevailed and therefore, the traditional customs have been limited in contemporary times. The  earliest such interference dates from the year 306 AD. While  the  cost of wakes did impact the livelihood of a family the social ties which were really at the center of the wake would have brought rewards and advances worth many times over the cost. 
One can  not interpret  the  wake outside of this important social network. 
See also prohibitions of keening click here


Hartman, Der Totenkult in Irland.

Handwoerterbuch des deutschen Abenglaubens, V, 1023-1167; Puckle, Funeral Customs, 61- 

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Food and Drink
For great wake recipes-drink too!
go here

"...Brigid had filled dozens
of small clay pipes
with tobacco which
had supernatiural qualities at times 
like this, and offered them 
about with a plate of 
snuff to hasten Kilty's Journey
and resurrection. "Three
lambs had been slaughtered
and an immense stew boiled in 
the great pot and a 
dozen loaves of fadge,
a potato bread, browned on the
baking boards,and likewise our own 
kitchen throbbed into action 
for the gathering would 
be large. There were
many foods we avoided because it
reminded the elders of our poverty 
during the great famine and
cheese was foremost among them, but
cheese was always present at a wake, 
heaped unsparingly into wooden
bowls"....."We will sup this meal 
with a spoon of sorrow"- Uris op.cit.p.514.

1. Traditionally whisky and poteen (white/clear spirtis distilled outside of the law using a small pot still ) were the main drinks. Beer and stout being rare in early days. 
2. Drinking was generally not moderated. It was a part of  mourning. 
"a donkey belonging to the poteen-making widows was led into the room with creels filled with bottles of mountain dew"-- Uris op.cit.p.515.
3. Loud behavior and games was expected. 

"The've paid the last respects in sad tobacco
And silent is this wakehouse in its haze"
-Padraic O Conaire,Gaelic Storyteller-Higgins, Frederick Robert.

A sign of hospitality produced smoke that filled the air- another essential dimension. 
5. The  feasting at wakes was described in 17th and 18th century accounts as creating other problems. 
6. People would take advantage of the household and overwhelm it as would local officials such as mayors who were at times banned by legislation. 

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"With the heavy lamenting over
for a time, the 
older folks tucked in their niches, 
smoking away
on clay pipes, playing
cards and telling stories. 
Some of the young wanes 
scampered about stuffing 
pepper into the teapots 
and tobacco jars, 
setting off sneezing seizures,
while outside the bachelor
boys and spinster girls snuck 
into the shadows
to playkissing games and
perform mock
marriages....."-- Uris op.cit.p.18

"Fergus O' Neill balanced himself
cross-legged atop 
Kilty's cairn.
Bertie MacDevitt 
stood alongside playing the 
flute, his lips still  puffed 
from the fight with
Dinny O'Kane,  while Fergus
spoke his recitation.

"Tora loo, tora loo,
I'll set me here til darkin'.
A soldier of the green is croaked,
So w eep for Kilty Larkin..."
-- Uris op.cit.p.47

It is said that wakes were far merrier than weddings. One would look forward to the death of  an old man or woman and to the festivities of the wake which would follow.  Celebrations and activities associated with the wake were held as very important traditional  customs and people were reluctant to give them up. 
Today the old time wake  in Ireland is a thing of the past however, with a bit of time and study it can be easily re-created and the important traditions brought back. 
Lady Wilde describes the "orgie" entertainment click here

No wake should be without stories and sayings- down load stories here
(print them out and put them on cards and hand them out they are easily learned!)
Storytelling began late at night after midnight following the Rosary. 
Listening to storytellers was a main amusement in early times.  One would have stories even when one did not have other entertainment. The storyteller was usually an  elderly man. As he was telling a story 
to one group in the house it was being  repeated to another at a greater distance from the speaker. Stories would keep the listeners from falling asleep as they watched the corpse. Only one bishop found fault with stories at wakes: 
 Dr. John Brenan Bishop of Waterford and Lismore- 1676: 
tales were  “ineptae fabulae (silly stories) Prayers should be recited at wakes instead. 

For Irish music and dance information go here

“Sing a song at a wake, and shed a tear when a child is born”- Old Irish Saying A good  singer was highly valued and singing at wakes was popular.Songs are described as being “merry”.  As  with other traditions singing was attacked by the clergy and has died out.  Singing was not present where the wake involved a great loss but neither were there other diversions games etc. Sir Henry Piers writing in 1682 of Wakes in Westmeath referred to lewd songs being sung at wakes there. At such wakes. 
Singing also became a penalty for the loss of wake games. 
At times  songs were sung a the request of the desceased. While  still living. The singer received a drink to continue singing   and the refusal of a good singer to sing would be an insult.  Singing contests were also known between groups in different parts of the wake house. 
Songs were lively and extended to  love songs, patriotic ones, religious songs or songs  of sad occurrences. 
Songs of Connemara: Baile Ui Li (Ballylee), An Muilleoir B/an (the White Miller), Bhi Tri/ur Mac Agam (I had  Three Sons), Oile/an /Eide (Eide Island), Buchaill na Gruaige Doinne (The Brownhaired Boy), An  Caillin Rua(The Redhaired Girl) Sile Ni Ghadhra, The Cottage Maid,  The Streams of Bunclody and Don’t Marry. Singing died out at the turn of the century. 

Music And Dancing
For Irish music and dance informationgo here

Instrumental music was restricted to accompaniment for dancing.  John Dunton observed “a rough dance” accompanied by pipe music in the mid 17th century.  Thomas Dineley in 1681: 
“At these meetings the young frye, viz Darby, Teige, Morough, Leeam, Rinett, Allsoon, Norah, Shevaune, More,Kathleen, Ishabel, Noualla, Mayrgett, Timesheen, Shinnyed, etc...appeare as gay as may be, with their holyday apparell, and with piper, har;er or fiddler, revel and dance the night throughout, ma ke love and matches” Thomas Campbell mentions dancing as part of a game in 1778 as does Rev.James Hall (1813)  when he mentioned the game as Mending the Old Coat.  Dancing at wakes is mentioned in Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent (1810). T. Crofton Croker noted a dance performed by young men with blackened faces and sticks which seemed like a Morris Dance.  Brewer wrote in 1825 of a merry dance and pipe music and Woods-Martin desc ribes an obscene dance called Droghedy performed at Munster wakes.  J.G. Prim calls it an old-time Morris dance. These reports highlight the division between the “Celtic” wake and the “Roman” burial. The tension this created with the Irish Bishops highlights the antagonism between the Catholic Church and the Irish people . (it is often said that the Irish have two minds one Celtic the other Catholic and that they are alway at war with each other!)

The death of a dancing master in Liscarroll in Co. Limerick was followed by a wake in his home town for a few days then one in a neighboring parish for another few.  It has been told that sometimes the corpse itself  was taken out to dance. 
Dances mentioned in association with wakes were single or double reels, jigs, hornpipes and sets- essentially all of the traditional Irish Dance forms. If there was no piper a mouth organ, mouth music 
or lilting took its place. 

Recorded Music To Consider-

Lamentation and Keening:

Lament.,Various Artists,Nigel Rolfe/Womad, 
Real World,Caroline Records,CAROL- 2525-2.- Many fine lamentations.  Highly recommended.

For the Emigration  or American Wake-

In Ireland the custom was to provide a wake for
those individuals emmigrating as in truth- they 
would be seen no more in the village.

Farewell to Eirinn. Dolores Keane and John Faulkener,
Eamon Curran.,Green Linnet, DanburyCt., 1981., GLCD 3003.-Many fine traditional songs of parting.

Long Journey Home., The Chieftains and 
others.,Unisphere Records.,09026-68963, 1998.
- Captures the spirit of emigration.

After the Keening-

Lively music to uplift the spirit:

The Best of the Chierftains., The Chieftains, 
Columbia/Legacy,CK 48693.1992- good
for the games and dancing round the house

Carolan's Receipt.,Derek Bell.,Shanachie Records., 
79013.-Great quiet parlor background muisic.

Grand Airs of Connemara.,Various., Ossian Publications., Cork,Ireland, OSS CD 28- Not all sad but
provides a good Gaelic 

Card Playing

James Farewell describes a wake in 1689- 
“Some play the trump, some trot the hay; 
Some at macham, some noddy play 

(Macham was a type of card-game) 
There are many references to card games in association with wakes.  Such games  are often mentioned when the deceased was  old and when attendance was small. If the deceased was a card player his friends always remembered him with a game of cards played in the kitchen with the corpse given a hand. Card tricks were also performed. 


Younger people found that the time at wakes was best spent with riddling. If you did not find the correct answer you were awarded a penalty. Tongue twister questions were also popular. Riddles however took second place to the major games. 

Tongue Twisters

These could be in either Irish or English.  Tongue twisters often  were part of games such as  Scaoil Thart an Chearc Shearr (Pass the Short Hen About).  One end of a small stick was red dened in the fire.  One player held it while reciting a long tongue-twister and kept waving the stick to prevent the red end from becoming black.  If he succeeded in doing this he quickly passed the stick to his neighbour, who had to repeat the same rigmarole, while keeping the burnt end from dying out.  Each player was allowed to blow on the red part during the rhyming.  The player in whose hand the Short Hen died  had to suffer some penalty. Other names  for the game  are: Deal/an D/e, An Birin Beo and Tom’s Alive. 


Versifying is the composition of  extempore verses with music while working. This was done as in the fields and during household tasks at wakes in between games. 

Repetition of Jingles

Often popular set lines of poetry were repeated in association with games. Players would stand in a circle with one in the center.  The one in the center would be a leader would give something to the first player who would ask him”What is this” “a fat hen” said the  leader would reply.   The first player then gave the object to his neighbor who would ask the same question.  The reply would be “A fat hen and two ducks”. It went on until it reached the last player who was told that he or she had just received eight pairs of bullocks, seven pairs of boars, six pairs of red calves five whales, four fat pigs, three grey geese, two ducks and a fat hen! The penalty was given to any player who could not repeat turn his own jingle. 
This penalty might be having to kiss some person have soot smeared on the face. 

Here is one of the jingles: 
“This is the ship that came from Spain 
That carried the iron over the main 
That made the spade of both stout and strong 
That dug the grave both deep and long 
That held the huntsmen, hounds and horns, 
That chased the fox from under the thorns....” 

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Parting Lines

Wasn't it a shame I didn't bear you along with me to Kate Cassidy's wake, a fine stout lad, the like of you, for you'd never see the match of it for flows of drink the way when we sunk her bones at noonday in her narrow grave, there were five men, aye, and six men stretched out retching speechless on the holy stones"-Synge, John Millington,The Playboy of the Western World
"In Ireland, they say, the sleep that knows no waking is often
followed by the
wake that
knows no sleeping!"
-Ancient Irish Truth
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