Wakes and Funerals


By Donnchadh O’Luasaigh, Baile An Chollaigh


Back in the nineteen forties, most people who died were ‘waked’ in their own homes. The ’laying out’ was done by one of several people in the district who were experienced at such work. Materials for the ‘laying out’, especially sheets, were borrowed from one of the few households who kept such items in store for such happenings. Most older people had a brown habit ready for the inevitable. ‘Children of Mary’ had blue habits. There is a story of one person who ‘aired’ the habit occasionally in case the habit got damp.

When a dead person was laid out, the neighbours and relatives came along gradually to the wake. As well as being offered tea and drink, they were also offered a pinch of snuff from a saucer. Having inhaled some, they sneezed and said: "The Lord have mercy on his/her soul’. Pipe smokers were also offered a ‘fill’ of tobacco. Wakes went on right through the night. The rosary was recited at intervals during the wake and especially at midnight.



Funerals too were different in many respects to the current procedure. They moved much slower as most of the cortege consisted of saddle horses, horses and carts/sidecars/traps and bicycles. The sound of a myriad of iron axles could be heard reverberating across the valley. The funerals usually took the longest route possible to the cemetery, even within the cemetery itself the longest path possible was chosen. At that time too the most poignant moments were those when the first few shovels of clay landed on the coffin- that was when most tears were shed. That was a moment which relatives dreaded-and remembered!

After the funeral, close relatives were ‘in mourning’ for twelve months. Many wore black clothes; the man wore black ties and diamond shaped pieces of black cloth sewn to the upper ends of their sleeves. Some clothes of the deceased person were worn by a member of the family whilst attending Mass on three consecutive Sundays. None of the family attended dances for twelve months. Neither was the radio (then known as the wireless) turned on in the home -there were no televisions then of course.


So in the middle of the twentieth century, funeral parlours and easy-on-the-emotions grass-like carpets for placing over graves had not yet arrived in West-Cork! At that time too a jocose expression of thanks for a favour given was "I’ll be dancing at your wedding and crying at your wake".