Tradition of the Irish Wake: Keening, Rippling, Bridging

We can learn so much from other cultures about ways to grieve.  In a poignant short film “And Irish Wake” posted by BBC (link below), Kevin Toolis describes the traditions of the Irish wake on the island of Achill off the coast of Mayo.  The dying process involves many people surrounding the dying person during the dying process, with keening (by Mna Chaointe, keeners), which Toolis describes as cradling the dying into death like a lullaby.  There is then a full wake through the night around the body–the keening continues, creating ripples and waves of emotion.  In the end there is feasting and a ritual of hundreds of people shaking the hands of the bereaved with the expression “sorry for your trouble,” which Toolis believes helps prevent death denial.  He describes how children are included and see many dead bodies throughout childhood and life, as a part of life.  He believes in this rite within the Irish clan that is as “old as the fall of Troy” as the way to deal with death: “to gather together as fellow mortals in the face of our mortality and seek to bridge that moment of bereavement and loss together.”  I highly recommend watching his beautiful description of the dying process; it’s just six minutes.


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