Irish Wakes

       As previously noted, the Irish were much concerned with the life hereafter, for they knew in their heart of hearts that a just God had to reward those who suffered their hell on earth, like many an Irishman did, or He would not be a just God at all. Many Irishmen dwelt so much upon their soul's well-being that they often neglected their temporal welfare. They were caught up in philosophical argument -- it really didn't make a bit of difference what one did or did not accomplish here, eternity was forever. So let the fools and devils take all of earth's spoils -- life was but a brief encounter for the average Irishman anyway. If his work didn't kill him at an early age, then certainly disease or pestilence would, Maybe even "the creature" might turn on him and send him to his grave.

       That was, of course, the reason he took such an abiding interest in the celebration of death. The poor departed souls were finally in good hands, far better ones than ever cradled them here, and they could now rejoice for eternity with God and the heavenly hosts. Such an event as the passing of a good man or woman was proper cause for celebration, as well as for paying one's sorrowful respects to the surviving family members. It took the Irish to come up with the most perfect combination of joy and sorrow ever invented -- the Irish wake.

       Out of respect for the deceased, may God have mercy on his soul, the bottles and merriment were kept in those parts of the .....




house where he wasn't. Any and all other rooms would be utilized because a wake made for a grand time for large numbers of people. The mourners, either familial or hired professionals, were considered no good if their keening did not drown out the noise coming from the other parts of the house. The wails that were emitted from the throats of the mourners were often of such heart-breaking intensity, of such soul-wracking despair. that they chilled the blood of those present and sent them scurrying off to the anterooms where the spirits flowed like water from a tap. What's more, a really good mourner could reach a peak of vocal desolation quicker than one could pour a drink, which added immeasurably to the ambience of the occasion.

       The house of the deceased would be a study in black§ with ribbons of that color affixed to everything in sight, including the door knobs. All the clocks would be stopped at the moment of death and left in that frozen condition until well after the departed souls had been laid to rest. Relatives and friends would keep the vigil all night long or as long as they could remain upright, alternating their attention from the corpse to the back rooms. Conversation and laughter flowed as rapidly as the whiskey, with everyone in attendance expected to remark how good "himself" looked as he lay stretched out on his bed or in a casket in the parlor.

       There were times when things got a little out of hand, when the bereaved's friends would partake of too much spirits and .....




decide that a practical joke was in order. On more than one occasion, the deceased was slipped under the bed and his place taken by a friend or relative. This was an especially effective ploy when the switch was made just before the professionals hired for the evening came in to view the object of their labors. No sooner would they begin their keening than the "corpse" would return from the dead by slowly raising himself to a sitting position and undertake a rapid blinking of his eyes. Needless to say, the mourners would flee in perfectly understandable terror. Such pranks caused a few fistfights now and then, but they were all done in the spirit of good clean fun and never failed as a conversation piece for months after.

       The wake brought out one of the many strange ouirks that are part and parcel of the Irish character. It seemed that the reprobate evoked a greater amount of sympathy from the gathered clans upon his passinq than the neighborhood saint. Call it the imp of the perverse or what you will, but there was something in the Irish soul that drove them to be more compassionate in their testimony to the scoundrel on his bier and to the members of his family. Such a passing brought out the last drop of an Irishman's milk of kindness and warm comradeship was the order of the evening. Sometimes the pall bearers would even abstain from spirits, so as not to cause the surviving members of the family additional grief. God well knew they didn't need any more, after having to put up with the likes of the deceased all those years.