I never cease to be amazed by the warmth and support offered by neighbours, friends and families at Irish funerals. My appreciation of this warmth was brought back to the forefront of my mind when I very recently undertook the sad journey to the home of a man who had tragically died in a farm accident.
As we neared the house we were greeted by a small army of volunteers, clad in reflective gear, and directing traffic into a nearby field which had been offered as a space where visitors could safely park their cars. Outside the house, a sturdy temporary shelter had been constructed with scaffolding supports to protect arriving visitors from any harsh weather that might occur during the two days when the body of the deceased person was reposing in the house.
Another army of volunteers provided tea, sandwiches, biscuits and cakes for the very many hundreds of neighbours and friends who streamed through the small premises during this period in advance of the funeral proper. In ireland, this time of waiting, visiting, praying and offering comfort to the relatives of a deceased is called a “wake”.
The tragic circumstances of this man’s death did not add to the number of visitors nor did it distinguish the procedure from what is the normal custom in rural Ireland. Some years ago, on the death of my own mother in law, the same care, attention and consolation were lavished upon her family by all comers on just the same scale. On that occasion, one of the most moving sights on the way to the house where “Gran”, as we all lovingly called her, was laid out, was the sight of her neighbours digging her grave in the nearby cemetery, a tradition that is still common in rural Ireland, a meaningful tribute of love paid to a deceased neighbour.
Nor is this comforting confined to rural areas. My brother in law died in a large Irish town some years ago and his death was accompanied by a huge outpouring of support and grief from the many people who knew and loved him.
This natural friendliness and support offered to a grieving family is something to be treasured in a world where death and its formalities tend to be anaesthetised. The final departure of any of us is a time when warmth and support is required, clinical attention to the removal process is just not sufficient. Long may these traditions last as a comfort to families who have lost loved ones.
Tony Brady – Dublin – 1 October 2016