Wakes

Respect for the dead has always been a prominent feature of Irish culture. Traditions say a very special female spirit, the bean sí (banshee) is often heard to announce by her wailing the impending death of a member of a family.

A wide range of beliefs and practices were concerned with the issues of death and burial and, in former times, the waking of the dead was an important social occasion.

The practice of Waking the dead used to be the custom in most Celtic countries in Europe for mourners to keep watch or vigil over their dead until they were buried - this was called a 'Wake'. The wake of the past was an occasion for both sadness and merriment. Ireland appears to be the only country where the custom has survived as strong as it is, although it must be said that it is losing favor here too and the funeral parlor seems to be replacing the home as the venue for the traditional waking. More families too are beginning to wake their dead in private. Maybe in time the traditional public funeral which is seen as an expression of sympathy for the bereaved family will also have disappeared.

There was always a certain unwritten ritual that sympathizers observed when calling to the Wake house. First there was a visit to the room where the corpse was laid out to say a prayer and pass the usual compliments about how well he/she looked even in death. A quick look around took in the crucifix, lighted candles on a little table and the well laundered linen on the bed. In some families bed linen was kept specifically for this purpose and even though it might be a hundred years old it could be as white as the driven snow. In nearly every area there was a woman or two who washed and laid out the dead. They too came in for a word of compliment before leaving the room. 'Didn't Cassie make a great job of laying him out. What would the place do without her' was a statement rather than a question. Then came the expressions of sympathy. Every relative, even down to the most distant in-law was given a perfunctory handshake and a muttered 'Sorry for your trouble'. The real sympathy was reserved for the spouse or immediate family. The caller was invited to sit down. If no seat was available some one would be sure to get up and offer one glad of the opportunity to get slipping out unobserved. Neighbors who had come in to help would go around offering snuff, plug tobacco and clay pipes. There was always a 'wee wan' for the men or a small port for the ladies. In more recent times these were replaced by tea, cake and sandwiches.

People kept calling into the Wake house all day and at mid-night the Rosary was recited. After the prayers all except those who were sitting up all night soon dispersed. Supper was served and the women usually went to the corpse room while the men remained in the kitchen. It was at this stage that the games and storytelling got under way. No doubt a stranger unaccustomed to the ways would look on this merriment as irreverent, or at the very least hypocritical, and consider it a contradiction of the real feelings of expressed sympathy. But this light relief had a certain therapeutic value for the grieving family while at the same time helping those who were keeping vigil to pass the night and so it was an accepted part of Waking the dead. There were certain games that were reserved for Wakes only; like 'Hide the Gulley', 'Priest of the Parish' and 'Riddle me Ree'. In the West of Ireland musicians used to play at Wakes, and caoiners (professional criers) were employed to display affected grief. All over the Northwest, and possibly throughout the whole country, all servile work and entertainment ceased in a townland when someone died there. Up to about forty years ago dances would not be held in Donegal town if there was a death in the vicinity and if they had already been arranged they were cancelled or postponed.

The funeral gave people who were unable to attend the Wake an opportunity to express their sympathy by attending Mass and, when the practice of giving Offerings was in existence, by walking up to the collection table and handing their two shilling piece or half crown - the usual offering - to a teller who called out the amount and the name of contributor. The name was mentally noted by the mourners who looked on this as a debt that must be paid back when a death took place in the contributor's family circle. The paying of Offerings, suspended about 35 years ago, had its origin in a practice that existed in penal days of giving a small offering to the priest when he came to bury the dead. The priest who would have been on the run from the English would not have had an income to support him and depended on small stipends like these from the people.

 

Matchmaking

Matchmaking was one of the oldest traditions of Ireland when the country had two classes - the rich landowners and the poor peasants. The rich organized matchmaking so that their sons and daughters would meet and marry other people who were also well to do. For the last couple of hundred years, a good deal of it has taken place in Lisdoonvarna during September and early October.

The name Lisdoonvarna comes from 'Lios Duin Bhearna', which means the lios or enclosure of the fort in the gap. The town developed into a tourist center as early as the middle of the 18th-century when a top Limerick surgeon discovered the beneficial effects of its mineral waters. People traveled from near and far to bathe in, and drink, the mineral waters. Rich in iron, sulphur and magnesium, the waters gave relief from the symptoms of certain diseases including rheumatism and glandular fever.

The Spa Hotel was the center around which the village developed. The opening of the West Clare Railway contributed towards that development, although the nearest railway station was seven miles away at Ennistymon. This station opened in l887 and from that time onwards, until the advent of the motorcar, tourists traveled from the train in pony and trap to ''The Spa''.

It was due to the popularity of these mineral springs and the huge amount of people going there that led to the Lisdoonvarna "matchmaking tradition". September became the peak month of the holiday season and with the harvest safely in, bachelor farmers flocked to Lisdoonvarna in search of a wife.

By the 1920s, matchmaking was still in vogue and people continued to come and "take the waters", including many of Ireland's clergy. It was around this time that one of Lisdoonvarna's most famous sayings was coined, describing the town as a place "where parish priests pretend to be sober and bank clerks pretend to be drunk" .

Today, there are just two official Matchmakers left in Co. Clare: Mr. Willie Daly who runs the riding center outside Ennistymon and Mr. James White, hotelier and proprietor of the Imperial Hotel in the village. With the exception of the pairings these two plan and negotiate, very little genuine matchmaking takes place nowadays. However, Lisdoonvarna's annual festival has evolved into Europe's largest single's event. People don't necessarily come to look for a spouse - they come by the thousands in search of a good time.

For the month of September, dances run from 12:00 noon each day and carry on into the small hours of the next morning. Set dancing exhibitions are also a feature of the event and there's live Irish music in most pubs, although getting to the bar can be quite a task, but don't worry or hurry, because the music carries on until the early hours.

If you can afford the time and the money, and you're single, head for Lisdoonvarna this September and early October. You never know - as well as enjoying all of the good-natured fun and grand "craic", you might also find the perfect mate!

 

Weddings

There are many old Irish verses about proposals and weddings such as: Marry in April if you can, joy for maiden and for man. And of course what woman could resist one of these fine proposals: Would you like to be buried with my people" or..."Would you like to hang your washing next to mine?"

Customs surrounding courtship, engagement and marriage are as rich in Ireland as they are in many corners of the world. Well into the 20th century, the busiest time for match-making in Ireland began right after Epiphany - January 6th. This was because the Irish had misinterpreted a Church ruling set forth in November, 1563 which prohibited weddings during Lent. The popular reasoning that evolved from this decree was that if you could not marry during Lent, then you had to marry before. Thus, it was taken for granted that Shrovetide was the proper time to marry and Shrove Tuesday - the day before Ash Wednesday - became the most favored day of all.

With most weddings these days taking place on a Saturday, it may seem strange to us that just a few decades ago, marriages in Ireland would be performed on any day of the week except Saturday and Sunday. In fact, there's a little verse that illustrates the Irish luck associated with whichever day a couple chose to exchange their vows:

Monday for health
Tuesday for wealth,
Wednesday the best day of all,
Thursday for losses,
Friday for crosses,
And Saturday, no day at all!


It's all very logical when one remembers that Ireland was a rural country and Saturday was market day - the day when families bought and sold livestock, produce and whatever else was needed to support and sustain them. And, as far as I know, the Catholic Church would not have allowed marriages on the Sabbath.

But, back to the wedding plans. Once a union was arranged, there'd be the "walking out" - always chaperoned, of course. Often, the girl's parents would send a younger sibling along, ostensibly to pick flowers, but, in reality, to make certain there were no liberties taken by either party. These escorts were often known as "daisy pickers."

While an arranged marriage may not seem very romantic to us, many of the engaged couples had known each other since they were children - and, in a lot of cases, feelings of affection were already established. So, even though romantic love as we know it was unheard of back then, families would do their best to match a son or daughter with a mate they thought would be a compatible companion.

At some point during the walking out period, another important event took place - that of "walking the land." This was when the daughter's parents would do an inspection of the future son-in-law's family home. Afterwards, they'd partake of the hospitality of the house to make certain there were no miserly tendencies in the young man's family. It was most likely after this special occasion that that favorite pre-wedding party Aitin' the Gander was scheduled.

Not so long ago, to hear the old storytellers tell about it, there used to be a custom that makes me wonder if today's term 'to cook one's goose' didn't have its origins in Ireland. When the matchmaker had succeeded in having the respective families of the bride and groom agree to a union, the groom was invited to come meet his future wife. It was on this occasion that the bride's family would roast a goose in honor of the up-coming nuptials. It was a chance for the couple to become better acquainted and all involved in the wedding would be invited, including the priest. Following dinner, there'd be dancing and plenty of opportunity for the couple to take a gander at what their families had lined up for them.

Another version of this same custom was called 'picking the gander.' It came by its name from when family members discussed the implications of married life with the blushing bride-to-be as they plucked or picked the feathers from the goose. After Aitin the Gander,' the families would get together to do 'The Bindings' or marriage agreement. This agreement could often be extremely complicated. In many instances, for example, the daughter's mother and father would include a proviso that when they were old, they would get their full need of essentials such as milk, turf, butter, eggs and a ride to Sunday Mass.

Here are some wonderful translations of wedding vocabulary into the traditional Gaelic language of Ireland:

Phrase: We have three marriageable daughters
Irish: tá triúr iníon le cumhdach againn
Pronunciation: thaw throor in-een leh koo-dhahkh ah-ginn

Phrase: Love and Marriage
Irish: Grá (or) Cion agus Pósadh
Pronunciation: graw (kiuhn) ah-gus pos-sah

Word: Couple (as in love/marriage)
Irish: lánúin
Pronunciation: law-nooin

Phrase: He asked for her hand in marriage (he proposed to her)
Irish: chuir sé ceiliúr pósadh uirthí
Pronunciation: khuir shay kel-oor poh-sah ir-hee

Word: Engagement
Irish: gealltanas
Pronunciation: gi-ahl-thahn-ahs

Phrase: We are engaged (to be married)
Irish: tá muid dálta le chéile
Pronunciation: thaw mwidge dhawl-thaj leh khay-leh

Phrase: Engagement Ring
Irish: fáinne gealltanais
Pronunciation: fawn-yeh gi-ahll-thahn-ish

Phrase: They are marrying for love
Irish: Tá siad a' pósadh le teann grá
Pronunciation: thaw sheedh ah' poh-sah le chan graw

Word: Marriage
Irish: pósadh
Pronunciation: poh-sah

Word: Wedding
Irish: pósadh or bainis
Pronunciation: poh-sah or bahn-ish
Note: The word 'pósadh' is generally used in relation to the actual wedding ceremony itself and 'banis' to other celebratory matters, in particular the wedding meal.

Phrase: Wedding day
Irish: lá pósta or bainise
Pronunciation: law pohs-thah or bahn-ish-eh

Word: Bride
Irish: brídeach
Pronunciation: bree-djiukh

Phrase: Wedding dress
Irish: gúna bainise
Pronunciation: goo-nah bahn-ish-eh

Phrase: The flowers in the bouquet were from her own garden
Irish: is as a gháirdín féin a bhí na bláthanna sa chrobhaing
Pronunciation: iss oss ah ghawr-djeen fayn ah vee nah blaw-nah sah khroh-vahng

Word: Bridesmaid
Irish: cailín coimhdeachta
Pronunciation: coll-een kwev-djahkh-thah

Word: Bridegroom
Irish: fear nuaphósta
Pronunciation: fahr noo-ah-fohs-thah

Phrase: Tuxedo/dinner jacket
Irish: seaicéad dinnéir
Pronunciation: shak-aydh djinn-ay-ir

Phrase: Top hat and tails
Irish: hata árd agus culaith gléasta
Pronunciation: hah-thah awrdh ah-gus cull-ah glays-thah

Phrase: Best Man
Irish: finné fir
Pronunciation: finn-ay firr

Phrase: Bridal party (group)
Irish: lucht banise
Pronunciation: lukth bahn-ish-eh

Phrase: The marriage ceremony will be in Irish
Irish: Beidh ord an phósta as Ghaeilge
Pronunciation: bye urdh an fos-thah oss gwayil-geh

Phrase: A priest or minister or registrar or judge will marry the couple
Irish: beidh an lánúin a phósadh ag an tsagart or an ministéir or an gcláiraitheoir or an mbreitheamh
Pronunciation: bye on law-noon ah foh-sah egg on thahg-ahrth or on min-ish-chair or on glaw-rih-hoh-ir or on mbreh-uv

Phrase: Wedding march
Irish: máirseáil bainise
Pronunciation: mawr-shaw-il bahn-ish-eh

Phrase: Wedding ring
Irish: fáinne pósta
Pronunciation: faw-in-yeh pohs-thah

Phrase: He gave his daughter in marriage to____
Irish: thug sé a iníon mar chéile do____
Pronunciation: hug shay ah in-een mahr khay-leh dhuh____

Phrase: He gave her (to him) in marriage
Irish: thug sé mar chéile dó í
Pronunciation: hug shay mahr khay-leg dhoh ee

Phrase: Who was his best man?
Irish: cé sheas leis?
Pronunciation: kay hahs lesh?

Phrase: They signed the marriage certificate in the sacristy
Irish: shínigh siad an teastas pósta sa saicristí
Pronunciation: hee-nee sheedh on tchahs-thahs pohs-thah sah sah-kris-thee

Phrase: The bride and bridegroom (newly-wed couple) are leaving the church
Irish: Tá an eaglais á fhágáil ag an lánúin nua
Pronunciation: thaw on og-lish aw aw-ghaw-il egg on law-nooin noo-ah

Phrase: Wedding guest
Irish: aoi bainise
Pronunciation: ee bahn-ish-eh

Phrase: Wedding gift
Irish: bronntnas pósta
Pronunciation: brun-thahn-ahs pohs-thah

Phrase: Wedding feast
Irish: bainis
Pronunciation: bahn-ish

Phrase: Wedding party (celebration)
Irish: cóisir bhainise
Pronunciation: koh-shir wahn-ish-eh

Phrase: Wedding cake
Irish: cáca or ciste banise
Pronunciation: kaw-kah or kish-cheh bahn-ish-eh

Phrase: Let's drink a toast to the newly-wedded couple (literally 'drink the health')
Irish: Ólaimid sláinte an lanúin nua-phósta
Pronunciation: ohl-ah-midj slawn-tcheh on law-noon noo-ah-fohs-thah

Word: Honeymoon
Irish: Mí na Meala
Pronunciation: mee nah mahlah (literally, month of honey but used for any period)

Phrase: We will spend our honeymoon in Ireland
Irish: Beidh mí na meala á chaiteamh againn in Éireann
Pronunciation: bye mee nah mahlah aw khath-iv ah-ginn in Ayr-run

Phrase: The honeymoon is being spent overseas
Irish: beidh mí na meala a chaitheamh thar lear
Pronunciation: bye mee nah mahlah ah khah-thuv hahr lahr

 

Legend of the Claddagh Ring

One of the most popular rings that often is used as an engagement or wedding ring is the Claddagh Ring. This ring has a wonderful story associated with it, and to this day it retains it’s rich Irish history which has been shared from generation to generation.

According to 16th-century Irish folk lore, a fishing boat from the village of Claddagh was captured by Algerian pirates and the crew was sold into slavery. One of the crew was a young man by the name of Richard Joyce, who was to be married the same week he was captured. Instead, Richard found himself far away from his love and his homeland.

He was sold to a wealthy Moorish goldsmith who taught him the trade and, eventually, he became skilled enough to design a ring of special significance: the hands were for friendship, the crown was for loyalty, and the heart was for love.

Years went by, but Richard never forgot his sweetheart. Somehow, he managed to escape and make his way home to Ireland. When he arrived back in Claddagh, he discovered that his girl had never married. They were wed immediately, and the ring he gave her was the one he had designed and made while he was a slave.

Over the years, the design became extremely popular as a betrothal or wedding ring and took on even more significance. Worn on the right hand with the heart pointing out means that the heart is uncommitted. Worn on the same hand with the heart pointing in means that the heart is taken. Worn on the left hand with the heart pointing in means "Let Love and Friendship reign forever, never to be separated."

In the old days, Claddagh rings were worn widely by women on the west coast and off-shore islands of Galway. Often representing the sole major investment of a fishing family, they were handed down from mother to daughter. Now, many couples, even those not of Irish descent, are choosing the Claddagh symbol for their engagement and wedding rings. They are widely available, as are a wide range of other Claddagh accessories from earrings to cuff links. But one word of caution: it is said to be very bad luck for a person to purchase a Claddagh ring for themselves. It must be given or received as a gift.

 

Honeymoons

The word for honey is meala in Irish. The word for honeymoon is mi na meala, the month of honey, and refers to how the bride and groom spend that period of time.

Irish monks first produced the fermented honey brew called mead for medicinal purposes then found it could make well people feel even better.

Following the wedding, a sufficient amount of mead was given to the bride and groom, along with special goblets, so they could share the unique brew for one full moon after their wedding, thus the term honeymoon was coined.

It was believed that this delicate yet potent drink was the best way to ensure a good beginning for a new marriage, and was also believed to endow powers of virility and fertility.