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Wake traditions in Ireland and Church opposition to wake and associated practices

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  1. Introduction
  2. The rural Irish custom called nosanna
    1. The death old person
    2. Mocking civil and religious authorities
  3. Thomas Crofton Crocker and his view of the custom
    1. The amount of money spent on wakes and funerals and the clergy
    2. Games and music: Offending the Church
  4. Enforcing the Statutes issued during Synods
  5. Conclusion
  6. Bibliography

Foreigners often see Ireland as a deeply Catholic country. Yet when dealing with their traditional customs, the Irish can prove to be very disobedient to the orders of the Church. One of the best examples is probably that of the 'merry wake': the Church tried for hundreds of years to forbid this very special kind of funeral vigil or at least some of the practices associated with it, but all these attempts were unsuccessful, so deeply established was the habit in people's lives.

[...] During the same Synod, a Statute was issued that 'ordered all who attended Catholic wakes to abstain from excess in drink and food, from merry-making, from games and from illegal mispractices which had been introduced to lead people astray' and also from keening as we have already mentioned that is to say from all the principal features of a merry wake of the time. Enforcing the very large amount of Statutes issued during Synods and other episcopal meetings for at least five centuries was a 'burden . [...]


[...] it was not unusual 'to see even the tombstone in readiness Mr and Mrs Hall, who visited Ireland in the nineteenth century, wrote that "the most anxious thoughts of the Irish peasant through life revert[ed] to death and he [would] endure extreme poverty in order that he [might] scrape together the means of obtaining the wake and a 'decent funeral'."[7] This amount of money spent on wakes and funerals was harshly criticized by the Church as early as 1614. Seán Ó Súilleabháin relates that in this year the Synod of Armagh 'deplored the large amount of money being spent on festivities at wakes and funerals, as well as on dark mourning clothes. [...]

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