Funeral Wail

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XVIII (5) | Start of Chapter

The loud "wail" for the dead soon sounded from the mountain. "She's a proper woman," said one, "and her six children are all very sorry for her, the cratur." I went on to the gate till the multitudinous procession arrived, bearing the coffin on a couple of sheets, twisted so that four men could take hold one at each end, and carry it along. Women were not only howling, but tears were fast streaming from many an eye. When they reached the abbey, the grave was not dug, and here was a new and louder wail struck up. While the grave was digging, eight women knelt down by the coffin, and putting their hands upon it, and beating with force, set up a most terrific lamentation. The pounding upon the coffin, the howling, and the shovelling of earth from the grave, made together sounds and sights strange, if not unseemly. The body was to be deposited where a brother and a sister had been buried, and when they reached the first coffin, took it out, and found the second rotten, they took up the mouldered pieces and flung them away. The bones of the legs and arms, with the skull, were put together, and laid by the side of the coffins; the new coffin was put down, and the old one, which was the last of the two former, was placed upon it.

When all was finished, they knelt down to offer up a prayer for the dead, which was done in silence, and they walked away with much decency.

Ireland’s Welome to the Stranger is one of the best accounts of Irish social conditions, customs, quirks and habits that you could wish for. The author, Mrs Asenath Nicholson, was an American widow who travelled extensively in Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine and meticulously observed the Irish peasantry at work and play, as well as noting their living conditions and diet. The book is also available from Kindle.