The Irish Wake Tent

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A bit about the Irish Wake

As long as there have been Irish people, there have been wakes. The wake is the period between a death and the burial, a time for not only mourning the death but celebrating life.

Traditionally, family and friends would gather at the home of the deceased over a three day period (two days of visitation and the funeral on the third day). There would be food and drink, music and storytelling, games and talk--the community coming together to reaffirm that life goes on.

There was also a wake for someone who was emigrating. Called "an American Wake", it was an evening when the departing was treated like "the dearly departed"--there would be food, drink and mourning, just like a regular wake. The emigrant would probably never set foot in Ireland again and so was lost to the community almost as much as if he were dead

How did I get into this?

Back in 2000, the Gaelic League of Central Ohio decided to host a "Wake House" at the Dublin Irish Festival. Set in the 1890's as if it were the wake of the grandfather of the home, the house has displays and information available on wake traditions. I made our "corpse" (affectionately known as "Grandpa Lumpy") and the exhibit has grown every year since. My husband, Steve, and I play the part of chief mourners and tradition-explainers. My kids sometimes demonstrate wake games (Yes, games and even sporting events were common at wakes!) We keep adding new information and changing the exhibits, so it's never the same experience twice.

That's how I have Irish Wakes as a topic for storytelling performances and a booklet in print--"Wake Me When It's Over" (available direct from me for $6, includes shipping in the US--e-mail for details

We put the tombstone in the Irish language

Although it most likely would have been in English at the time, we decided Grandpa was a true nationalist and would have wanted one piece of Ireland with no English at all!

For those without the language, his name was Patrick Murphy and his wife, Mary O'Shea Murphy preceeded him in death. May God have mercy on them.

What do you need for an Irish Wake?

A person to mourn and celebrate.

A group of friends to share tales, poems, songs or what ever.

Food and drink enough to allow the emotions to flow.

And that's it. Really.

Although it does help if some of you are Irish...




That would be myself explaining parts of the display--salt, stopped clock, covered mirror and basic Irish hospitality. Click on the pictures for larger views.

Below is Grandpa Lumpy laid out on the door, with my husband Steve speaking.