THE CAOINEADH: THE IRISH MOURNING TRADITION
One of the lovely things about the Irish tradition is its great hospitality to death. When someone in the village dies, everyone goes to the funeral. First everyone comes to the house to sympathize. All the neighbours gather around to support the family and to help them. It is a lovely gift. When you are really desperate and lonely, you need neighbours to help you, support you and bring you through that broken time. In Ireland there was a tradition known as the 'caoineadh'. These were people, women mainly, who came in and keened the deceased. It was a kind of high-pitched wailing cry full of incredible loneliness. The narrative of the caoineadh was actually the history of the person's life as these women had known him. A sad liturgy, beautifully woven of narrative was gradually put into the place of the person's new absence from the world. The caoineadh gathered all the key events of his life. It was certainly heartbreakingly lonely, but it made a hospitable, ritual space for the mourning and sadness of the bereaved family. The caoineadh helped people to let the emotion of loneliness and grief flow in a natural way.
We have a tradition in Ireland known as the wake. This ensures that the person who has died is not left on their own the night after death. Neighbours, family members and friends accompany the body through the early hours of its eternal change. Some drinks and tobacco are usually provided. Again, the conversation of the friends weaves a narrative of remembrance from the different elements of that person's life.