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How the Irish Teach Us to Die (lithub.com)
96 points by skadamou on March 3, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 48 comments

I'm Irish.. This is such bullshit..

"you probably think a wake is just another Irish piss up, a few beers around the corpse and an open coffin."

Thats exactly what is is in my experience.

"But amongst the Celts this ancient form of death-sharing lives on."

Celts wtf? We Irish are slightly more inbred that on the continent but the entire European population has been thoroughly blended for 100's of years. No-one is a Celt. No-one here would ever mention ancient demographic groups in reference to modern day events.

Stopped reading after that.

> the entire European population has been thoroughly blended for 100’s of years.

This is not true. There’s more than a bit of population substructure within Ireland. Norman and English names are over represented among Fine Gael politicians, Gaelic derived ones among Fianna Fáil. The people in the Northwest are visibly different than in Leinster, more red heads (Celts), more people who could pass as Spanish ( the pre-Celtic population).

And the idea that European populations have been thoroughly blended is absurd. If you walk into an Aldi in Limerick you’ll see the same as as in Leipzig albeit in a different language. The girl looks German, not Irish. And Norwegians don’t look like Portuguese.

Thoroughly agree. Ireland has many accents, many of them very strong. This is common in cultures where people stay in a locality for most of their lives. There is recent mobility (in the last 50 years for work, education etc) but most families have been stationary in their home towns for multiple generations. Even the Irish spoken in each area is distinctive.

No idea why you were downvoted like that. I'm a nominal Brit with a lot of Irish influence. Reverse those nationalities and you could say the same - which you pretty much did.

I have a similar experience of wakes as you - they are quite often a damn good piss up and quite rightly so.

As to the Celts thing, that is rather more complicated. In England there is a pejorative term: the "Celtic fringe" which probably doesn't help here! Celtic-ism seems to me to be a bit of an amalgam of some real historic fact and rather a lot of rose tinted, backwards glancing pseudo nationalism and a lot of bollocks. I won't go further on that, otherwise this comment will become an essay but as you say: "... ancient demographic groups in reference to modern day events" - where's the relevance: we've moved on a bit since 55/54BC etc?

Presumably the 'Celtic fringe' is the flip-side to the 'Protestant ascendancy' which is just a bit of neat propaganda tied with a bow to justify and perpetuate the historical into the future.

Had a wake for my father some years ago. While there was a lot of alcohol there was great comfort in the many stories that everyone had of him and had no issue in laughing over. My family always has held wakes and probably always will.

The genetic distribution of the European population is not blended to the point of indistinguishability.


It is still right to say it's highly anachronistic to call modern people Celts. Not to mention most countries of the former Roman empire have been home to Celts.

It's useful to have a term to refer to the Irish, Scots and Welsh. In a modern context "Celtic" is normally used to refer to those places, and more to refer to a common culture rather than an ethnicity.

Uh, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celts_(modern)

(I'm a Dubliner and I would accept the label.)

Define "Celt".

You are right. The term is over-used, and many of the original tribes have very much blended. Some however, have not (dark green in map) Here is a good list: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Celtic_tribes

People the Romans conquered, then assimilated in places like northern Italy and modern France. That their languages survived relatively isolated a while longer in places like Britain and Ireland is why we think of them as being from there.

Without looking around at all, I recall that only Tacitus mentions the "Keltike", which is a Greekism and not Roman, so I'm probably wrong a bit. I believe that there are very, very few refs to Celts pre-modern revivalism. I think Tacitus mentions them as located in what we would think of as Belgium (nee bit of France, sort of).

I think that Celt is generally confused with Briton (Preton/Pretanike - Pytheas) thanks to some fanciful thinking over the last few hundred years. You might also notice: Britany - a region of modern France. The "indigenous" Britons were duffed up by various invaders. The Scots migrated from Ireland and the Picts went the other way etc etc. Angles and Saxons, Norwegians and Danes farted around at various times (we had a King Knut/Canute famous for talking to the sea - he didn't really - he was emphasising how the sea is unstoppable (or was he!)

These isles off of the left hand side of mainland Europe have a pretty complicated history but perhaps not as complicated as say what we now know as France, Germany, Italy and co.

The Celt thing is a bit ambiguous at best ...

“Celts” normally refers to people from regions with a historically Celtic language and cultural influence, these days; it’s not meaningfully an ethnic group today.

OK, I will start calling Italians Romans from now on.

The Romans were Trojans, according to Virgil. They defeated the Italians in battle, and abducted women to marry.

I’m pretty sure the people of Rome call themselves romans.

It's a piss up when the death is somewhat expected or of "natural order". The very elderly, etc.

Wakes for young people are very very different and difficult as are wakes for people who died before their time or who have left young families behind.

And you're right about the word Celt being bullshit but we definitely consider ourselves distinct in culture.

> Stopped reading after that.

Uh, and you were doing so well. That meme should crawl in to a corner and die.

I stopped reading after that. (It was the last thing you wrote :) )

I have no idea what you are referencing.

It's a common thing now for a comment on some text to identify done objectionable line and say "stopped reading after you said react was a framework not a library" or whatever. It's a really condescending way to indicate disagreement with a part of an article, and dismiss the author.

If you stopped reading you don’t really have the right to comment, not any more than someone who didn’t read at all.

“Stopped reading” usually means you fixed an interpretation of what the author said and presumed the rest without giving them the courtesy of actually verifying what they wrote is what you think it is. That’s rude and a cognitive bias that weakens quality discourse.

Most Irish never experience a wake. I know which island is being discussed in the piece (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achill_Island). My grandparents lived there and I attended their wakes and those of other elderly relatives in the area. But even there, wakes are becoming less and common. And wakes are generally unknown in Ireland outside of relatively isolated rural areas. I suspect in a couple of decades the custom will be gone completely.

> Most Irish never experience a wake

I wouldn't go that far. Both of my grandfathers died in the last 3 years, one in suburban Dublin, one in a large country town. Both had wakes with the body laid out and dozens or hundreds of people coming to pay their respects. I agree it's no longer the universal custom it once was, and it's dying out - or perhaps ebbing, to come back into fashion in another generation.

Interesting. I've never been to a wake in a town or city - any funerals I have experienced have used an undertaker's parlour. I guess I was generalizing from personal experience but I reckon the author of the piece did a lot more generalising.

Irish American on my mother’s side here. I didn’t realize wakes weren’t a thing that people did until I was an adult. There would always be an open casket, paying of respects, and a party.

I find the article to be as much about the preparation for death by the dying as it is about the remembrance of those left behind. The willingness to accept it as a normal thing, a celebration of life.

My grandmother emigrated from Northern Ireland while pregnant with my mother. When she passed she requested that we have a brief wake rather than a funeral. Her brothers came in from Belfast and Kitchener (Ontario), my mom and her sister and immediate families gathered. She was burned and then we shared a meal, drinks, and shared photographs and stories.

I wouldn't say it's that far gone. If there's one thing that Irish (and for that matter, Scottish) are good at it's sowing the seed, so to speak.

"And wakes are generally unknown in Ireland outside of relatively isolated rural areas."

From where do you get that mad notion? That's not correct at all. Living in Dublin with friends from virtually every county and every single one of them would have been to wakes and not just for people of an elder generation. I'd go so far as to say it's standard practice across the country with a few isolated places where they don't.

"Where do I get that mad notion?" From personal experience, that's all. Your personal experieces don't refute it - they just demonstrate that people's experiences can differ.

I'm old enough to have been to many funerals all over Ireland and I've never experienced a wake as described in the piece outside of Achill. To be clear, the wake he describes involves having the body laid out in the sitting room for at least 24 hours. Having friends, neighbours, relatives and randomers traipsing in and out of the house at any time of day or night and regardless of the time, food and drink (and in the past cigarettes and tabacco) had to be offerred. Some people would assume the duty staying up all night to ensure the body was never left alone?

All funerals I've been too in towns and cities have held a viewing for the deceased in a funeral home.

Actually I googled it, to check if my experiences were wildly out of whack and it seem not - the top hit was https://rip.ie/article.php?AID=32 - and it concurs with my claim that wakes are becoming less and less common and that they are rarely seen in towns and cities these days. So it seems my notion isn't so mad after all!

Totally disagree..wakes are very common still, at least in Catholic communities.

and with the plains tribes (cannot speak for the rest)

The Dakota have a wake that starts with a car procession driving from a meeting point lead by the hearse which drives to the place of the wake[1]. It is generally a community center due to the number of people. The wake starts and goes until the next morning when a mass is held at the church. After the mass, weather permitting, the person is laid to rest in the cemetery or whatever other arrangement was made. One of the facts of life in the north land is the body might have to be stored until winter is over and they can actually dig. A year later the family and close friends have a dinner to mark the end of mourning.

1) just a matter of etiquette, when a hearse with its lights on is followed by a lot of people with their lights on and sometimes preceded by a cop (if available) approaches in the opposite direction, pull your car over to the side of the road and stop until they go by. Its polite and expected in a lot of rural communities.

I live in Dublin and have been to numerous wakes here, both for elderly relatives, and, unfortunately, young friends. I'm sure there are funerals without wakes, but they seem to be a component more commonly than not.

It's the standard thing in my family - generations deep in Dublin.

What differs is the body is normally in another room. Like everyone sessions in one room and people go in and out to pay their last respects from time to time.

I think it's good, for closure and stuff. I do think your man in the article is getting way to misty eyed and being over the top though.

Probably different families do it to different extents.

I don't know...most of the things described in the article are commonplace in Western society, aside from the family members preparing the corpse. He could have been describing any of a number funerals and deaths I've witnessed in the United States.

I feel sorry for the authors loss, but I have to admit that I left the article without having learned anything from the Irish.

I agree, at least in Italy, for people who die at home, the customs are basically the same.

"In America Death is a whisper." - well, the part of America that the author of the article is from. This is not even close to true for other groups of Americans. America is a vast place with many, many different cultural influences.

On this topic, highly recommended if you or someone you care about is close to death:

"Final Journeys" by Maggie Callanan

Also, The Grief Recovery Handbook, by John W James and Russell Friedman

Normally wouldn't do this, but the topic + name match is too much coincidence to ignore. Allow me to mention my mother's first major book, shipping next month:

"Grieving - The Sacred Art", by Lisa Irish

A bit off topic, but my neighbor is currently dying from an aggressive cancer. She moved to the US from Ireland ~25 years ago.

She’s convinced there’s something in the US that causes increased cancer rates vs. Ireland. No family history of cancer and apparently is less common there than here.

I thought it was interesting and have no data to back it up. Just thought I’d share a dying Irshwoman’s perspective.

There's data available about that if you're curious: https://www.wcrf.org/int/cancer-facts-figures/data-cancer-fr...

It doesn't seem Ireland and the US are much different.

Death rates from cancer also seem to be similar, incidentally. There are countries where cancer kills a notably smaller number of people than in the US, but Ireland isn’t one of them: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-s...

I suspect it has more to do with modern medicine extending life spans so people are living long enough to die of cancer rather than other things like heart conditions.

The stats here seem to indicate Ireland is immediately behind the US in cancer rates: https://www.wcrf.org/int/cancer-facts-figures/data-cancer-fr...

My guess is that it is a function of her age. As you get older you know more people who get sick and die so it seems common.

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