Parties to Raise the Dead: Irish Wakes

For the Irish, a funeral wasn't just an occasion for mourning. It was also an opportunity to get together with friends, meet members of the opposite sex, and play wild games. This both honored the dead person and allowed the living to rejoice in their continuing life.

The corpse and his or her family would be separated from the party by a screen so that the mourners could grieve and weep without distraction. Meanwhile, all the guests would drink whiskey, sing, smoke, and play various party games. These games involved mock marriages and some games that the clergy condemned as downright obscene — not unlike the games played at some teenage parties today. Flirtation was allowed but fornication was not; the Irish did not approve of sex outside of marriage.

With the great boom in Irish tourism, all sorts of things have been called “traditional culture.” Generally speaking, “traditional” refers to the cultural practices of the common people who weren't part of the Protestant Ascendancy ruling class. But remember that there have been many types of Irish people, and many kinds of Irish culture.

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