Top 10 Irish FUNERAL TRADITIONS: honouring departed loved ones

When it comes to honouring the departed in the verdant land of Ireland, a tapestry of unique customs and traditions weaves through the fabric of time.

Top 10 Irish funeral traditions: honouring departed loved ones.

Irish funeral traditions are not just rituals; they are a celebration of life, a testament to the enduring soul, and a heartfelt farewell to loved ones.

In this article about the history and traditions surrounding death in Ireland, we will unveil the top ten Irish funeral traditions that remain prevalent today.

Ireland Before You Die’s top tips for attending an Irish funeral:

  • It is commonplace to offer your condolences to the deceased’s immediate family members when you arrive at a funeral.
  • It’s important to be punctual for an Irish funeral, especially the funeral mass, as it will start exactly on time.
  • For certain Irish wakes, particularly Catholic Irish wakes, people will bring mass cards for the grieving family. Sympathy cards are also widely accepted.
  • If you feel it is your place, especially if you are close to the family, offer some assistance when it comes to food, tea, and any preparation that needs doing.

10. The wake – one of the oldest Irish funeral traditions

Family and close neighbours and friends gather to share memories, offer prayers, and celebrate the life that was.
Credit: Pexels / Pavel Danilyuk

Our voyage begins with the heart of Irish funeral customs, the Irish wake. The wake house, often the home of the deceased, becomes a sanctuary for mourners to pay their respects.

Family and close neighbours and friends gather to share memories, offer prayers, and celebrate the life that was. It’s a time of grief, but it’s also a peaceful time where memories and happy stories are shared.

There are many Irish wake customs, and the origins of the Irish wake date back centuries, rooted in the belief that the deceased needed time to transition to the afterlife. 

As tradition goes, mourners would stay awake, keeping watch over the departed’s soul and ensuring evil spirits did not interfere.

RELATED READ: Top 10 traditions of a good Irish wake.

9. The funeral procession – a poignant sight

Top 10 Irish funeral traditions: honouring departed loved ones.
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The funeral procession in Ireland is a poignant sight. Typically, the coffin is carried from the home to the church or at least part of the way there.

Mourners walk in the procession behind the funeral car. It’s a time to show respect to the deceased and their family.

8. The funeral mass – the main event of an Irish funeral

Family, friends, and loved ones gather at church to say goodbye to the soul of the departed.
Credit: Pexels / MART PRODUCTION

A significant part of Irish funeral traditions takes place in the local church, where a funeral mass for the deceased is held.

Here, family, friends, and loved ones gather at church to say goodbye to the soul of the departed. Prayers are offered for a peaceful journey to the afterlife.

7. The burial – usually a family plot

Top 10 Irish funeral traditions: honouring departed loved ones.
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The graveyard burial holds deep significance in Irish funeral traditions. The deceased is laid to rest surrounded by loved ones offering their final farewells.

The body finds its eternal resting place at the burial. Here, the priest will say their final prayers and kind words. Irish families usually have burial plots where several family members are buried together.

6. The rosary and prayer – a central role

The rosary and prayer are central.
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Prayers play a central role in Irish funeral customs, and reciting the rosary is a cherished tradition.

Mourners gather in the presence of the body of the deceased to seek solace in prayer and offer condolences to the immediate family.

In some Irish communities, a midnight vigil is observed, marking the transition from the wake house to the day of the funeral. The priest will often recite the rosary or prayer at this time.

It’s a time for quiet reflection and to keep vigil over the soul of the departed until they are laid to rest. At an Irish funeral, the priest, family, and other loved ones will read out a number of readings and prayers from the bible. 

5. Grief and celebration – a mingling of happy and sad

Top 10 Irish funeral traditions: honouring departed loved ones.
Credit: Pexels / Pavel Danilyuk

Irish funeral customs are a blend of grief and celebration. Mourners share stories, raise a glass of whiskey, beer, or a cup of tea and celebrate the life lived. Laughter mingles with tears as they remember the departed’s joys and sorrows.

RELATED: Top 10 moving Irish funeral songs, ranked.

4. Condolences and comfort – a gesture of support

Condolences and comfort are a gesture of support.
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Offering condolences to the deceased’s immediate family is a fundamental aspect of Irish funeral customs.

Neighbours and friends come bearing comforting words and homemade sandwiches, a gesture of support during a difficult time.

3. Remembering the soul – it lives on

Top 10 Irish funeral traditions: honouring departed loved ones.
Credit: Pexels / Neale LaSalle

Irish funeral traditions emphasise the eternal nature of the soul. As the body of the deceased is committed to the earth, the focus remains on the spiritual journey, reinforcing the belief that the soul lives on.

2. Wearing black – an old tradition

Mourners often wear black.
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One of the oldest Irish funeral traditions is for mourners to wear black. In the modern day, this is becoming less traditional as people prefer their loved ones to dress brightly for the occasion.

This is because funerals are becoming more of a positive experience. It is a time to reflect on happy memories rather than be overwhelmed with grief, mourning, and sadness.

1. The death notice – informing the community

Top 10 Irish funeral traditions: honouring departed loved ones.
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The death notice in newspapers or online platforms has become a vital part of Irish funeral customs. This is a way of informing the community of the passing and of any funeral arrangements.

READ NEXT: Top 10 Irish traditions the rest of the world might find weird.

Notable mentions

It’s common for a priest to bless the grave.
Credit: Pexels / cottonbro studio

Open casket: At many Irish funerals, the person who has passed away will be placed in an open casket for mourners and loved ones to say their final goodbyes.

Blessing the grave: After the burial, it’s common for a priest to bless the grave, imparting a sense of closure and finality to the proceedings.

Mass cards: At Catholic Irish funerals, guests will often present a mass card to the deceased’s loved ones.

Your questions answered about Irish funeral traditions

Top 10 Irish funeral traditions: honouring departed loved ones.
Credit: Pexels / Mike Bird

Are Irish funeral traditions the same across the entire country?

While many customs are shared, variations exist from region to region. For example, while some families opt for an open casket, others prefer to keep the coffin closed.

Is it appropriate to bring flowers to an Irish wake?

Flowers are traditionally reserved for the funeral, but bringing flowers to a wake is perfectly acceptable. At Irish wakes, people often bring food.

Are Irish wakes only held at home?

It is certainly most common for wakes to be held in the home, but they are sometimes held in funeral homes.

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