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Irish Death Customs and Traditions

Updated on August 8, 2013

We think of funerals as sad and somber times.  In our lives and in modern culture, they typically are.  People dress in black and remain quiet in respect for the dead.  But in Ireland, the opposite was true; people danced and sang and rejoiced in the memories of the deceased individual.  

Why was celebration such a great part of Irish funeral traditions?  In Ireland, people believed death meant someone was moving on to the afterlife, which was a greater and more beautiful place than the living world.  There was nothing to be sad about; the deceased individual was going to be happier and freer than they could be in the living reality.  

In addition to these interesting customs, death celebrations in Ireland also continued for several days.  Indeed, death was a celebration, not something to be sad about.  It began with a wake, a great deal of dancing and singing and talking, and finally, a funeral procession.  

Of course sadness is always a part of death traditions, and while there was a great deal of singing and laughing and happiness that surrounded funerals in Ireland, that isn't to say people didn't cry as well.  They simply didn't put such weight and fear on death, and instead considered it part of the cycle of life.  They appreciated the significance of death, accepting it is part of nature, but the somberness was lifted and replaced by good cheerful memories instead.  There was no reason to be sad when everyone understood the deceased person was moving on to a better existence.  

When Christianity came to Ireland, the church tried to ban alcohol at funerals, but they were unsuccessful.  Alcohol was for so long a part of Irish customs and traditions that banning it would be nearly impossible.  

If we could take anything today from these Irish customs, perhaps the most significant aspect would be the attitude Irish people had towards death.  We think of death as something horrible and feared, something to run from.  Instead, they viewed death as something positive and almost something to be joyful about.  Perhaps if we could recreate this attitude at modern funerals, grieving processes would not be as hard for the deceased person's family to endure.  

Indeed, Irish people have held many different views on death and life in general, as can be seen in their seasonal celebrations.  Perhaps Irish people were happier then because of the understanding that life was more precious and didn't last as long.  They did not have access to our technology and medicine, so when someone got sick, the possibility of death was greater.  However, their customs didn't condemn death; instead, they recognized that it was inevitable, but a good thing instead of a bad thing. 

Today, if someone wants to recreate an Irish funeral celebration, it would be much more difficult because of how our views on death have changed.  It might still be possible if the deceased person's family were to send out funeral invitations informing the participants that this is indeed a funeral celebration, and not a time of heavy sadness and grief. 


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Are you aware that the photo you chose at the top of this article is a Hindu ceremony? Most likely a Homa Puja.

    • profile image

      tYpE oNe D 

      6 years ago

      this was a great help for my project. thank you very much, great information

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      VERY helpful for my Ireland project

    • thecelt profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      That's great. I'm so happy it helped you, Paige : )

    • profile image

      paige cullen 

      8 years ago

      this article helped me get an A on my human development essay ?


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