We get a lot of things wrong, but when it comes to funerals at least we get it right
Published 01/07/2014 | 02:30
WE get a lot of things wrong in Ireland but there is one thing we tend to get right. Funerals. We sure love a good funeral in this country.
Comedian Dave Allen, in a famous sketch, said: "In Ireland when somebody dies, we lay 'em out and watch 'em for a couple of days . . . and there's drinking and dancing and all the food you can eat."
He was dead on the button. We are expert at giving our loved ones a good send off after they pass away. We cry, laugh and celebrate their life. More families are opting again for a home wake, something which was part and parcel of Irish life years ago.
I was at the wake recently of a former colleague who died very suddenly. He had been a larger-than-life character. It was sad – but there were many laughs too. People were queuing up outside the house to get in to view the remains and offer condolences.
And afterwards, his family said that the 24 hours they had with their husband and dad in the house will stay with them forever, and was a huge help in the grieving process.
But it doesn't end once the body has been put six feet under and covered in clay. In what is a unique tradition, parishes all over Ireland honour and remember the dead once a year with Cemetery Sunday.
We are right in the middle of this special remembrance season, and on a perfect, balmy summer's evening last week I joined dozens of locals for the annual cemetery Mass in my home village of Goresbridge, Co Kilkenny.
People came in their droves from all over the parish and beyond to attend. A buzz rippled around the graveyard as friends, neighbours and those home on holidays from abroad greeted one another warmly before making their way to family plots, carrying folding stools or chairs.
They sat guarding their graves, all proud and happy to be there to remember dear ones as the Mass was said in the open air.
One local woman silently placed two cards on her parent's grave. There were those for whom the evening was raw as their loved ones had not passed away too long ago.
It is a long time since I left the parish, and I am not one for making regular visits to the grave where my father and 10-year-old brother are buried.
They died within two years of each other more than 30 years ago but this is the one time in the year when I make a special effort to remember them with my family.
The Cemetery Mass, or annual Pattern, is a very special date that communities revolve around.
A lot of work goes into sprucing up graveyards. Weathered headstones are freshly scrubbed, graves decorated with fresh flowers and wreaths and plots weeded.
It is significant event, reaffirming bonds of kinship through the previous generations. Cemetery Sunday is about honouring ancestors, remembering parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and reminding ourselves of the larger connections within the community.
In Goresbridge, as in many parishes around Ireland, people who have emigrated plan their annual visits home around the graveyard Mass. So while the Mass remembers the dead, it is also a time when the living come together to reconnect.
As I shared in this celebration last week, and thought of my father and brother, I also thought about those who have died in Ireland who never had a proper funeral or burial. Those who have no marker to be remembered by.
The Tuam babies who were secretly buried beside a home for single mothers and their children in Co Galway over a period of 36 years in unconsecrated ground, without headstones or coffins, is a scandalous case.
No memorial was erected to the dead children and the grave was left unmarked.
We also know that babies and children from other homes around Ireland suffered the same fate.
Following the national outcry over how these children were disposed of the head of the Bon Secours Sisters in Ireland requested a meeting with the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, to discuss how best to now honour these babies.
They are to look at a fitting memorial for these young souls, and to having a memorial service for those who died there.
This should happen without delay. The Tuam babies have waited long enough. They are real people with names, birthdays and living relatives. Just like we are remembering our loved ones at Cemetery Masses in our parishes this summer, we should remember them too.
An Irish Hospice Foundation documentary, 'Way To Go – Death and the Irish' airs tonight on RTE One at 9.35pm