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Friday 19 January 2018

'There were no funeral homes, you were laid out on your bed'

Q Noreen Minihan Retired school principal, from Clonakilty, Co Cork

"There were a lot of rituals around a death when I was growing up.

"When my grandfather died, I was about five years old. He died while attending the local church, and was afterwards laid out in a coffin on the table in the dining room of our family home in Pearse Street.

"I thought the handles on his coffin were a kind of door-knocker and every time I passed his coffin I used to knock on it with the brass knocker. I often wonder now what people thought I was doing!

"There were no funeral homes in those days and people were usually laid out on their own beds, which were dressed in special white bed linen -- you'd borrow it if you didn't have it yourself.

"Usually, the top sheet was embroidered in white and the pillowcases would have a lace trim.

"The table beside the bed would be covered in a white cloth and it would hold a crucifix, holy water and five candles.

"The candles each represent one of the senses, and, if at all possible, the candlesticks would be brass.

"I remember there was a piseog that if one person borrowed anything for the laying-out, then that same person would have to be the one to return it to its owner.

"All the mirrors in the room would be covered in white cloths and the dead person would be laid out in a dark brown habit that was like a shift.

"Sometimes, when a person was laid out in their bed upstairs, the coffin would have to be manoeuvred out through an upstairs window because the stairs were so narrow.

"If a relative was aware that a person was about to die, they'd buy the burial habit in advance and have it blessed by the priest.

"Some people also believed that if the dying person put their hand into the habit while the priest was blessing it for them, they'd gain a special indulgence."

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