Ep. 355 Irish Keening and Wakes: Traditional Mourning Rituals with Mary McLaughlin

Learn about the history and importance of Irish mourning rituals.

My guest Mary McLaughlin is a singer/songwriter and teacher who studies and teaches workshops about Irish singing and technique and Gaelic song and culture. She has recorded five CD’s to international acclaim, written two song books and completed a PhD in Irish Otherworld Song. Today she teaches us about Irish wakes and the ancient funeral ritual of keening. Learn more at her website:


Watch on YouTube

Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • The ancient tombs found in Ireland and what we can learn from them
  • Many contemporary funeral traditions have been influenced by both Christian and Pagan customs
  • Wakes thrived during the Middle Ages in the early Celtic Church but were later forbidden
  • “Professional waking” used to take place in small Irish villages
  • The purpose of the wake is to help people cry and mourn, sometimes through laughter and games
  • Keeners had to be good singers and specially trained to provide this ritual for wakes
  • The benefits of having keeners be outsiders to help the family express emotion, move into their grief, and create a sense of awe
  • The keen would continue from the wake through to the burial ground
  • The three stages of ritual: separation, liminality, and re-incorporation
  • How the keen addresses the 5 stages described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Links mentioned in this episode:

  • Pre-order All the Flowers of the Mountain by Christina Holbrook here (and thank you!)
  • Recommended Book: My Father’s Wake by Kevin Toolis
  • Sign up for Mary’s newsletter here

Buy me a coffee

Donate on Paypal

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu, especially to my newest donor JoAna Dwyer! Also thank you to Mark Langlois for buying me a coffee (3, in fact)! Your contributions make all the difference.

Leave a Reply