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Irish Wake Memorial Service

Irish Pub

A traditional Irish wake memorial service is very similar to a home funeral and involves the family members preparing the body for burial and hosting a viewing in the home.

However, in modern times and especially in countries where descendants of Irish immigrants are common, an Irish Wake Memorial Service has become more synonymous with hosting a party that celebrates the life of the deceased.

Generally, the modern Irish wake occurs after the burial or cremation. A funeral and viewing may be part of the service but it is not required. Often, especially in modern times, a small private funeral service or a scattering of ashes service may be held followed by a large Irish wake in which all who knew, or knew of, the deceased may attend.

The wake is a celebratory gathering where people may share stories of the deceased over food and drink, giving friends and family a day to remember the deceased. A wake may last a few hours or all day and people may come and go as they please.

Hosting an Irish-style wake memorial service is fairly straightforward. The wake may be held at a family home or space at a local restaurant or bar may be rented for the event. Each venue has its advantages and disadvantages.

Golf Table Cloth
shamrock plate
Irish plate
cupcakes

Irish Decorations

Professional bartenders and wait staff will be part of the rental fee for the local restaurant or bar and the family can decide if they will sponsor an open bar or if visitors will purchase their own drinks at a no host bar. However, these services can be rather expensive.

A less expensive alternative is to host the wake at the home of a family member. Food and drink will still need to be provided by the family but family members may request that visitors bring a food dish or beverage to share.

Suitable choices for food and beverages include Irish whisky, scotch, beer, and wine. Nonalcoholic beverages should also be made available for guests.

Drinking and storytelling are the primary focus of the modern wake; but a good host should also provide food for guests.

Sandwiches, cold-cuts, vegetable platter are all acceptable; a more formal menu could include shepherds or meat pie, potato wedges, corned beef, or seafood.

A good host should also provide overnight accommodations or make arrangements for a taxi service for those too inebriated to make it home on their own.

Flowers are not generally required for a wake. Pictures and other memorabilia of the deceased are sometimes on display and this will help the guests remember stories to share about the deceased.

The mood of a modern Irish wake is a mix of gaiety and sadness.

In traditional Irish wakes, women would often wail and a special room was set aside to do so; in modern times, wailing is rarely practiced and singing and storytelling tend to be the most common activity.

Generally children do not attend a wake. But if children were a large part of the deceased life, the host may wish to invite children and also provide a separate room with age-appropriate entertainment and supervision for the children to retreat in if the wake lasts long into the night. 

Checklist for An Irish Wake:

  • Date/Time
  • Wake location
  • Beverage Choices
  • Open Bar or No Host Bar
  • Menu options

For additional resources see Irish Blessings for death

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