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irish-wakePossiamo considerare tutte le celebrazioni funebri una sorta di rituale per accertarsi che il morto non ritorni più a disturbare i vivi. Un tempo del resto non erano insoliti i casi di morte apparente e la veglia al cadavere era il modo migliore per essere certi dell’avvenuto trapasso.

C’era l’usanza comune in molte tradizioni di lasciare aperta la finestra o la porta della stanza per permettere all’anima di uscire (così le aperture dovevano essere richiuse dopo un paio d’ore in modo da impedirne il ritorno). Per agevolare il transito dell’anima si scioglievano tutti i nodi e si coprivano gli specchi (che potevano intrappolare l’anima nel proprio riflesso). Il cadavere doveva soprattutto essere vegliato: in Irlanda era sistemato su di una tavola in bella vista (nel soggiorno o comunque nella stanza migliore della casa) facendo in modo che un gruppo di visitatori fosse sempre pronto a circondare il cadavere per impedire agli spiriti maligni di avvicinarsi al corpo e prendere l’anima (lasciando però un passaggio libero nella direzione della finestra o della porta precedentemente lasciata aperta).
Il corpo dopo essere stato lavato e vestito con il vestito più bello (spesso coperto da un candido lino) era circondato dalle candele; si adottavano anche particolari accorgimenti: ad esempio mettere un pizzico di sale (antidoto verso il male) sul petto, legare gli alluci dei piedi tra loro (senza fare un nodo ovviamente) per evitare che potesse ritornare come fantasma. Venivano pagate delle prefiche per il lamento funebre (in irlandese “keenning“) che doveva iniziare solo dopo la preparazione della salma per evitare di invocare gli spiriti maligni.
Poteva così avere inizio la veglia vera e propria con cibo (dolci, panini rigorosamente tagliati a forma triangolare), bevute (particolarmente gradito il poteen e l’irish whiskey), fumatine con la pipa, musica e canti, danze e giochi. (vedi)

Al momento di andare al cimitero (o alla chiesa per il rito religioso) il cadavere era messo nella cassa da morto con gli oggetti che il defunto aveva con sé al momento della morte o con gli oggetti che aveva più cari per evitare che il suo spirito tornasse per cercarli. Al ritorno dal cimitero si finiva in un pub per trascorrere il resto del giorno per brindare molte e molte volte alla salute del morto!!!


(tratto da qui)
The most anxious thoughts of the Irish peasant through life revert to his death; and he will endure the extreme of poverty in order that he may scrape together the means of obtaining “a fine wake” and a “decent funeral.” He will, indeed, hoard for this purpose, though he will economise for no other; and it is by no means rare to find among a family clothed with rags, and living in entire wretchedness, a few untouched garments laid aside for the day of burial. It is not for himself only that he cares; his continual and engrossing desire is, that his friends may enjoy “full and plenty” at his wake; and however miserable his circumstances, “the neighbors” are sure to have a merry meeting and an abundant treat after he is dead. His first care is, as his end approaches, to obtain the consolations of his religion; his next, to arrange the order of the coming feast. To “die without the priest” is regarded as an awful calamity. We have more than once heard a dying man exclaim in piteous accents, mingled with moans – “Oh, for the Lord’s sake, keep the life in me till the priest comes!” In every serious case of illness the priest is called in without delay, and it is a duty which he never omits; the most urgent business, the most seductive pleasure, the severest weather, the most painful illness, will fail in tempting him to neglect the most solemn and imperative of all his obligations-the preparing a member of his flock to meet his Creator. When the Roman Catholic sacrament of extreme unction has been administered, death has lost its terrors- the sufferer usually dies with calmness, and even cheerfulness. He has still, however, some ef the anxieties of earth; and, unhappily, they are less given to the future destinies of his family, than to the ceremonies and preparations for his approaching wake.
The formalities commence almost immediately after life has ceased;. The corpse is at once laid out, and the wake begins: the priest having been first summoned to say mass for the repose of the departed soul, whicn he generally does in the apartment in which the body reposes! It is regarded by the friends of the deceased as a sacred duty to watch by the corpse until laid in the grave; and only less sacred is the duty of attending it thither.
The ceremonies differ somewhat in various districts, but only in a few minor and unimportant particulars. The body, decently laid out on a table or bed, is covered with white linen, and, not unfrequently, adorned with black ribbons, if an adult; white if the party be unmarried; and flower, if a child. Close by it, or upon it, are plates of tobacco and snuff; aiound it are lighted candles. Usually a quantity of salt is laid upon it also. The women of the household arrange themselves at either side, and the keen (caoinej) at once commences. They rise with one accord, and moving their bodies with a slow motion to and fro, their arms apart, they continue to keep up a heart-rending cry. This cry is interrupted for a while to give the ban cuointhc (the leading keener,) an opportunity of commencing. At the close of every stanza of the dirge, the cry is repeated, to fill up as it were, the pause, and then dropped; the woman then again proceeds with the dirge, and so on to the close. The only interruption which this manner of conducting a wake suffers, is from the entrance of some relative of the deceased, who, living remote, or from some other cause, may not have been in at the commencement. In this case, the ban caointhe ceases, all the women rise and begin the cry, which is continued until the new-cemsr has cried enough. During the pauses of the women’s wailing, the men, seated in groups by the fire, or in the corners of the room, are indulging in jokes, exchanging repartees, and bantering each other, some about their sweethearts, and some about their wives, or talking over the affairs of the day – prices and politics, priests and parsons, the all-engrossing subjects of Irish conversation.
A very accurate idea of an Irish wake may be gathered from a verse of a rude song, It is needless to observe that the merriment is in ill keeping with the solemnity of the death chamber, and that very disgraceful scenes are or rather were, of frequent occurrence; the whiskey being always abundant, and the men and women nothing loath to partake of it to intoxication.

The keener is usually paid for her services-the charge varying from a crown to a pound, according to the circumstances of the employer. The funerals are invariably attended by a numerous concourse; some from affection to the deceased: others, as a tribute of respect to a neighbor; and a large proportion, because time is of small value, and a day unemployed is not looked upon in the light of money lost. No invitations are ever issued. Among the upper classes, females seldom accompany the mourners to the grave; but among the peasantry the women always assemble largely.
The procession, unless the churchyard is very near, (which is seldom the case) consists mostly of equestrians-the women being mounted behind the men on pillions; but there are also a number of cars, of every variety. The wail rises and dies away, at intervals, like the fitful breeze.- On coming to a crossroad it is customary, in some places, for the followers to stop and offer up a prayer for the departed soul; and in passing through a town or village, they always make a circuit round the site of an ancient cross. In former times the scene at a wake was re-enacted with infinitely less decorum in the church-yard; and country funerals were often disgraced by riot and confusion. Itinerant venders of whiskey always mingled among the crowd, and found ready markets for their inflammatory merchandise. Party fights were consequently very common; persons were frequently set to guard the ground where it was expected an obnoxious individual was about to be interred; and it often happened that, after such conflicts, the vanquished party have returned to the grave, disinterred the body, and left it exposed on the highway. The horror against suicide is so great in Ireland, that it is by no means rare to find the body of a wretched man, who has been guilty of the crime, remaining for weeks without interment-parties having been set to watch every neighboring church yard to prevent its being deposited in that which they consider belongs peculiarly to them.
It is well known that if two funerals meet at the same churchyard, a contest immediately takes place to know which will enter first; and happily if, descrying each other at a distance, it is only a contest of speed; for it is often a eontest of strength, terminating in bloodshed and sometimes in Death.

Salt has been considered by all nations as an emblem of friendship; and it was anciently offered to guests at an entertainment, as a pledge of welcome. The Irish words ” Caoin” and ” Cointhe” cannot easily be pronounced according to any mode of writing them in English. The best idea that can be given of the pronunciation, is to say that the word has a sound between that ol the English words ” Keen” and Queen.”
The wake lasted two to four days.



E’ una canzone del music-hall inglese, cavallo di battaglia di Leslie Sarony grande performer tra il 1880 e il 1930. La canzone si sviluppa in due parti (parole e melodia di Leslie Sarony). Si ironizza dicendo che un bel funerale è una gioia per il morto

ASCOLTA Leslie Sarony 1932

Parte prima
Lately there’s nothing but trouble, grief and strife
There’s not much attraction about this bloomin’ life
Last night I dreamt I was bloomin’ well dead
As I went to the funeral, I bloomin’ well said:
Look at the flowers, bloomin’ great orchids
Ain’t it grand, to be bloomin’ well dead!
And look at the corfin, bloomin’ great ‘andles
Ain’t it grand, to be bloomin’ well dead
I was so ‘appy to think that I’d popped off
I said to a bloke with a nasty, ‘acking cough
Look at the black ‘earse, bloomin’ great ‘orses
Ain’t it grand, to be bloomin’ well dead!
Look at the bearers, all in their frock coats
Ain’t it grand, to be bloomin’ well dead!
And look at their top ‘ats, polished with Guiness
Ain’t it grand, to be bloomin’ well dead!
Some people there were praying for me soul
I said, ‘It’s the first time I’ve been off the dole’
Look at the mourners, bloomin’ well sozzled(1)
Ain’t it grand, to be bloomin’ well dead!Look at the children, bloomin’ excited
Ain’t it grand, to be bloomin’ well dead!
Look at the neighbours, bloomin’ delighted
Ain’t it grand, to be bloomin’ well dead!
‘Spend the insurance’, I murmered, ‘for alack
‘You know I shan’t be with you going back.’
Look at the Missus, bloomin’ well laughing
Ain’t it grand, to be bloomin’ well dead!Look at me Sister, bloomin new ‘at on
Ain’t it grand, to be bloomin’ well dead!
And look at me Brother, bloomin’ cigar on
Ain’t it grand, to be bloomin’ well dead!
We come from clay and we all go back they say
Don’t ‘eave a brick it may be your Aunty May(2)
Look at me Grandma, bloomin’ great haybag(3)
Ain’t it grand, to be bloomin’ well dead!
Parte Seconda
OTHER VOICES: Where oh where has our Leslie gone?
Oh where oh where can he be?
He promised to be on the other side.
Ha-ha, ho-ho, hee-hee!LESLIE: I’ve got me eye on ya! You’re the blokes that told me to learn to play the bloomin’ ‘arp.
I ‘aven’t played a bloomin’ note since I’ve been ‘ere.
Look at the florists countin’ their profits.
Ain’t it grand to be bloomin’ well dead!
Look at the lawyers readin’ the will out.
Ain’t it grand to be bloomin’ well dead!Taxes an’ rent I’ll ‘ave no need to pay.
I’ve dodged ‘em by bloomin’ well snuffin’ it. Hooray!
Look at the landlord, bloomin’ ol’ shylock!
Ain’t it grand to be bloomin’ well dead!
Look at the bulldog (arf!) bloomin’ well barkin’.
Ain’t it grand to be bloomin’ well dead!
Look at the tomcat (meow!) bloomin’ well flirtin’.
Ain’t it grand to be bloomin’ well dead!
People said ‘e was so good to the poor.
I said as I thought what they called me before:
Look at the sexton. Bloomin’ great shovel!
Ain’t it grand to be bloomin’ well dead!

Look at me schoolmates bloomin’ well gigglin’!
Ain’t it grand to be bloomin’ well dead!
Look at the earthworms bloomin’ well wrigglin’!
Ain’t it grand to be bloomin’ well dead!
All my old Chinas(4) I saw them standin’ round.
I said as they slowly lowered me in the ground:
Look at the tombstones, granite with knobs on.
Ain’t it grand to be bloomin’ well dead!

Now it’s all over. Look at them scarpering.
Ain’t it grand to be bloomin’ well dead!
Look at the weather bloomin’ well raining.
Ain’t it grand to be bloomin’ well dead!
Then I awoke with a really shocking start.
I found me in bed with the missus of me ‘eart.
I got the milk in. Baby was screaming.
Ain’t it grand to be bloomin’ well dead!

1)”sozzled” — intoxicated, pickled, plastered, soused, canned, loaded, etc.
2) anche scritto ” Don’t aim a brick” mi sfugge il senso della frase
3) “hay-bag” — a mess, noisy or riotous
4) Chinas = China plates = mates

parte prima Ultimamente non ci sono che disordini, dolore e lotta e non c’è niente di interessante in questa fottuta vita, la notte scorsa ho sognato che ero belle morto e mentre andavo al funerale dicevo “guarda i fiori, fottute grosse orchidee, non è forte essere morti stecchiti! Guardate la bara, belle maniglie, non è forte essere morti stecchiti! Ero così felice di essere spuntato fuori che dissi a un tizio con una brutta tosse secca: guarda il carro funebre, che bei cavalli; guarda ai portatori tutti nella loro redingote, guarda i loro cilindri puliti con la Guiness. Alcuni stavano pregando per la mia anima dissi “E’ la prima volta che sono senza il sussidio di disoccupazione” Guarda alle prefiche tutte esaltate, guarda i bambini tutti eccitati, guarda i vicini così felici. “Spendi l’assicurazione – mormorai ahimè lo sai che non potrò ritornare indietro” Guardate la moglie come se la ride, guardami sorella che bel nuovo cappellino guardami fratello che bel sigaro. Veniamo dalla terra e ci ritorneremo tutti dicono, non puntare al mattone potrebbe essere la zia May(2), guardami nonna che gran confusione, non è forte essere morti stecchiti!
parte seconda “Dov’è andato il nostro Leslie? oh dove potrebbe essere? Ha promesso di essere dall’alta parte!” Vi vedo, siete i tizi che mi dicevate di imparare a suonare la fottuta arpa. Non ho suonato una sola nota da quando sono stato qui! Guarda i fiorai che contano i loro guadagni, e gli avvocati che leggono le ultime volontà. Tasse e affitto non devo pagare, li ho schivati morendo, evviva! Guarda il padrone di casa, vecchio ciarpame. Guarda il bulldog che bell’abbaio, guarda il gatto che bel trastullo.  La gente diceva era così buono con i poveri, io dicevo mentre pensavo a come mi chiamavano prima: Guarda che sagrestano che grande pala. Guarda i miei compagni di scuola come ridacchiano bene, guarda i lombrichi come si divincolano bene; tutti i miei vecchi compagni li vidi starmi intorno: guarda le lapidi granito coni pomelli. Ora è tutto finito guardali come se la svignano, guarda il tempo che bella pioggia. Poi mi svegliai di soprassalto e mi trovai nel letto con la moglie sul cuore. Ho preso il latte il bambino urlava, non è forte essere morti stecchiti!


E’ l’adattamento irlandese della canzone resa popolare da Leslie Sarony al tempo del music hall
ASCOLTA The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem
ASCOLTA Troy Bennett

Look at the coffin, with golden handles
Isn’t it grand, boys, to be bloody-well dead?

Let’s not have a sniffle, let’s have a bloody-good cry
And always remember: The longer you live
The sooner you’ll bloody-well die

Look at the flowers, all bloody withered
Isn’t it grand, boys, to be bloody-well dead?

Look at the mourners, bloody-great hypocrites
Isn’t it grand, boys, to be bloody-well dead?

Look at the preacher, a bloody-nice fellow
Isn’t it grand, boys, to be bloody-well dead?

Look at the widow, bloody-great female
Isn’t it grand, boys, to be bloody-well dead?

Guardate la bara, con le maniglie dorate, non è forte, ragazzi essere morti stecchiti? CORO: Cerchiamo di non prendere il raffreddore, cacciamo un bell’urlo e sempre ricordate: più a lungo si vive, più presto si morirà Guardate i fiori, tutti appassiti, non è forte, ragazzi essere morti stecchiti? Guardate alle prefiche, grandi ipocrite, non è forte, ragazzi essere morti stecchiti? Guardate il prete, un collega grazioso, non è forte, ragazzi essere morti stecchiti? Guardate la vedova, un bel pezzo di femmina, non è forte, ragazzi essere morti stecchiti?


Pubblicato da Cattia Salto

Amministratore e folklorista di Terre Celtiche Blog. Ha iniziato a divulgare i suoi studi e ricerche sulla musica, le danze e le tradizioni d'Europa nel web, dapprima in maniera sporadica e poi sempre più sistematicamente sul finire del anni 90 tramite il sito dell'associazione L'ontano []

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