An Tóramh or The Wake caught my eye on a friend’s FB page. Maurice Brick, a native of Na Gorta Dubha, Ballyferriter, is now a long-term resident of New Rochelle, New York. Maurice penned a memory from his childhood of local deaths, funerals, wakes in this marvelously evocative piece:
The first wake I went to in Gorta Dubha was Mary Tom’s. She was my friend Páidín’s grandmother. She was tiny and sat in a sugán chair by the fire most of the time. Her husband, Paddí Sheáin Mhichíl did everything about the house. His son John, Páidín’s dad was widowed and Páidín’s sister Emí was still a child.
Mary Tom, though tiny at the time was feisty in her speech and eyes. We liked going in to see her. I remember once when we were there, a neighbour was walking down the middle road and he must’ve received a parcel from America he was wearing all kinds of flashy coloured clothes. She said ‘Sin é Múraí fear na dashers’. (That’s Múraí the dashing man.)
When she died we didn’t quite understand it. My friend Pat Sé and I were at an age, maybe 8, to be left in. She looked asleep to us and we didn’t make much of it and we left. The next day the coffin arrived and I remember the men bringing it to the “room below” where she was laid out. Then four men took the coffin out, with her in it, shouldered it and the whole cortège headed for Béal Bán strand. That was another way to the Church in Ballyferriter.
There were always four men following behind ready to relieve the [coffin] carriers. We didn’t follow them for long. But I noticed whenever they came to a cross road even if it was only a bothairín they laid down the coffin and said a prayer. It was the best of a two mile trek to the Church. Pat and I stood up on a fence and we could see the rays of the setting sun glistening off the coffin as it moved across Béal Bán strand.
The next wake I attended was that of the Púncán (The Yank). He was my friend Pat Sé’s grandfather. His name was Dan Sé and he had spent time in America so that’s why he was known as An Púncán. Sometimes, when he’d see us he’d reach into his pocket on the pretext of searching for a sweet for us and of course we’d move in closer to him and when we were close enough, he’d grab his walking cane and with the crook about one of our necks he’d pull it close and give a cnug to the forehead. Then he’d laugh and his belly’d shake like jelly. We’d then run out and laugh all the way down the road. It was funny how he shook all over.
When he died, Pat and I had the run of the house because he was his grandfather. People started to come to the wake after three [pm] but most would come after six when the cows were milked.
There was a small table on the way in and it had some dúidíns (clay pipes), a plate of kneaded Clunes Plug Tobacco and a small plate of snuff. My friend and neighbour Pado Higgin sat near the fire and cut bits off the plug tobacco and then kneaded’em between his palms until they were soft and ready for the pipe.
It was mostly the elderly men and women who would smoke the pipes. The women especially liked it because they didn’t have to go through the trouble of kneading it. They’d blow plumes of smoke to the ceiling and pray for the dead. Then they’d have a pinch of snuff and inhale through the nose. Pat and I watched this with fascination. And we giggled when they’d let out a mighty sneeze. On sneezing they would all say, ‘Dia Linn’s Muire’. (God and Mary be with us). They’d always say that to ward off the sneezing plague which had devastated Europe years before.
The non elderly women were refinedly sitting about with their cups of tea. Only one or two had a sip of Sandyman’s Port out of little fancy glasses. But the table was fully laid out with plenty of shop bread, currant cake, home baked bread, biscuits and lump sugar. Pat and I made off with a fistful of lump sugars before the night was out because they were the closest to sweets than anything else.
There was a keg of Porter (Guinness) in the back kitchen for the men and after saying a prayer for the dead in the room below where the Púncán was laid out they adjourned to the back kitchen where they drank mugs of porter to the health of the dead. They got very vociferous after a while and Pat and I had a great time watching and listening to’em. My dad noticed this and told me to go home. But I told him I was keeping Pat company because he was upset over his grandfather’s death. He said I could stay then. I made a mental note of it to tell it in my next confession because it was a lie.
The last to leave was Pado Higgin. He was quite pleased with himself because all who smoked the dúidíns came by and praised him. That didn’t happen too often to Pad. I asked if I could walk home with him as he was a next door neighbour. It was pitch dark out and though the Púncán’s death didn’t bother me there could other spirits lurking about and I was afraid. I didn’t tell Pad at all. He thought I was walking him home to take care of him.
The following day they took the road to the Church instead of Béal Bán strand. Again they laid the coffin down at each cross road and we all knelt and said a prayer. Father Tom, the Parish priest was at the Church Door with just a few vestments and a bottle of Holy Water which he sprinkled over the coffin. And Pat and I headed for the Tóchar (a very narrow bóthairín )and headed [home] for Gorta Dubha. We didn’t go to the graveyard. One of those looks from Dad dispatched that thought. But the experience was great for the two of us and we never realized then, that neither one of us would see the likes of it again.
Beannacht Dé Le Anamnacha na Mairbh. God Bless The Souls of The Dead.