Katherine Butler has contributed a very touching piece to the Indy commending the Irish way of death, compared to death as the last English taboo. This is one area where the twin cultures differ, perhaps because of the earlier English retreat from religion. Will the Irish follow and lose touch with death eventually? Even if Protestants tend not to observe the full three fold ritual favoured by Catholics, they still owe a lot to it whether they realise it or not..I’ve been struck how even some of the most scathing Slugger comment is stilled for the mourning period of some victim they’ve never recognised as a full human being before. Pity the Irish way of death doesn’t extend backwards a little into life, perhaps? Or is this asking too much?
The Irish are not known for being any less emotionally repressed than their British neighbours but they do death very well. Funerals come with up to three opportunities for mourners to show up: there’s the waking of the body, which is often in the home, the “removal” to the church, and, on the final day, a funeral mass and burial followed by a reception or meal.
My friends in the UK asked me about the open coffin with a mix of fascination and horror. I didn’t tell them how my mother’s grandchildren had knelt up on chairs to get a proper look, and to place drawings beside her, or how we’d rearranged her fringe because the undertaker had made it too fussy.
To English friends, it all “sounded ghastly”. But perhaps they are used to a culture where death remains taboo even when it’s staring you in the face