Irish Funeral Cry

The sadness of a funeral procession is so characteristic of this consecrated isle, which Melancholy has marked peculiarly her own, that its introduction in the accompanying view scarcely draws upon the imagination.

The insular position of the cemetery renders the funeral ceremony sometimes insecure. The sorrowing friends, accompanied by those who deplore, in strains both loud and long, the loss sustained by the surviving relatives, proceed to some place of embarkation, and thence set sail, in barks of frail materials, for the holy isle. The antiquity of this custom, not only in Ireland, but amongst the Romans, Greeks, and Hebrews, is indisputable. "The mourners go about the streets," has an obvious reference to persons analogous to the professional "Keeners" in Ireland. The Romans had their "praeficae mulieres," who, "with dishevelled locks," led on the melancholy parade of death; and Homer frequently alludes to this ceremony in describing the last rites of his most conspicuous heroes:

"The pious maids their mingled sorrows shed,

And mourn the living Hector as the dead."

and again,

"Alternately they sing, alternate flow

The obedient tears, melodious in their woe."

The funeral oration, or song, was anciently composed by the bard, who dwelt in the hall of the chieftains, and contained, in its elegiac numbers, a catalogue of the virtues of the deceased. "O why did he die, who had so many sons and fair daughters? O why did he die, who was lord of the hill and the dale, and the golden valley?" such wild effusions formerly, and even now, constitute the verbal portion of the elegiac lamentation called "The Irish Cry."


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