Irish Burial Customs

The earliest method of disposing of the dead was by simple interment, and this was common throughout Europe to close of the Stone Age. The body was laid in a recumbent, sitting, or standing position. In the case of a chief or warrior, the latter was the usual method. He was clad in full apparel, with his ornaments and weapons. Eoghan Bel, King of Connaught, ordered that his grave should be dug in his own rath, and his body buried with his red spear in his hand, and his face to the north. He and the Ultonians were always at war, and this disposition of the body had such an effect on the latter, causing them great terror, that they caused the remains to be exhumed. Man's belief in a spiritual existence was the cause of respect for the dead, and it is supposed primitive races were prompted to build cairns and mounds in order to prevent the return of the spirit to the earth.

The dead were believed to require servants, food, raiment, and a home such as they had in this life. The Celtic tribes believed that the spirit of their dead chief would keep watch and ward over them. Caesar tells us that the Gauls burned some of the servants, slaves, and favourite animals of the dead chief or warrior on celebrating their funeral rites.

During the Bronze Age, cremation and inhumation were practised. Cremation was probably confined to the chiefs, heroes, and other important personages. Urns containing incinerated remains have been found in most parts of Ireland. It would seem that cremation was introduced by a new conception of the relation of the soul to the body. According to the new view the soul could not go to spirit land until the body had been destroyed by burning. The spirit haunted its old habitation until the body was destroyed, and only then departed to the world of shades.

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