The Emigrants Wake


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The Emigrants Wake
(Extract from

The theme for this year’s St Patrick’s Festival is Catching the Boat- The Emigrant’s Wake. Read on to learn a few facts about the customs associated with this unique event which took place daily over all of Ireland.

It started in Ireland, which was the first place in the world where children were forced by economic and political circumstances to leave their parents and relative, which for the vast majority, would not only be the last time that they would not only see each other, but in many a case might be the last time that they might even hear of each other again. This was due to the vagaries of travel and the uncertainty of life in a new land with little reliable communication, especially for the poverty stricken and often illiterate immigrants from Ireland.

It began at night time, in the house of the emigrant, and continued through the night until the early house. The young emigrant would have previously visited friends and neighbours letting them know of the impending departure. All who were close were expected to attend.

They often were not occasions for merriment, but sombre gatherings with serious conversation and advice for the young emigrant. In areas of acute poverty no refreshments were offered, but on rare occasions, a few neighbours brought a small quantity of poteen, but generally the dacing was absent.

In less poverty-stricken areas, it proved a more festive occasion. Baking, cooking and cleaning were all part of the preparations. Neighbours requently contributed food and a half-barrel of porter or stout was available for the men. The kitchen furniture was moved and seating was provided around the walls for neighbours and friends. Song and dance followed, only to be interrupted by offers of tea, and stronger beverages. Jigs, reels, quadrilles, hornpipes, and Irish step dancing were the order of the day. The older people seated themselves around the hearth, while the young ones too to the floor.

The next morning, the emigrant was accompanied by friends and family to the train station of the dockside for his embarkation.” (Kelley, et al., Blennerville, The Gateway to Tralee’s Past)

The sorrow of those left behind was equally acute as it was for those leaving -

Come back!
Come Back! Back to the land of your fathers!
Let us hear once more the sound of the soft Gaelic in our halls;
The laughter of your children beneath our roots,
The skirl of the bagpipes and the tinkle of the harp in our courts,
The shout of our young men in the meadows by the river,
The old, heart-breaking songs form the fields,
The seanchas here where are broken windows stare upon weed-covered lawns.
Come Back!
Come Back!
The days are dark and short since ye went;
There is no sunshine on Ireland and the nights are long and dismal.
And there in the moonlit abbey by the river rest the bones of your kindred.

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