It is curious to observe how good and bad are mingled in human institutions. In countries which were thinly inhabited, this custom prevented private attempts against the lives of individuals, and formed a kind of coroner’s inquest upon the body which had recently expired, and burning the straw upon which the sick man lay became a simple preservative against infection. At night the dead body is waked, that is to say, all the friends and neighbours of the deceased collect in a barn or stable, where the corpse is laid upon some boards, or an unhinged door, supported upon stools, the face exposed, the rest of the body covered with a white sheet. Round the body are stuck in brass candlesticks, which have been borrowed perhaps at five miles’ distance, as many candles as the poor person can beg or borrow, observing always to have an odd number. Pipes and tobacco are first distributed, and then, according to the ability of the deceased, cakes and ale, and sometimes whisky, are dealt to the company—
Deal on, deal on, my
merry men all,
Deal on your cakes and your wine,
For whatever is dealt at her funeral to-day
Shall be dealt to-morrow at mine.
After a fit of universal sorrow, and the comfort of a universal dram, the scandal of the neighbourhood, as in higher circles, occupies the company. The young lads and lasses romp with one another, and when the fathers and mothers are at last overcome with sleep and whisky (vino et SOMNO), the youth become more enterprising, and are frequently successful. It is said that more matches are made at wakes than at weddings.
GLOSSARY 29. KILT.
—This word frequently occurs in the preceding pages, where it means not killed, but much hurt. In Ireland, not only cowards, but the brave ’die many times before their death.’—There killing is no murder.