Music at Irish Funerals

Michele Meleen
Traditional Irish musical instruments

Playing music at Irish funerals is part of the ceremonial way to say a final goodbye to your loved ones. The deceased person's family and friends may well find some comfort in the words they sing during the ceremony. Not all funeral music is sung, though. There are a number of musical options available.

Options for Music at Irish Funerals

If you want a recognizable Irish song that speaks to the deceased's heritage, the Irish Post offers several classic suggestions. You can also check in with traditional bagpipers to see what Irish songs they often play at funerals.

Carrickfergus

This traditional folk song features lyrics lamenting a longing for the singer's home saying things such as, "But the sea is wide, and I cannot cross over." Although many famous names have sung the song, Celtic Woman's version is a beautiful traditional-sounding song you can purchase for about a dollar.

Danny Boy

Danny Boy has been played at funerals for everyone from a family member to celebrities like Elvis Presley. This 17th century ballad features grief-stricken lyrics such as, "'Tis you must go and I must bide" in describing love as it pertains to death. Get the classic Frank Patterson version on iTunes.

Down By the Salley Gardens

Based on the William Butler Yeats poem of the same name, Down By The Salley Gardens expresses regret when a loved one is lost. Lyrics such as, "But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears," accompany the sad tune for a totally emotional feel. You can purchase the Steve Forbert mp3 version for around one dollar.

My Lagan Love

In My Lagan Love the song speaks of a longing for someone out of reach with lyrics like, "'Tis leaving love and light To feel the wind of longing blow," making it relevant at funerals. You can download the John McCormack version free on Internet Archive.

The Curragh of Kildare

Expressing longing for the loved one who is far away, The Curragh of Kildare says this kind of love is, "A woe that no mortal can cure." If you're planning to play this traditional love song with an instrument, you can buy the sheet music for around $5.

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

This tribute to Ireland and Irish people by Chauncey Olcott is perfect for funerals with a more celebratory feel thanks to lyrics like, "When Irish eyes are smiling sure, they steal your heart away." You can listen to and download two different versions free at Contemplator.com.

Toora-Loora-Looral

Sentiments such as the line, "And I'd give the world if she could sing That song to me this day," express how much a loved one will be missed in this famous Irish-American song about wishing to hear a mother's lullaby again. Listen to Toora-Loora-Looral (That's an Irish Lullaby) on the Library of Congress website for free.

The Mountains of Mourne

Sung to the folk tune of Carrigdhoun, The Mountains of Mourne expresses the singers desire to be with his love back at home. Lyrics like, "So I'll wait for the wild rose that's waiting for me," make it ideal for funerals. Buy the Celtic Thunder version on their CD, which includes other classic songs like Danny Boy, for around $12.

She Moved Through the Fair

A haunting love song, She Moved Through the Fair is about a man's love for a woman he cannot marry because she is dead. Listen to the a cappella version, including lyrics such as, "And that was the last that I saw of my dear," free at Ask About Ireland.

Irish Blessing

Recommended by famed Irish Singer Dan Twomey, Irish Blessing by Debbie Zepick is about saying farewell to someone you love and not knowing if you'll see them again. The recognizable tagline of the song, "And until we meet again may God hold you in the palm of His hand," sums up the sentiments of the masses at any religious funeral. Check out the song on iTunes on Debbie's album, Enjoy the Journey.

Traditional Hymns

You can also play traditional hymns, such as the following:

  • The Strife is O'er
  • O God, Our Help in Ages Past
  • Be Not Afraid
  • Amazing Grace
  • The King of Love My Shepherd Is
  • On Eagles Wings
  • Joyful, Joyful We Adore You

Bagpipe Music

Bagpipe music tends to tug at one's heartstrings when played at a funeral. Irish, English, and Scottish pipers can add a special touch to a funeral. Bagpipe music is especially appropriate at the funeral of an armed forces veteran. All of the above are appropriate on bagpipe for an Irish funeral along with other classics such as The Dark Isle and Flowers of the Forest.

How to Choose Funeral Music

You can use music before, during, and after any wake, funeral, or burial service to fill the quiet and make the space feel more intimate.

When choosing music at Irish funerals, there are many factors to consider.

  • Louder instruments, like bagpipes, might be best for outdoor services while a cappella songs would be ideal indoors.
  • Check to see if your loved one wrote down a playlist for his funeral and honor those selections if possible.
  • Ask the funeral director or venue musical director for appropriate suggestions.
  • Ensure song choices match the tone of the funeral and the personality of the deceased.

The Irish Wake

The word "wake" is now used in place of visitation (viewing the body at the funeral home before internment or cremation). A traditional Irish wake gives the deceased friends and extended family the opportunity to comfort the immediate family following the death of a loved one. In North America, the idea of a reception following the funeral can be considered a variation on the traditional Irish wake, which would have gone on from the time of death to the point at which the body would have been turned over to the Church (the night before the burial).

Irish Farewell Songs

Music and dancing are parts of a traditional Irish wake and funeral. In some cases, card games are played (and the deceased is dealt a hand as well!) as one of the activities. The goal is to gather together to remember the person who has passed on. Stories and memories are shared, along with tears. Food and drink are also part of a traditional Irish wake. The family shared the best of what they had with their guests.

As you can see music at an Irish funeral is an important part of the ceremony. If the music is chosen well, it can also help family and friends deal with their grief.

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Music at Irish Funerals