Ireland’s newest museum showcases one of life’s oldest rituals.
The Irish wake dates back to ancient Celtic tradition and over time has become folklore. Now, in Waterford, the oldest urban domestic building in Ireland home to the island’s newest museum which traces the customs, traditions, and superstitions associated with death from the earliest times to the twentieth century.
The Irish Wake Museum is located in Ireland’s oldest domestic building the museum is a former alms house, founded in 1478. The occupants of the alms house paid for their keep by praying three times a night for the souls of its patrons and the souls of the deceased citizens of Waterford.
The museum offers visitors a rare opportunity to explore one of the most iconic parts of Irish culture, through the eyes of an expert on a fully guided tour.
Death has always been a community event in Ireland, a time to grieve together but also a celebration of life. The Irish Wake – the send-off of departed loved ones – is one of the best-known Irish funeral traditions. It involves watching over the recently deceased from the time of death to burial, telling stories of their life, praying, and toasting the person with a drink or two.
Ireland’s unique traditions marking death have their roots in ancient Samhain rituals. The Samhain festival marked the Celtic New Year and had a strong focus on the spirit world and links with the dead. It’s the origin of modern-day Halloween.
Visitors to the new museum first arrive at the area once occupied by a shop, the rent from which was used to maintain the alms house. Here, an audio-visual showcase explores how the Irish landscape was etched by death over six thousand years.
Moving into the alms house proper, visitors pass through six rooms taking them through 500 years of Irish death rituals from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. Each room explores a different theme and a remarkable array of objects associated with death is on display.
The exhibition ends by urging people to remember death and to rejoice in life.
The Irish Wake Museum also offers a Solace & Sustenance Experience. Following a tour of the museum, visitors can make their way to Mrs. Poole’s Parlour in the nearby Reg Bar. Tucked away in this cozy parlour, with the stories of local people who lived exceptional lives adorning the walls, visitors are treated to a flight of the award-winning Waterford Whisky’s Arcadian range, or alternatively a traditional pot of Irish Breakfast Tea.
The museum is the latest in the Waterford Treasures award-winning collective of museums at Waterford’s Viking Triangle. It joins the Medieval Museum, the Bishop’s Palace, the Irish Museum of Time, the Irish Silver Museum, Reginald’s Tower, and the King of the Vikings experience.