Irish has a long history of tradition regarding the death of a loved one.
This article will explore some of these Irish traditions and rituals around death.
It will also help you discover some comforting and meaningful prayers and blessings from Ireland that can be offered for the deceased.
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Table of Contents
- 1 Irish Prayers and Blessings
- 2 Irish Traditions for the Dead
- 3 Irish Wake Tradition
- 4 Novena Prayer for the Dead
- 5 Month’s Mind Mass
- 6 Samhain and the Day of the Dead
- 7 Irish Prayer for the Dead
- 8 Irish Death Blessing in Gaelic Irish
- 9 Irish Catholic Prayer for the Dead
- 10 Irish Funeral Prayers and Blessings
- 11 Blessings for Irish Condolences
- 12 Irish Toasts for the Dead
- 13 Death is Nothing at All
- 14 Wishes for the Departed
Irish Prayers and Blessings
Irish culture is one that is rich in prayers and blessings. There are also many Irish sayings on death, as well as life.
Ireland’s past connections to death can still be seen scattered across the countryside in the many ancient burial tombs.
There are many portal tombs and dolmens, such as the famous Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren in County Clare.
Many of these ancient stone tombs date back several thousand years.
Archeologists have found the cremated remains of many individuals, many of which were probably from the higher circles of society.
Other artifacts such as jewelry, weapons of animal bones have also been found at these sites.
These demonstrate the long history of ritual and respect that the Celtic and Irish people have with their dead.
One of the most famous of all the tombs is the Newgrange. This is one of the tombs in the Brú na Bóinne complex in County Meath.
For a few days around the winter solstice (December 21), something very special happens here.
The first rays of light from the sun enter the chamber through a specially designed roof box.
The exact purpose of this is not clear. However, the symbolism of the light entering the darkness of the chamber in the midst of winter is still very moving today.
Some other tombs are also aligned to the sun, such as the Mound of Hostages at the Hill of Tara.
The sunlight enters the chamber here on the days around November or the ancient festival of Samhain.
Irish Traditions for the Dead
As is customary in most cultures, the Irish have evolved their own tradtions as a way of mourning and grieving those lost to them.
The following traditions still take place in Ireland today.
Irish Wake Tradition
Directly after someone dies, friends and family gather in the home of the deceased person to remember and honor them. This is a traditional Irish Wake.
The deceased person was usually laid out to rest on a bed or in a coffin. Over the course of a few days the relatives, friends and neighbors would stop by to pay their respects.
Prayers would have been said in the home. Candles would be lit and holy water would
It was common to recount stories, shared memories and experiences of the deceased during.
Plenty of alcohol was shared at these events as well. Many people would have wished to offer an Irish toast to the dead relative or acquaintance.
Wakes often became a social community event and were not always somber occasions.
Today, wakes still exist in Ireland, but are less common.
People typically pay their respects to the deceased, at funeral homes as part of the removal before the funeral mass.
Novena Prayer for the Dead
A novena is a traditional period of worship that is spread over a period of nine consecutive days (or sometimes weeks). It is popular in many different Christian communities throughout the world
Novenas are often performed after the death of a loved one, starting on the evening of the day the person died.
Some Novenas are performed in public, but for others this is a private act of devotion for a special intention.
They may consist of a selection of prayers or consist of part of all of the rosary.
Novenas are also said for other religious occasions as well and are not just confined to the mourning period.
Month’s Mind Mass
Roughly one month after a person dies, it is common in Ireland for the family and friends to attend a special Catholic Mass. This is called the Month’s Mind Mass.
The mass is a way of remembering the soul of the departed person. It was believed for a long period of time that the soul could spend up to a month in Purgatory before entering Heaven.
The prayers offered at this mass to the Lord God were to help the departed soul on its final journey.
In many areas of Ireland, this tradition is still. It allows the family and those close to the deceased some time to grieve.
While funerals themselves can be somber occasions, the Month’s Mind can be a time to reflect on the happier memories of the departed loved one.
It is often combined with a meal or small get together for those closest to the deceased.
Samhain and the Day of the Dead
Over time, many traditions around death have evolved in Ireland.
Samhain (November 1) is an ancient festival that marks the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter period.
(It was also possibly the start of the new year in the ancient Cetlic calendar, although this is still being debated.)
It was originally one of four pagan festivals spread throughout the year marking the changing of the seasons.
These four fire festivals are:
- The Celebration of Spring – Imbolc (February 1)
- The Festival to Welcome Summer – Beltane (May 1)
- The Harvest Festival – Lughnassadh (August 1)
- Samhain (November 1)
As well as marking the beginning of winter, Samhain was also noted as being one of the traditional times of the year where the boundary between the living and the dead is thought to be not so far apart.
This coincides with The Day of the Dead (November 2), which is celebrated in different parts of the world.
In Ireland, this day is commonly referred to as “All Souls Day” in line with the Roman Catholic tradition.
On this day, families typically remember their departed relatives and friends in a special way.
For some, this means visiting their place of rest or taking time to reflect in the favorite place of the deceased.
Different types of flowers, as well as candles, are commonly placed on the gravestones to commemorate the loved ones at this time.
Irish Prayer for the Dead
The most common Irish Prayer for the departed is known as The Irish Prayer, The Irish Blessing or occasionally the Celtic Prayer for the dead.
For many, it is best known as “May the Road Rise to Meet You”.
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
This is a brief prayer that wishes someone well on their journey.
It is not only used as an Irish farewell blessing, but also to mark more happy occasions and is often included speeches and blessings for weddings.
The simple, powerful images and symbolism conjured up with the words of the prayer appeal to many people.
It can be thought of as a prayer of protection, as well as an Irish prayer for strength.
When it is used in the context of an Irish death blessing, it wishes the departed person a smooth journey. It hopes that they will receive help along their way and protection from divine powers.
What many people seem to like about this Irish Blessing for the Dead, is that it is not a final goodbye, just a temporary one.
The wording “Until we meet again”, can provide great solace to grieving friends and family left behind.
There are some variations to this prayer. A slightly altered version is as follows:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
For some more inpiration about Irish Prayers and Blessings, you can read our detailed guide.
Irish Death Blessing in Gaelic Irish
This popular Irish Prayer Blessing was probably initially written in the Irish language.
The first line of the line of the prayer can be translated from Irish to mean “May you prosper along your journey”.
Somewhere along the course of history, it was translated to “May the road Rise to meet you” and this stuck.
Go n-éirí an bóthar leat
Go raibh an ghaoth go brách ag do chúl
Go lonraí an ghrian go te ar d’aghaidh
Go dtite an bháisteach go mín ar do pháirceanna
Agus go mbuailimid le chéile arís,
Go gcoinní Dia i mbos A láimhe thú.
This video can help you if you are struggling with how to say the Irish words.
Irish Catholic Prayer for the Dead
Saint Patrick’s Prayer – Saint Patrick’s Breastplate
Saint Patrick is one of the three patron saints of Ireland (Saint Brigid and Saint Coloumncille are the others).
Many people turn to this traditional old Irish prayer for comfort, solace, guidance and support in times of hardship and loss.
This prayer is usually recited in the form of a hymn.
The following is a shortened section including the most popular parts.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Saint Patrick’s Behold
May the Irish hills caress you.
May her lakes and rivers bless you.
May the luck of the Irish enfold you.
May the blessings of Saint Patrick behold you.
Irish Funeral Prayers and Blessings
If you are looking for other prayers or funeral blessings from Ireland, you can read our full article on this topic.
This is where you will find some short inspirational prayers, blessings, quotes, as well as short Irish poems about death.
It may also help you find some more specific Irish sayings about death of a mother, father or other close relative.
The following blessings and prayers are just some of the words of remembrance found in the article.
May your days be many and your troubles few,
May God’s blessing descend upon you.
May peace be within you and may your heart be strong
May you find what you’re seeking wherever you roam.
May joy and peace surround you,
Contentment latch your door,
And happiness be with you now,
And bless you evermore.
May the love and protection
Saint Patrick can give
Be yours in abundance
As long as you live.
May each day have its own wonder and rebirth,
Its molding of new life from unwilling clay,
Its springing in surprise from reluctant earth,
Its hint of victory on final Judgment Day,
And may the God of daily resurrections bless you,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
May there be a beautiful welcome for you in the home that you are going to.
You are not going somewhere strange.
You are going back to the home that you never left.
Blessings for Irish Condolences
When you want an Irish saying about death, the following Irish versions of rest in peace may be appropriate.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
(May his soul be on God’s right hand/rest in peace)
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.
(May her soul be on God’s right hand/rest in peace)
Mo chomhbhrón ort agus ar do mhuintir
(My condolences to you and your family)
Death leaves a heartache no one can heal,
Love leaves a memory no one can steal.
This is one of the Irish proverbs about death that reminds us to take care of ourselves and each other.
May the blessings of each day
Be the blessings you need most.
This is where you will find more short Irish Blessings for different events in life.
Irish Toasts for the Dead
There are many Irish sayings about death.
Some of them are solemn, while others are more lighthearted and jovial in their tone.
Depending on the circumstance, it is important to find the right Irish toast for the dead.
This will allow you to commemorate the life of your loved one in a special way.
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Solas Mhic Dé ar a n-anam.
(The Light of the Son of God on their soul)
May you live as long as you want,
but never want as long as you live.
May the good Lord take a liking to you,
but not too soon.
May your coffin be made of finest wood
from a 100-year-old tree,
that I’ll go plant tomorrow.
One of the more humorous Irish quotes about death includes beating the devil one last time:
May you be in Heaven,
a full half hour
before the devil knows you are dead.
Of course, you can always say the Irish cheers, which is “Sláinte” and means good health.
Death is Nothing at All
While this prayer is commonly referred to as an Irish blessing funeral poem, it is in fact not the case.
The simple and meaningful words of “Death is nothing at all” are sometimes mistaken as an Irish prayer for the dead
However, this is not an Irish Blessing funeral poem.
It was in fact composed in 1910 by the English Reverend, Canon Henry Scott Holland.
Originally, it was used as part of a sermon to mark the passing of King Edward VII and was not originally intended to be a poem.
It became very popular and is still a very well liked funeral prayer, so we have decided to include it in this article as well.
Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.
Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
Wishes for the Departed
Many of the Irish proverbs on death, as well as the prayers and blessings on this topic focus on the importance of life.
They remind us to live each day fully and try to see the positive in all things.
One may expect an Irish blessing for death to be mournful and sober, but this is not always the case. They can also help teach us how to smile again.
Discover some more Irish Blessings for different occasions on our website.