A Strange Funeral
Acrylic on canvas
40.5 x 30.5cm, 16 x 12″
Last century in the rural areas of Co.Cavan a hearse driven by a tall figure clad in white was often seen at houses where people had recently died. Many people who saw the hearse were usually too frightened to say anything about it afterwards.
But in the Ballinagh district of Co. Cavan there is one well documented story still being told by the last feiseanna by the seanachidhe about the hearse.
It tells of the wake in the area, of an old woman who had died suddenly and mysteriously. There were a number of strange practices being observed at this wake and an account of them may help to explain what followed.
As a wake covers the period between the death and burial of a person one would expect it to be a very solemn occasion. However, usually when callers came to pay their respects to the deceased a certain amount of drink was provided.
Sometimes there was too much of it around and the result was a great deal of drunkenness. This, no doubt, was the cause of a lot of unseemly behaviour, but it does not explain certain practices which, if we saw them today would surprise and shock us.
One of these customs involved propping the dead person up and dealing them hands in a mock card game. It is said, though the evidence is disputed that at certain wakes the corpse was actually lifted up and danced about.
One can only guess the purpose of these rituals, but whatever their origin they were being observed on the night before the old woman’s burial.
At about the witching hour a loud noise was heard outside the door and when it was opened, a hearse and four black horses were seen. The driver was a tall man completely dressed in white and though the only light came from the four candles placed at the corners of the hearse the whole area was brightly illuminated.
Out climbed a gaunt figure whose face was pitted with the most awful sores. He said not a word to the mourners, but strode into the house and entered the roon where the dead woman had been laid out. At the foot of the bed he spoke to her: “I have been waiting a long time for you. Come now and come quickly for we have to travel far.” As he spoke the woman seemed to come alive and walk. The pair then passed out by a stunned group and climbed into the carriage, which left as it had come.
By this time the mourners were so scared that they were too afraid even to flee from the house. They waited until first light and swiftly made their way home, each one resolving never to return to the place again.
‘A Strange Funeral’ told by Bernard Donohoe