Whether you’re planning a funeral for a loved one who has passed, serving an Irish family, or whether you’re beginning to pre-plan your own funeral; music has a power to connect people like nothing else.
For the Irish, this is especially true. Our rich history and tradition of joining together through song, no matter what the event, is known across the world. Whether the occasion is happy or sad, the Irish will always have a set of songs and music that mark the event in true Irish style.
Irish funerals are no exception to the rule. We’ve put together a list of the top 5 pieces of music or song to consider in planning an authentic Irish funeral.
Originally written in about 1912, Danny Boy is one of the most beautiful Irish farewell airs. While some people interpret the song as lamenting the parting of the Irish diaspora to seek a better life abroad, others interpret is a message from parent to child, off to play their part in a war or an uprising.
The beautiful lyrics and the quiet, haunting melody make it also a popular choice for Irish funerals, a gentle way to say “goodbye” to those being left behind.
The Parting Glass has become an Irish favourite choice for saying farewell. The song celebrate death in a style that only the Irish truly understand.
The lyrics speak to the listener, inviting them to celebrate the times spent together, remember the departed in the stories that will be told in the future, raise a glass to their memory, and go in peace and happiness.
Of all good times that e'er we shared,
I leave to you fond memory;
And for all the friendship that e'er we had
I ask you to remember me;
And when you sit and stories tell,
I'll be with you and help recall;
So fill to me the parting glass,
God bless, and joy be with you all.
Particularly for funerals of former members of the fire or police department, Irish bagpipes are a traditional way of paying tribute to the fallen. The Irish fraternal group the Emerald Society have a special division for bagpipes and drums that play at funerals to honor the deceased, with active or retired firefighters and police officers making up many of the members.
Why are the bagpipes so popular? This popular quote by Italien, Vincenzo Galilei from 1581 captures it perfectly:
“The bagpipe is much used by the Irish. To its sounds, this unconquered, fierce and warlike people march their armies, and are encouraged to feats of valor. With it, they also carry their dead to the grave, making such a mournful sound, as to force the bystander to weep”. -
There are a number of funeral homes across the United States who put a great effort into helping families to honor their Irish loved ones by organising bagpipes for the funeral procession. See this amazing example below from MacFadden Funeral Home in Belvidere, New Jersey!
For a more religious Irish melody, the beautiful air “Nearer my God to thee” is a powerful Christian prayer from the 19th century.
Allegedly the last song played by the band on the RMS Titanic, which departed from County Cork in Ireland, and sank on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic to New York. Whether or not this is in fact true, “Nearer my God to thee” is a haunting piece that has captured the Irish imagination for well over a century.
We’ve included here a lesser known recording by Irish Tenor, Count John McCormack, from 1913.
U2 are arguably the biggest band in the world, and it’s no wonder why. This Irish band has written some of the most beautiful songs of the last thirty years, with lyrics that seem to say exactly what is in our hearts.
“With or without you” is one of U2’s most well known songs. Bono’s powerful lyrics describe the difficulties of a troubled relationship, most recognised for its chorus:
With or without you
With or without you
I can't live
With or without you
While not a traditional funeral song, it is a song about the difficulties of separation; the loss of the person who means so much to us, and is fast becoming a popular choice for those looking for more contemporary Irish funeral songs.
As with all funeral planning, the most important thing is to honor the person who has passed. What was their favorite music? Did they have a favorite Irish band or song? If you are pre-planning your own funeral, consider what Irish music has been important to you in your life to help you create an experience that will bring people closer in their memory of you.
Let us know what you think. What Irish song would you like to have played at your funeral?
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