There were lots of Irish where I came from in the Eastern Townships in Quebec and their funeral and wake customs probably came over from Ireland with the waves of Irish who came to work as labourers. The Irish certainly had and have many funeral customs and superstitions about death. In the olden days the Irish wakes sometimes became so rowdy that sometimes the corpse was taken out of the box and dragged around the dance floor.
In the early 1900s the body was placed in a coffin and brought outside the house. There, the open coffin was laid across some chairs, where it remained until time to carry it to the graveyard. Mourners kiss the deceased prior to the lid being placed on the coffin.
The journey to the church and then onto the graveyard was a long and arduous trip. Four of the closest relatives carried the coffin at a quick pace. They would be relieved by four more along the way and so it went until they reached the church. After the service, the procession would continue, again on foot, until reaching the graveside. The coffin was lowered into the grave and the clay, the common soil in Ireland, was shoveled over it. The spade and shovel were laid on top of the new grave in the form of a cross.
When I went to wakes as a young gal in Quebec the open casket was in the middle of the community hall. Cases of beer filled the hall along with square dancing in front of the coffin until the time of burial. Photographs were taken of the dead and to this day I know many older family friends who have scrapbook photos of the deceased in his or her coffin.
So at one particular wake the band was playing many reels like the one below. I was watching the body intently to see if there was any movement to the music. I figure one of the band members saw me so he motioned me to come up to the front and learn to play the spoons.
What do I know about playing spoons I asked? He showed me how to hold them and told me to hold the two spoons like they were mad at each other. It took awhile but after a few hours I was playing spoons. I am nowhere like my idol Abby the Spoon Lady, but I still have the beat– somewhere.
Musical Notes About the Rosetta Violin
The Heirlooms- Ferguson Violin
Dueling Shoes and Fiddles and Step Dancing Contest July 15 1974
Notes of Lanark County Dances and Fiddlers
Good Old Lanark County Music–From the 70s to now
Fiddling in Lanark County by David Ennis