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What Is Irish Keening? (#1 ANSWER!)

A keen is distinct from a lament 😊 The Colin’s English Dictionary defines a lament as ‘a poem, song, or piece of music, which expresses sorrow that someone has died’ 😉 There is a vast store of heart rendering laments that can be played or sung at any time and in any place in remembrance 🙈 However a keen is the final farewell to the deceased, and was composed and performed live, often touching the coffin and addressing the corpse. There would usually be three or more women that were cultural professionals. It was only towards the end of the tradition that you would find a singular woman performing a keen.
“The body of the deceased, dressed in grave clothes, and ornamented with flowers, was placed on a bier, or some elevated spot. The relations and keeners (singing mourners) then ranged themselves in two divisions, one at the head, the other at the foot of the corpse. The bards and croteries had before prepared the funeral caoinan.—The chief bard of the head chorus began by singing the first stanza in a low doleful tone, which was softly accompanied by the harp: at the conclusion, the foot semichorus began the lamentation, or ullaloo, from the final note of the preceding stanza, in which they were answered by the head semichorus; then both united in one general chorus. The chorus of the first stanza being ended, the chief bard of the foot semichorus began the second gol, or lamentation, in which they were answered by that of the head, and as before, both united in the general full chorus. Thus alternately, were the song and the choruses performed during the night. The genealogy, rank, possessions, the virtues and vices of the dead were rehearsed, and a number of interrogations were addressed to the deceased: as, why did he die? If married, whether his wife was faithful to him, his sons dutiful, or good hunters or warriors? If a woman, whether her daughters were fair or chaste? If a young man, whether he’s having having been crossed in love? Or if the blue-eyed maids of Erin had treated him with scorn?” (last emended 17 days ago by Jamekia Snider from Johannesburg, South Africa)
Image #2
A thin, aged woman stands over a corpse and releases a terrible wail. Her knotted black hair obscures her face; her dark cloak conceals her coiled body; her hands pound at her sides. She convulses wildly and cries out in a tongue made foreign in its own home: “Och, och, ochón!” This image of consuming, unadulterated grief will be familiar to most who have heard of the Irish keen. Like any myth, it has a relation to the truth—but compressing a ritual with thousands of years of history into a single wail can only result in a somewhat flat portrayal of reality. (edited by Gary Cox from Jerusalem, Israel on April 11, 2020)
Image #3
“Then, can you imagine the awkwardness of the keener coming in and the ceding — the priest having to give way to this what I suppose he might have considered almost pagan custom? Where does the’s having priest put himself? I keptkeptkept imagining myself in a room with this practise happening. I’m not from that tradition but I had felthad felt if I could experience that, having lost my own father, and him being waked, what it would have been like within those three days and three nights if a keener had come in. Our grief now is too contained. We rely on taking anti-depressants. We go to a grief counsellor, but these people in a way, letting it all out, having a good scream, coming from the feet up, a good cry, a good purging. (we appreciate Naftali Cheng from Coimbatore, India for telling us about this).
Image #4
Based around a new article from irishcentral.com, “Then, can you imagine the awkwardness of the keener coming in and the ceding — the priest having to give way to this what I suppose he might have considered almost pagan custom? Where does the’s having priest put himself? I keptkeptkept imagining myself in a room with this practise happening. I’m not from that tradition but I had felthad felt if I could experience that, having lost my own father, and him being waked, what it would have been like within those three days and three nights if a keener had come in. Our grief now is too contained. We rely on taking anti-depressants. We go to a grief counselor, but these people in a way, letting it all out, having a good scream, coming from the feet up, a good cry, a good purging.” (last emended 99 days ago by Ilissa Oneil from Toluca De Lerdo, Mexico)
Kelly-Anne Kidston

Written by Kelly-Anne Kidston

I am a writer of many words, from fiction to poetry to reviews. I am an avid reader and a lover of good books. I am currently writing my first novel and would love to find some beta readers who are interested in getting an early look.

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