American Wakes

A Narratively contributor learns a little about his family's drinking history and his homeland's traditions.

American Wakes

Patriarchs have a keen understanding of the traditions their families’ are charged with upholding. When exploring my family’s personal experience with Irish wakes, I decided to start with my grandfather. In my parents’ backyard, I sat next to him at the outdoor table on the patio a few weeks ago.

“Grandpa, what is your experience with Irish wakes?” I asked.


“Irish. Wakes.” I yelled into his ear.

“Do you know about American wakes?” my grandfather deferred.

Phil Senior is a 93-year Bronx resident – he recently moved to Yonkers – and a World War II veteran of the African and European campaigns. He is bald – he has been for the past 24 years – and has large ears.

“No, what’s that?” I told him.

“Back home, in Ireland, you would have a great party, you see. For the person leaving to go to America. You would have a wake because the person leaving would never come back.”

The wake was necessary because immigrants, especially those from poorer regions, were illiterate and wouldn’t be able to communicate.

“The next morning the family would travel to the port and give a final goodbye.”

“Would they give an Irish goodbye?” I asked.

“No, what’s that?”