In this blog post, I will be examining how the Irish culture impacts death and how it is viewed and handled in this culture.
Susan Opertt Long examines differences in cultural scripts- narratives with cultural representations of death- for dying in Japan and the United States. She found that there were many similarities, including wanting to not be a burden or to die peacefully. She explored how there were similarities in cultural scripts for dying, but differences in culture provided an “interpretive framework” for ordinary people to alter these scripts to fit their customs, rituals, and feelings about death and how it should proceed (Long, 2004). In this blog, I will examine how cultural scripts are interpreted in Ireland as well as look at how death is viewed.
Irish culture and traditions play a huge role in how death is perceived and dealt with today. In modern day Ireland, death is constantly talked about and is not a taboo subject: one study conducted found that parents and teachers felt that children should be taught about death and ways to cope with it before they encounter it (McGovern and Berry, 2014). Furthermore, another source states that there are radio “announcements enumerating the deaths and funeral arrangements” of the recently departed within the area (Toolis, 2017). Death is considered a time of grief and is not viewed as something should be hidden. One cultural script that Long discussed is talking about death- what they want in their death, what is a good death, etc.. In Ireland, this script of discussing death has been interpreted to be more open. The Irish are more open when talking of death and in experiencing it as well- most funerals are held in a more intimate setting such as a house and are more ritualized as will be discussed in the next paragraph.
In America, an ‘authoritative knowledge’ of birth, death, and everything in between usually belongs to a doctor of some sort, in fact, 77% of deaths in the United States occurred in hospitals (Long, 2004). Whereas in Ireland, this is not such the case: only 48% of deaths occurred in a hospital (Irish, 2004). Home funerals are common and preferred- 67% of Irish say they want a home death (Irish 2004); the women of the family are usually responsible for washing and taking care of the body. Family, friends, and sometimes even strangers come to visit the grieving and pay their respects to the body (Toolis, 2017). Although the authoritative knowledge to declare death legally still belongs to a medical professional, the scripts around dying are less focused on hospitals and medical care and more about family and emotionally responses. Religion plays a large role in many cultural scripts, one Irish man talks of the days after the death of his father where someone is to remain with the body at all times to guard against “Hades’ invading hordes” (Toolis, 2017). This is but one of many cultural scripts expressed and suited for Ireland. In America, people use religious cultural scripts to talk about God taking them or meeting people in Heaven (Long, 2004). The differences in how religion is expressed in a script is due to the differences in culture of the two countries.
In conclusion, the Irish culture has lead to more open and hands on interpretations of cultural scripts. Family is more involved in the process of dying and it is not a medical event but more of a last right of passage in a person’s life. Although medical professionals still hold the legal right to declare death, the family is very involved in everything after, including cleaning and caring for the body.
“An Irish Hospice Foundation Initiative Supported by the Health Services National Partnership Forum. .” Weafer & Associates Research with TNS MRBI, Weafer & Associates Research with TNS MRBI, Nov. 2004.
Long, Susan. “Cultural Scripts for a Good Death in Japan and the United States: Similarities and Differences.” Anthropology MSU, Elsevier, 2004, anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/files/2015/05/Cultural-scripts-for-a-good-death-in-Japan-and-the-US-Long-2004.pdf.
McGovern, Marguerita, and Margaret M Berry. “DEATH EDUCATION: KNOWLEDGE, ATTITUDES, AND PERSPECTIVES OF IRISH PARENTS AND TEACHERS.” Taylor & Francis, 11 Nov. 2010, www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/074811800200487
Toolis, Kevin. “Why the Irish Get Death Right.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 9 Sept. 2017, www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/sep/09/why-the-irish-get-death-right.