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  • Funeral Fights October 5, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    funeral fight

    ***A dear old friend of this blog, Chris from Haunted Ohio Books has just brought out her latest haunting book: the Ghost Wore Black, if it is anywhere near as good as her last offering expect a review here in the proximate future. To celebrate this funforal (Joycean word?) tale is dedicated to Chris and her readers. It belongs to one of Beach’s favourite categories: ‘only in Ireland…***

    Apparently in the nineteenth-century there were fights in Ireland at funerals. These took on a semi-ritual nature, but they had a very real purpose behind them. This is a mid-century reminiscence

    The fights which occasionally occurred at funerals, the so-called battles of the Derrins (buryings)… never occurred except when there were two funerals on the same day, in the same churchyard, and not very often even then. They had their origin in the superstition that the last person buried in a church-yard has, in addition to his other troubles, to carry water to allay the thirst (in Purgatory) of all those previously buried there. His or her work is incessant, day and night and in all weathers. Where the water comes from I have never heard, but as much is wanted, for the weather there is very hot, the carrier of water is not relieved from his arduous duties till another funeral takes place.

    Ok unusual Catholic belief about the other world, join the club, water carriers. But why fight? Well just imagine that your gran and my gran die on the same day. Who gets to carry the water to all the undead?

    So, if there are to be two funerals at the same place on the same day, the lively competition as to which shall get first into the churchyard not unfrequently leads to a fight. I have a vivid recollection of one such fight in our neighbourhood, when much blood flowed. It arose in this way. Two funerals were approaching Abington Churchyard in opposite directions, one from Murroe, the other from Barrington’s Bridge. The former was nearing the churchyard gate; on perceiving this the people in the other funeral took a short cut by running across a field, carrying the coffin with them, which they succeeded in throwing over the wall of the churchyard before the others were able to get in by the gate. This was counted such sharp practice that they were at once attacked by the other party, and a battle royal ensued.

    And just in case for a second you were foolish enough to think that this wasn’t for real…

    Peasants have been known to put shoes or boots into coffins to save the feet of their relatives in their long and weary water-carrying walks. Our neighbour, John Ryan, of Cuppanuke, the Shawn Heige, whom I mentioned, put two pair of shoes in the coffin of his wife — a strong pair for bad weather, a light pair for ordinary wear.

    What would happen if you were the last person to be buried in a cemetery? Then you’d need a hundred odd pairs of shoes presumably… In any case, God almighty can look upon His work and rejoice. Isn’t humanity wonderful!!!! Other bizarre funeral customs: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    7 Oct 2013: Wade sends in a couple of modern crackers. Here’s a funeral from Alabama that, as Wade puts it, starts slow but catches fire very quickly, a second fighting funeral meanwhile is described  **** Chris from Haunted Ohio Books sends in these: FIGHT IN A GRAVEYARD Mourners and Diggers Assail Each Other With Wooden Crosses. (!!!) Mount Vernon, N.Y., Jan. 28. The infant son of Mr. and Mrs. William Trode died of pneumonia last Thursday night, and an interment was arranged later in the cemetery of the Holy Sepulcher, which belongs to the Church of the Holy Sacrament, at New Rochelle. The hearse and seven carriages containing the family and friends reached the cemetery all right. Mr. Trode owns a plat in the cemetery and the grave was ordered dug there. Gravedigger Patrick Fox, in carrying out the instructions, struck a large rock near the surface, and a time was short he dug a grave in the public part of the cemetery, thinking at some other opportunity, when not so hurried, to blast to the rock in Trode’s plat and reinter the infant. The funeral party arrived at the grave, when a discussion arose between the mourners and the grave-digger as to the correct location of the grave. A wordy war ensued, which resulted in the grave-digger taking one of the strips of wood used in supporting a coffin over the empty grave and hitting one of the mourners, John Callahan, who had become very boisterous. This was a signal for a general attack on Fox. The men of the party promptly armed themselves with the wooden crosses with which several of the surrounding graves were marked, and a general fight ensued. This was only stopped when the drivers of the funeral coaches, and several passers-by interfered. Grave-digger Fox was badly hurt, and several persons received black eyes and bruises. The body was finally buried with the assistance of the mourners, the party retuning to Mount Vernon. The Morning Call [San Francisco, CA] 29 January 1895: p. 6 These next three articles tell of the so-called “Polish Church War.” In Plymouth, Pennsylvania, animosity broke out between the Poles and the Lithuanians, who had previously shared a church and a cemetery, when two Lithuanian priests were appointed in succession by the Bishop. A Polish parishioner named Martin Wilkes fomented trouble and was the ringleader in the following incidents. He was arrested repeatedly and when he attempted to intimidate the newly appointed Polish priest, the man pulled a gun on him and his minions, so that they fled. Wilkes was eventually sent to prison. The Lithuanians built their own church and cemetery, and an uneasy peace was restored. The Polish Church War Again. The Polish church war at Plymouth, Pa., has broken out afresh. On Friday the young son of a member of the Lithuanian faction died. Arrangements were made to bury him in the Polish cemetery, where all Lithuanians were buried previous to the war between that faction and the Poles. When the hearse drove up to the gate of the cemetery, however, it was not allowed to enter. A number of armed Polanders stood guard and warned the mourners that if they made an attempt to enter they would be shot down. The funeral procession retraced its steps to the home of the afflicted family and the corpse was placed in the front room of the house. The father of the dead boy, with two friends, went to Scranton to see Bishop O’Hara about the matter. Evening Star [Washington, DC.] 20 January 1890: p. 8 A FIGHT IN A GRAVEYARD Stones Thrown and Pistols Drawn During a Disgraceful Church Riot. Wilkesbarre, January 20. The Polish Church war at Plymouth culminated in a riot this evening. On Friday last the young son of a member of the Lithuanian faction died. Today a second attempt was made to bury the dead in the cemetery. About a dozen Poles, headed by Anthony Silkia, hastened to the place. The Lithuanians were about to lower the corpse in the grave. The angry Poles marched up to the crowd of mourners, and demanded that the coffin be taken up again. The Lithuanians refused. The Poles then picked up stones and began to throw them into the crowd. The women fled. The men stood their ground and for about five minutes a fierce battle raged. Several of the combatants were badly cut and bruised. Constable Gallagher arrived while the fight was in progress. He ran into the crowd, and, pulling out his revolver, commanded the belligerents to throw down the stones. He threatened to shoot. This had the desired effect. The fight stopped. Gallagher and three other constables then placed the ringleaders of the Polish faction under arrest. Pittsburg [PA] Dispatch 21 January 1890: p. 6 DEAD TORN FROM THEIR GRAVES A Leader of the Plymouth Poles Desecrates Lithuanian Corpses. The Polish church war at Plymouth has again been renewed. Yesterday Martin Wilkes, the leader of the Polish faction, was arrested while on a business visit to Wilkesbarre. When the Polish faction heard of the fate of their leader they called a meeting and raised $400 to employ a lawyer to get him out of jail. When court assembled the prisoner was released on habeas corpus. As soon as Wilkes was released and left the court house he swore vengeance against the Lithuanians. He said all the dead Lithuanians now buried in the Polish cemetery would be taken out and their bones scattered to the winds. When Wilkes reached his home in Plymouth he at once proceeded to carry out his threats. He summoned about twenty of his most devoted followers, and arming themselves with shovels and pick axes the party left for the cemetery. Arriving there they opened the graves of the two Lithuanian children buried yesterday. The coffins were broken open with pick axes and the bodies thrown over the fence into an adjoining field. One of the bodies was badly lacerated. The pick axes had been driven through it in several places. As soon as the grave robbers had completed their nefarious work they fled. The Lithuanians are now in possession of the cemetery. There is great excitement. The exhumed bodies were afterward placed in a rough box and are now in the cellar of a house near the cemetery. The Lithuanians are gunning for Wilkes. They say they will shoot him on sight. Evening Star [Washington, DC] 23 January 1890: p. 6 You’ve probably seen all of the beliefs in this next article. Some seem a touch distorted, like the conflation of the “hand of glory” in the first paragraph with the dead hand used to stroke a diseased body part. There are a fair number of these “quaint Irish superstitions” articles in the papers, starting in the 1880s and I am a little surprised not to find the banshee here. Does the date coincide with the end of fairy-belief? CONCERNING THE DEAD Superstitions of Striking Significance, Funeral Processions in Ireland. Superstitions concerning the dead are very numerous in all parts of Ireland, and several are of striking significance. The hand of the dead has great power when procured according to certain prescribed formula. For instance the most powerful mystic charm known in Irish magic is the hand of an unbaptized infant, taken from the grave in the name of the evil one, while the next in virtue is the hand of a murderer. When a candle is placed in the dead hand, no wind or rain can extinguish it, and if it be carried into a house at night, all the occupants will sleep the sleep of the dead as long as it is burning. Few diseases can withstand the potency of the dead hand as a remedy, its virtue being shared even by garments and articles which have touched the corpse or have been used in the funeral ceremonies. A piece of the sheet in which a corpse has been wrapped is good for the headache, and candle ends used at a wake will cure burns. The dead greatly desire to rest near the places where they lived, an instance being cited of a farmer’s daughter who went to Cork and there died of a fever. It was judged best to bury her there, but the night after her father returned home he heard the voice of his child crying, “I am alone!” Waking, he prayed she might rest in peace till morning, when he at once set out and brought the body from Cork to Mayo, where he buried it with the girl’s own people. If you hear steps at night following you, it is very dangerous to turn around, for the steps are those of the dead and their glance is fatal. Every twelfth night the dead walk, and on every tile of the house sits a soul waiting for prayer to free it from purgatory. The dead consort with fairies, and mothers have sometimes heard the voices of their children singing the old Irish songs far down beneath the raths or funeral mounds where the fairies dwell. On the west coast, when a funeral procession is halfway to the churchyard, a halt is made a mound of stones erected to deceive the evil one, who halts where and searches the mound of the dead, while the procession hurriedly goes on to the graveyard. The dead are often sent to earth with messages, generally announcing another death, and are always glad to be so employed, for their own relief form purgatory has come. The last buried in a churchyard is compelled to do menial service in the spirit world until another comes to take his place; hence, when two funerals meet, every spadeful of earth is turned at the same moment and the two bodies are interred at the same time. Everyone who meets a funeral must turn back and walk at least four steps with it to secure his own good luck and prevent resentment from the dead. St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Daily Yellowstone Journal [Miles City, MT] 9 July 1887: p. 4 Singular Funeral Ceremonies A murdered Hungarian was buried near Corinth, Ky., recently. When dying a candle was placed in his hand and held there by his brother until the last moment. In the coffin were placed a towel, soap, comb, needle and thread. He was dressed in a new suit of clothes and a white hat placed on his head. A piece of money was thrown into the grave to buy the ground from the evil one. The News-Herald [Hillsboro, OH] 23 April 1891: p. 2. thanks Wade and Chris!