My Father's Wake
How the Irish Teach Us to Live, Love and Die
By Kevin Toolis
An intimate, lyrical memoir exploring the ancient rite of the Irish wake, and the Irish way of overcoming our fear of death - BEING MORTAL meets THE LAST ACT OF LOVE
Death is a whisper in the Anglo-Saxon world. But on a remote island, off the coast of County Mayo, death has a louder voice. Along with reports of incoming Atlantic storms, the local radio station runs a thrice-daily roll-call of the recently departed. The islanders have no fear of death. They go in great numbers, often with young children, to wake with their dead. They keep vigil through the night with the corpse and share in the sorrow of the bereaved. They bear the burden of the coffin on their shoulders and dig the grave with their own hands. The living and the dead remain bound together in the Irish Wake - the oldest rite of humanity.
For twenty years writer and filmmaker Kevin Toolis hunted death in famine, war and plague across the world before finding the answer to his quest on the island of his forebears. In this beautifully written and highly original memoir, he gives an intimate, eye-witness account of the death and wake of his father, and explores the wider history of the Irish Wake. With an uplifting, positive message at its heart, My Father's Wake celebrates the spiritual depth of the Irish Wake and shows how we too can find a better way to deal with our mortality, by living and loving in the acceptance of death.
Kevin Toolis is a writer and film-maker. He is the author of an acclaimed chronicle of Ireland's Troubles, Rebel Hearts: Journeys Within the IRA's Soul. He has written for the New York Times Magazine and the Guardian and reported on conflicts across the world. As a film-maker Toolis has won a BAFTA for Best Single Drama and was nominated for an Emmy for his documentaries on the Middle East. His family have lived in the same oceanside village on an island off the coast of County Mayo for the last 200 years.
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- Publication date:
07 Sep 2017
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As a boy, he learned to kiss the corpse at a traditional island wake. As a film-maker and witness to death in many conflict zones around the world, Kevin Toolis has written a profound book on the culture of grief and death, placing the personal alongside the political in a vivid exploration of our ancient ways of coming together around the dead. This is a moving family story, a memoir of loss and exile, a deep understanding of what makes us alive, casting a cold eye on what is precious and so often denied — HUGO HAMILTON
The 'Western Death Machine' has hidden the dead and dying, but in a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, an almost Homeric society clings to the old ways. The dying are treasured and tenderly watched over, the dead are honoured with the ancient rites and rituals. Contemporary western ideas about death are dominated by individualism; My Father's Wake is a lyrical description of how community and tradition help us deal with our mortality — SEAMUS O’MAHONY, author of The Way We Die Now
A broadside against collective [death] denial. In its alternating shifts of focus, from the intimately personal to the more journalistically detached, it lays bare the desperate numbness that accompanies that denial — SEAN O'HAGAN, Observer
Powerful and immensely moving — Ian Critchley, SUNDAY TIMES CULTURE
An enlightening and unflinching dispatch from the frontline, an embedded report by an eyewitness who tries to face death squarely without recourse to mysticism, sentimentality or delusion — Liam Fay, SUNDAY TIMES IRELAND
A heart-warming and very personal account of a life well-lived — Mary Russell, IRISH TIMES
A lyrical, autobiographical rumination. — THE IRISH NEWS