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Keening is a traditional form of vocal lament for the dead. In Ireland and Scotland it is customary for women to wail or keen at funerals. Keening has also been used as part of civil disobedience and protest.
The Irish tradition of keening over the body during the funeral procession and at the burial site is distinct from the wake — the practice of watching over the corpse – which takes place the night before the burial, and may last for more than one night.
The "keen" itself is thought to have been constituted of stock poetic elements (the listing of the genealogy of the deceased, praise for the deceased, emphasis on the woeful condition of those left behind etc.) set to vocal lament. While generally carried out by one or several women, a chorus may have been intoned by all present. Physical movements involving rocking, kneeling or clapping accompanied the keening woman (bean chaoineadh) who was often paid for her services.
- Breandán Ó Madagáin, Caointe agus Seancheolta Eile [Keening and other Old Irish Musics] (in Irish), IE: Cló Iar-Chonnachta, 2005.
- Marcello Sorce Keller, “Expressing, Communicating, Sharing and Representing Grief and Sorrow with Organized Sound (Musings in Eight Short Sentences)”, in Stephen Wild, Di Roy, Aaron Corn, and Ruth Lee Martin (eds.), Humanities Research: One Common Thread the Musical World of Lament, Australian National University, Vol. XIX (2013), no. 3, 3–14.