From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Keening is a traditional form of vocal lament for the dead.[1]


"Keen" as a noun or verb comes from the Irish and Scottish Gaelic term caoineadh ("to cry, to weep")[2] and references to it from the seventh, eighth and twelfth centuries are extensive.[3][4]


Written sources that refer to the practice in Ireland and Gaelic Scotland appear from the sixteenth century on.[5][6]

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.[7][8]

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.[9] 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 chaointe) who was often paid for her services.[9][10]

John Millington Synge's one-act play Riders to the Sea features a chorus of women from the Aran Islands mourning the death of their loved ones at sea.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Teodorescu, Adriana (2019). Death within the Text: Social, Philosophical and Aesthetic Approaches to Literature. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 112. ISBN 978-1-527-52754-6.
  2. ^ "The Keening Tradition – Women's place in Gaelic society". The Keening Wake. n.d. Retrieved 3 July 2020.
  3. ^ Lysaght, Patricia (1997). "Caoineadh os Cionn Coirp: The Lament for the Dead in Ireland". Folklore. UK: Taylor & Francis. 108 (1–2): 65–82. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1997.9715938. JSTOR 1260709. Preview
  4. ^ Ellis Davidson, Hilda (2002). Roles of the Northern Goddess. England: Routledge. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-415-13611-2.
  5. ^ Henigan, Julie (2015). Literacy and Orality in Eighteenth-Century Irish Song. UK: Routledge. p. 85. ISBN 978-1-138-66465-4.
  6. ^ Wheale, Nigel (1999). Writing and Society: Literacy, Print, and Politics in Britain, 1590–1660. Scotland: Psychology Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-0-415-08498-7.
  7. ^ McCorristine, Shane (2017). Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Mortality and its Timings: When is Death?. London: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 4–10. ISBN 978-1-137-58328-4.
  8. ^ "The Irish Wake – Customs and traditions". Rip. Ireland. n.d. Retrieved 3 July 2020.
  9. ^ a b Jo Smith, Cathy (26 May 2009). "All you ever wanted to know about an Irish Wake". Irish Central. Retrieved 3 July 2020.
  10. ^ Ó Madagáin, Breandán (2005), Caointe agus Seancheolta Eile [Keening and other Old Irish Musics] (in Irish), IE: Cló Iar-Chonnachta, ISBN 978-1-902-42097-4
  11. ^ M. Dowling, Robert (2009). Critical Companion to Eugene O'Neill, 2-Volume Set. New York: Facts On File. p. 743. ISBN 978-0-816-06675-9.