How to organise a wake

For the distanced friend or relative, the wake is probably the best part of the funeral, for the close family member, it’s probably one of the most stressful. Wakes have become synonymous with funerals Europe for hundreds of years. They offer family and friends a place to meet after the service, and particularly after a deeply religious or spiritual ceremony can bring everyone back down to earth a bit.

Like many things in life, Wakes can vary in size and duration. While some people want the wake to be over as soon as it started with as little people there as possible, some people find that a long (and often boozy) send off with everyone that deceased knew in attendance works best. For example, this Killorglin send-off at Falvey’s Bar. (Be prepared for some coarse language)

What is a wake? 

It is a time when family and friends can meet and get a chance to talk about the recently deceased in an informal atmosphere. If a viewing is arranged, guests will be able to say goodbye. In some cases, the wake is seen as a more celebratory occasion – like an anti-party for the dead.

Compared to the actual service, a wake tends to be less strict on what can actually happen. They don’t need to have an order in who things take place. 


In many families and cultures, it’s traditional to have a wake at somebody’s house. Other people want to have it at a village hall, private room in a pub (which can normally be free, if guests are buying drinks) etc. It’s important to try and get an idea of who is coming. That way you don’t have the banquet hall at the pub booked out for 5 people. A good rule is, it’s better to have too much space rather than not enough.

Wherever you hold it, you should tell people before the funeral of plans to have a wake, so people can make plan arrangements etc. Some families may have a private wake after a public funeral and vice versa, some may even opt for both. Whatever you decide to do, make sure suitable announcements are made. Announcements of wakes can be made via local media (obituary), social media, word of mouth etc.

Make sure you book the venue in advance, decorate appropriately – if you are even decorating at all. People may also expect some sort of catering, since they may have travelled or eill be travelling far. 


The general idea is, that being there to discuss memories and offering condolences is ‘entertainment’ enough, but, times change, your guests want to something else to keep their mind on, or off, the recent events. Should you decide that the hushed tones of reverence are not enough, then a collection of photos or music may be suitable without being too intrusive. 

It is important to remember that the wake is still, technically part of the funeral. So it is important to consider what everyone may want to get out of it. Try not to keep the mood too exact or restricting.


A topic of such controversy at wakes all over the world that it gets its own heading. For some, it’s an absolute no but for others, it’s a must. For example, at a Japanese wake, guests are encouraged to drink until they are happy with memories of the deceased. Irish comedian Dave Allen says “In Ireland when somebody dies, we lay ‘em out and watch ‘em for a couple of days… and there’s drinking and dancing and all the food you can eat.”

With some religious ceremonies, alcohol is not allowed at all. In the instance of a particularly tragic or sad death when emotions are running high, alcohol probably isn’t a good idea, but then people probably wouldn’t want to drink anyway.

Unless there are specific requests or reasons not to, people will probably expect the opportunity to have a drink on behalf of the deceased.

Every aspect or organising a wake or funeral can be challenging. Although we can’t always anticipate what will happen it’s never a bad idea to try and get things planned ahead of time. That way, you aren’t simply ironing out the details, but making sure that everything you want to happen will happen.

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