Scottish funeral customs

calp, death duty on Lewis and Harris

The fidelity of the clansmen to their hereditary leaders, unique though it was, could not have
stood the strain of consistent oppression and unrelieved despotism. The chiefs had rough and ready methods; they were not influenced by the fine distinctions which prevail in modern communities, where justice between man and man is a recognised principle ; they were arbitrary in their dealings with their followers, as they were uncertain in their relations towards one another. But while they took from the people with one hand, they gave with the other ; while they exacted calps from their tenantry, they feasted the calp-payers right royally ; while they
plundered their clansmen to replenish their wine-cellars, they let the wine flow in a common carousal. The exaction of calp, it may be explained, consisted in an acknowledgment
of dependence on a chief; it took the form of a death duty represented by the best horse, cow, or ox of the deceased tenant, which was claimed by the chief as a matter of right. The practice gave rise to various abuses, and in 1617, was finally abolished in the Highlands and
Isles

W.C. Mackenzie: History of the Outrer Hebrides. Paisley, Alexander Gardener; 1903, p. 279

Gairloch, Wester Ross

Funerals are now accompanied by such striking peculiarities. Until the last few years, when a death occurred all the people of a township ceased working until after the funeral, which was attended by every adult male. Of course drinking was much in vogue, and the well known Irish wakes were closely imitated. Now, only those invited to a funeral are expected to attend, and the whisky is confined to serving of a dram all round (preceded by a prayer) before the funeral procession starts, with additional “nips” whenever a halt is made for rest on the way to the place of burial, and these halts are not infrequent. Until lately is was customary for each man accompanying the funeral to throw a stone on the spot where the coffin was placed when a halt was made, thus forming a considerable heap; sometimes the number of stones thrown was the same as the years of the deceased. This custom has been generally discontinued in Gairloch since the roads were made, though it is still in vogue in the wilder parts of the adjoining parishes of Applecross and Lochbroom.

John Henry Dixon: Gairloch in North-west Ross-shire. Edinburgh, 1886

Unst, Shetland Islands

When they see a funeral, they lift three clods and throw one by one  after the corpse, but can assign no reason for doing.

George Low: A Tour Through Orkney and Schetland. Kirkwall, William Peace & Son; 1774

 

Highlands

On the death of a Highlander, the corps being stretched on a Funeral board, and covered with a coarse linnen wrapper, the friends lay on the breast of the deceased a wooden platter, containing a small quantity of salt and earth, separate and unmixed; the earth, an emblem of the corruptible body; the salt, an emblem of the immortal spirit. All fire is extinguished where a corps is kept; and it is reckoned so ominous for a dog or cat to pass over it, that the poor animal is killed without mercy.

Thomas Pennant: A Tour in Scotland. White, London; 1776

 

the wake

The Late-wake is a ceremony used at funerals. The evening after the death of any person, the relations and friends of the deceased meet at the house, attended by bagpipe or fiddle; the nearest of kin, be it wife, son, or daughter, opens a melancholy ball, dancing and greeting, i. e. crying violently at the same time; and this continues till day-light; but with such gambols and frolicks among the younger part of the company, that the loss which occasioned them is often more than supplied by the consequences of that night. If the corps remains unburied for two nights, the same rites are renewed. Thus, Scythian -like, they rejoice at the deliverance of their friends out of this life of misery.

Thomas Pennant: A Tour in Scotland. White, London; 1776

 

forbidden fiddling

“March 10th, 1728.— This day were called John Campbell in Kinvonigag; John
M’Edward in Knockichican ; and Donald M’Alvea in Killiehuntly, and only compeared
John M’Edward, who confessed that he had a fiddler in his house at the
Leickwake of a dead person, but said he did not think it a sin, it being so long
a custome in this country. The Session finding that it is not easie to rout out so
prevailing a custome, do agree that for the more effectual discouraging such a
heathenish practice the minister represent from the pulpit how undecent and unbecoming
to the designs of ye Christian Religion such an abuse is ; they also
appoint that the Civil Judge be applied to for suppressing the same.”

 

Alexander Macpherson: Glimpses of church and social life in the Highlands in olden times : and other papers. Edinburgh, Blackwood; 1893

 

Coranich

The Coranich , or singing at funerals, is still in use in some places: the songs are generally in praise of the deceased; or a recital of the valiant deeds of him or his ancestors. I had not the fortune to be present present at any in North Britain , but formerly assisted at one in the South of Ireland , where it was performed in the fullness of horror. The cries are called by the Irish the ‘Ulogohne and Hûllulu , two words extremely expressive of the sound uttered on these occasions, and being of Celticstock, Etymologists would swear to be the origin of the  of the Greeks , and Ululatus of the Latins. Virgil is very fond of using the last, whenever any of his females are distressed; as are others of the Roman Poets, and generally on occasions similar to this.

Thomas Pennant: A Tour in Scotland. White, London; 1776

Advertisements

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: