Co. Mayo will host the world’s first arts festival dedicated to the ancient rituals of the Irish wake in the old convent in Mulranny on Saturday, May 18.

The traditional wake with neighbours making sandwiches and converting fields into car parks, continues to provide a huge source of comfort for the bereaved.

The groundbreaking Keening Festival incorporates a programme of free walks, keening workshops, talks about the origin of the wake and its rites and an evening concert  with world acclaimed sean nós singer Caitriona Ní Cheannabháin, BAFTA winner and bardic poet Kevin Toolis, and violinist Lisa Fuk’u’da.

The internationally famous composer Peter Reynolds has also written original songs for an outdoor musical performance programmed for 12.00p.m on May 18 at Mulranny pier, commemorating the famine.

‘”The wake remains a defining feature of Irish society, a unique powerful tool which eases the grief and sense of loss many feel with the death of their loved ones,” said Kevin Toolis, festival organiser and author of the seminal work on wakes ‘My Father’s Wake: How the Irish Teach Us To Live, Love and Die.’


“It is only right that at last we recognise and celebrate these ancient rituals in what is the world’s first wake festival,” he said.

After the outdoor gathering at Mulranny pier at noon, there will be keening workshops where participants can learn the ancient art of keening and sean nós singing. A talk on the historic origins of the Irish wake will be given by Kevin.

There will also be an experience sharing gathering where participants can relate their personal accounts of wakes, wake games and other now lost rituals of the Irish wake.

The evening concert will feature the world premiere of specially composed works, sean nós laments, original bardic poetry and classic traditional tunes.

“Across the world people always say the Irish do death well and that is because of the wake. So, it’s great to be working with Mulranny Arts and Home to Mayo to create to the world’s first wake festival here at home in Mayo, where the wake is still going strong.

“We have had interest from all over Ireland and abroad in attending this unique festival celebrating the oldest rite of Irish culture,” said Kevin.