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date: 01 March 2021

Caoine [caoineadh] (Ir. and Gael.: ‘weeping’, ‘keening’)locked

  • John MacInnes


[caoineadh] (Ir. and Gael.: ‘weeping’, ‘keening’)

A lament sung over the dead. The term is known in medieval Gaelic literature, as is cluiche caointe(ach) (‘game of lamentation’) referring to funeral games for great men. The term ‘caointe’ (‘keens’) can apply to commemorative literary elegies such as Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire (Lament for Art O’Leary) (K.H. Jackson: A Celtic Miscellany, London, 1951) by his widow Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill in 1773, rather than keens sung over corpses.

In Ireland keening began only after the body was laid out for the wake, bereaved relatives usually addressing the dead by name. It was resumed on the arrival of relatives, during the funeral procession and at the graveside. Women were more commonly found as keeners than men, although professionals of both sexes sometimes worked together. In the mid-19th century their payment ranged from five shillings to £1 in addition to food and drink. Usually four keeners were employed. O’Curry reported:...

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