Madwoman, Banshee, Shaman: Gender, Changing Performance Contexts and the Irish Wake Ritual
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This paper will examine the central role of women in Irish keening (caoineadh) or ritual lamentation, its "submersion" through the eventual suppression of the rite and its subsequent "de-ritualisation" . The bean chaointe (keening woman) inhabited a liminal state between the living and the world of the dead for the duration of the mourning period, entering a kind of "divine madness" which allowed the keener to express the collective outpouring of grief through her voice and body, leading the community in a public expression of sorrow and lament. Because the keener could traverse the parallel worlds and use the power of the voice to guide the soul, the Roman Catholic Church decided to abolish wakes with their attendant laments thereby relegating the community to the position of silent watchers. This presentation will examine the role of the embodied voice, as well as the musical and lyrical content of some existing lament fragments to trace the demise of a pagan ritual which has persisted well into the twentieth century. Key points to be addressed will include an examination of the musical and paramusical characteristics of keening; its social and religious relevance within its original context centring on the function of the mnᠣaointe or keening women at funerary rites; the social, political and religious circumstances surrounding its suppression; the musical and cultural contexts in which keening is now expressed.
Musical Islands: Exploring Connections Between Music, Place and Research
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Culture, Gender, Sexuality