fromDa Capo Press

My Father's Wake

How the Irish Teach Us to Live, Love, and Die

By Kevin Toolis

Death is a whisper in the Anglo-Saxon world. But on a remote island off the coast of Ireland's County Mayo, it has a louder voice. Along with reports of incoming Atlantic storms, the local radio runs a daily roll of ordinary deaths. And the islanders go in great numbers, often with young children, to be with their dead. They keep the corpse and the bereaved company through the long hours of the night. They dig the grave with their own hands. It is a communal triumph in overcoming the death of the individual.

In this beautifully written narrative, Kevin Toolis gives an intimate, eyewitness account of the death and wake of his father as he explores the wider history and significance of the Irish wake. With an uplifting, positive message at its heart, My Father's Wake celebrates the spiritual depth of the Irish wake and asks if we can find in it a better way to deal with our mortality--by living and loving as the Irish do.
Kevin Toolis is a writer and BAFTA-winning filmmaker. He is the author of an acclaimed chronicle of Ireland's Troubles, Rebel Hearts: Journeys within the IRA's Soul. He has written for the New York Times Magazine and The Guardian and reported on conflicts around the world. His family has lived in the same oceanside village on an island off the coast of County Mayo for the last 200 years. He lives on the island and in London.

"As a boy,
he learned to kiss the corpse at a traditional island wake. As a filmmaker and
witness to death in many conflict zones around the world, Kevin Toolis has
written a profound book on the culture of grief and death, placing the personal
alongside the political in a vivid exploration of our ancient ways of coming
together around the dead. This is a moving family story, a memoir of loss and
exile, a deep understanding of what makes us alive, casting a cold eye on what
is precious and so often denied."--Hugo Hamilton

"The 'Western Death Machine' has hidden the dead and dying, but in a
remote island off the west coast of Ireland, an almost Homeric society clings
to the old ways. The dying are treasured and tenderly watched over, the dead
are honored with the ancient rites and rituals. Contemporary western ideas
about death are dominated by individualism; My Father's Wake is a lyrical
description of how community and tradition help us deal with our mortality."--Seamus O'Mahony, author of The Way We Die Now

"A heartwarming and very personal account of a life well-lived."--Irish

"A long meditation on
death, dying, and our attitudes to mortality--our own and others'.... Toolis posits
an acceptance of the inevitable which, while it does not banish the pain of
grief, invests it with a resignation and a grace that is, in essence,
healing and somehow life-affirming."--The Guardian


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