The Irish do death differently. Funeral attendance is a solemn duty – but it can also be a big day out, requiring sophisticated crowd control, creative parking solutions and a high-end sound system. Despite having the same basic end-of-life infrastructure as other Western countries, Irish culture handles death with a unique blend of dignified ritual and warm sociability.
In Sorry for Your Trouble, Ann Marie Hourihane holds up a mirror to the Irish way of death: the funny bits, the sad bits, and the hard-to-explain bits that tell us so much about who we are. She follows the last weeks of a woman’s life in hospice; she witnesses an embalming; she attends inquests; she talks to people working to prevent suicide; she follows the team of specialists working to locate the remains of people ‘disappeared’ by the IRA; and she visits some of Ireland’s most contested graves. She also explores the strange and sometimes surprising histories of Irish death practices, from the traditional wake and ritual lamentations to the busy commerce between anatomists and bodysnatchers.
And she goes to funerals, of ordinary and extraordinary people all over the country – including that of her own father. ‘I had joined a club,’ she writes, ‘the club of people who have lost someone very close to them.’ And then, with her family, she sets about planning a funeral in the middle of a pandemic. Sorry for Your Trouble sheds fresh, wise and witty light on a key pillar of Irish culture: a vast but strangely underexplored subject.
Rich, sparkling and eye-opening, it is one of the best books ever written about Irish life.