Presenting a simply outstanding 19th century Irish elm wake table.
Made from Pollard Elm circa 1860 this wake table is quite simply the best we have ever had or seen!
It is in amazing original condition with absolutely glorious natural patina, throughout.
It has 2 drop leafs and sits on 4 gate legs.
Each section is made of 3 joined planks of elm assembled together which is a clear and obvious sign of authenticity. Reproductions are more likely, to be made from solid cuts of wood.
It is a fantastic size. Slightly smaller than most ‘Wake Tables’ which makes it even more desirable in our opinion. It will comfortably seat 8. It will seat 10 but the chairs would have to be narrow.
The legs are exceptional! Each leg is very slender for this type of table. The start with a ‘shoulder’ which is clearly hand carved (very noticeable from the rear), they are then fronted by a ‘knee’ and curve cabriole style down to ‘hoof’ feet. Not simply bun feet like most. The grain and patina on the legs is just fabulous.
Examination of the underside and general construction of the table reveals exactly what you would expect from an original period piece. Wooden pins etc.
This is the holy grail of Irish wake tables!
Do not procrastinate on this table, it will sell very fast!!!
This table has only been seen by 2 customers before being cataloged and both expressed an interest, so he who hesitates will be lost!!
The Irish wake:
For many cultures, death is a semi-taboo subject, a happenstance to be dealt with in only the most serious somber manner. In that the ancient Celts believed that a person’s demise was the gateway to a better world, their rituals surrounding the event resonated with joy as well as sorrow. In all but the rarest cases, it was a time to share warm anecdotes and celebrate the accomplishments of the deceased, affording much needed comfort for grieving family and friends.
Originally, a wake was held in the family home, usually in the parlor from whence comes the term ‘funeral parlor’ used to describe modern undertaking establishments. Unlike today’s society that is awash with consumerism, in past ages personal possessions and household furnishings were meager, cherished, and commonly passed down generation to generation. One item that has survived but rarely is the ‘wake table.’ Consisting of a central plank flanked by two drop-down leaves, it was used for year-round dining but when a death occurred it would have become the focal furnishing of a wake as, with its side leaves folded down, the center plank was exactly the width of a coffin, enabling respectful mourners to approach the deceased for a final farewell.
Wakes were usually held several days after death, allowing friends who lived at a distance time to make the journey to pay their respects. At the moment of death all clocks in the house were stopped and time literally stood still until after the funeral service. As those closest to the deceased were often so distraught as to be unable to sleep, and it was believed to be bad luck to leave the body unattended, vigil was kept through the night, giving rise to the term ‘wake.’
So imbedded in Irish tradition is the custom of ‘waking’ that during the 19th century, it became common to hold a wake for the brave souls who sought to escape Ireland’s Great Famines by emigrating overseas. At these ‘American Wakes’ friends and family shared one last bittersweet uproarious time with those whom they would probably never in life see again. Just as, and most likely because, birth is a province exclusive to women, with the exception of the Last Rites of the Church performed by the parish priest, so too was it women’s charge to make all preparations for the deceased’s final public viewing. While the men sat talking in subdued tones, smoking, drinking uisce beatha (whiskey, the ‘water of life’), and often playing cards (with an unused hand dealt to the deceased), the wife or mother of the deceased was exempt from duties in deference to her grief. Meanwhile, neighbors known as mna cabhartha or ‘handy women’ cleaned, dressed and presented the body, opened all windows and doors so the departed soul could take wing, covered or removed any mirrors in the house lest someone spy the specter of death plotting to seize another victim, hung immaculate white sheets kept solely for waking the dead on and about the Bier, and prepared food for those who would pay their last respects.
Women also played a key role during the wake itself, ‘keening’ vocal expression of the communal grief. While keening is usually equated with inarticulate wailing, it is often a sad song, a favorite perhaps of the deceased, or a lament composed on the spot extolling the departed’s Virtue or circumstance of death. One such is Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoghaire. The late 18th c. epic poem tells of the life and tragic demise of Art O’ Laoghaire who was murdered by Abraham Morris at Carraig an Ime, County Cork on May 4, 1793. Composed extemporaneously at Art’s wake by his pregnant wife Eibhlin Dubh Ni Chonaill, the 390-line keening is one of the greatest love poems of the Irish language, one of its greatest laments, and one of the finest compositions to have survived from Irish oral literature.
Provenance: From a Private Florida collection (originally from Baltimore, Maryland).
Dimensions: 84? long, each leaf is 23.75? deep and the central section is 20? deep (Total: 67.50? deep), It is 30? tall. It has a knee clearance of 29.20?.
Condition: Excellent original condition for its age.