Burials - Laws & Customs


Waldron gives a description of burials in the 1720's:

When a person dies, several of his acquaintance come to sit up with him, which they call the Wake. The clerk of the parish is obliged to sing a psalm, in which all the company join; and after that they begin some pastime to divert themselves, having strong beer and tobacco allowed them in great plenty. This is a custom borrowed from the Irish, as are indeed many others much in fashion with them.

As to their funerals, they give no invitation, but every body that had any acquaintance with the deceased comes either on foot or horseback. I have seen sometimes at a Manks burial, upwards of an hundred horsemen, and twice the number on foot: all these are entertained at long tables, spread with all sorts of cold provision, and rum and brandy flies about at a lavish rate. The procession of carrying the corpse to the grave is in this manner: When they come within a quarter of a mile of the church, they are met by the parson who walks before them singing a psalm, all the company joining with him. In every church-yard there is a cross, round which they go three times before they enter the church. But these are the funerals of the better sort, for the poor are carried only on a bier, with an old blanket round them, fastened together with a skewer.


The lack of a coffin, especially for the poor, would seem to be the case in Arbory in mid 17th century. Writing in the early 1860's the Rev Wm Gill could say: There are aged people still living, in Lonan, who remember the time when some of the country people in that parish sometimes buried their dead without coffins at all. The corpse, wrapped in a winding sheet, was laid upon the bier, covered with a pall spread upon a kind of cradle, and in this manner borne to the grave.

Roeder also includes descriptions of funerals and wakes of the early 19th Century.

The Established Church controlled all burials on the Island, there had been trouble with early Methodists who wished to sing a hymn during the burial, there was also the following edict issuded by Bishop Murray

Liber Causarum No. 101Book of Petitions 1814

Rev'd Sir,

In consequence of the indecent and disorderly conduct of certain persons professing the Roman Catholic Faith, at the Funeral of one of their People at St. Georges' Chapel, Douglas on Saturday the 17th of September [most likely that of Lawrey MURRUN] , I think it necessary to give you the following directions for your conduct, in case of any similar event occurring in your Parish.

If any person professing the Roman Catholic Faith shall die in your Parish and the Friend of the Deceased shall desire burial for the Corpse in your Parish Churchyard, you will by no means permit any unusual ceremonies or any claim or disturbance to take place. If Decency be not in all things observed you will refuse burial to the Corpse, and call in the aid of the civil authority to take offenders into custody.

If the Friend of the deceased shall desire that the corpse may be placed in a grave within the precincts of the Churchyard without any service, this indulgence shall be granted, provided it be done in your presence and that the Corpse be simply interred without any ceremonies unauthorised by our Church.

If on the other hand, the said persons shall desire that the service of our Church may be performed, let it be done strictly according to the Rubrick,without the addition of any ceremonies unauthorised custom or the ordinances of our Church.

If any resistance or objection be made let Burial be refused and if the conductof the Friends of the Deceased be in anyway offers we, let recourse be had to aconstable and the offences by delivered over to the Law.

I remain Rev'd Sir, yr faithful Friend and Brother
G. Sodor and Mann Castle Mona September 21st 1814

Lord Teignmouth gives this description of a funeral in 1829:

The funerals are sometimes attended by large numbers of people. I witnessed that of a rich farmer’s wife. The hearse was preceded by many persons on foot and horseback, and followed by two carts filled by females, well attired in deep mourning, gigs, men and women on horseback, and a crowd on foot, forming a numerous assemblage. An entertainment is usually provided for the attendants at the house, before the ceremony, at which excess is very uncommon ; and a dinner is given there to a few friends after it is concluded. It is the practice in this Island, as in Cornwall, I was informed, to sing hymns whilst the corpse is conveyed through the churchyard to the grave, and probably from the same reason,—the abundance of Methodists.

Detailed descriptions of 1830/40's customs are given by Train

Sir George Head gives a moving account of a child's funeral at Kirk Braddan in 1832. Description of mid-19th Century customs are provided by Dr Clague.

See also description of Folklore Funerals

Allocation of graves

Until the 1881 Burial Act it was not compulsory to employ a sexton, thus families would dig graves for their deceased - each family would appear to have a designated area within the older yards (in newer yards plots would have been regulated and sold) - sometimes this gives rise to disputes as for example the following found in Archideaconal Wills (MM RB528) possibly caused by burials of infants Jane & Mary Caralaugh on 15 Mar 1728/9.

Deposition taken this 28th day of March 1729
touching a dispute betwixt the families of Ballacaralgh
and of Ballabroy in the parish of
kk Braddan as follows
William Caralagh sworn and examined deposeth that in
the place where Patrick Caralagh's last child was buried, his
own father (who is abt 20 years buried) was buried in the same
place, and addeth by hearsay his great grandfather
Thomas Caralaugh, and hs own grandfather Jo Caralaugh was
buried in that ground or near it and sayes he remembers his
own eldest brother Thomas Caralaugh buried there or abt it
Wm Caralagh his mk

Patrick Corkill & William Leece depose that they remember [10 Apr 1707] 
old Patrick Caralagh grandfather to Patrick the present occupt
of Ballacaralagh to have been buried in the same place mentioned
on the oath of William Carralaugh, or abt it, without let or
stop of any person and that the same was their burying
place, as they saw and heard
Patr Corkill x; Wm Leece x
the above depositions taken by and before me Jo Curghey Vic Genl
let this be recorded for the satisfaction of posterity

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Cemeteries and Graveyards

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2001