From Hugh Murray’s ‘An Encyclopedia of Geography’ (1855)
“In funerals, marriages, and similar solemnities, the Irish maintain several old customs. The practice of hired howling women at funerals, called ululates, is very prevalent; a considerable sum is paid to those employed, although, in cases of necessity, they howl gratis.”
Oh yes I could. Gratis indeed!
I wonder when this old custom died out. Great fun for Irish women and probably good therapy too, to scream out one’s grief, but I feel for the poor men surrounded by howling females…
The painting above, ‘The Aran Fisherman’s Drowned Child’, showing an ululate with a waist flexible enough to double as a belly-dancer (howl and tone at the same time - too good to be true surely?) is by the artist Frederick William Burton, from the National Gallery of Ireland.
The Irish expression for this sort of thing is keening, which is very similar to the Hebrew cine – a verb used to refer to lamenting, rending of garments and so forth. But the cry itself is known as an ullaloo. Read more about it and the women who made a career of it here.