CC BY-SA, Towards the Rhinns of Islay - John Hughes

Location: Islay
gaelic language and placenames, gaelic culture

Funeral drams and oatcakes on Islay

Folklore in Islay is not just a thing of the past. Many old stories and customs still remain strong today and nowhere is this truer than with funerals.

At Islay funerals and particularly in the Rhinns of Islay, it is the time-honoured custom to pass round oatcakes with cheese and, of course, a large dram. This is no quaint custom, it is based on the fact that for many centuries coffins had to be physically carried to the place of burial. Not even a decent horse and cart would have been suitable for the job, let alone a vehicle, in some of the routes used from outlying areas.

It was important to keep the coffin bearers warm and strong and so they would be fortified along the route, with a good dram and the necessary calories of cheese and oatcakes. This was done at designated stopping places, where funeral parties would operate a change-over of coffin bearers and fortify themselves at the same time. One such place was Uiskentuie at the burn which lies between Bridgend and Bruichladdich. It comes from the Gaelic Uisge an t-Suidhe (the water of the sitting place) meaning the burn where people sat for a rest, a dram and an oatcake.

More information on visiting the area can be found here.