Book cover of The Coffin Roads - Journeys to the West by Ian Bradley

I wanted to say thanks to Pushing up the Daisies for organizing a fascinating, informative talk yesterday. The speaker was Ian Bradley, Emeritus Professor at the University of St Andrews. Ian’s theme was his book Coffin Roads – Journeys to the West in which he discusses these ancient tracks along which people carried their dead to burial. Such roads are found in many places, but Ian’s special interest is the network in the Highlands and islands of Scotland. In examining the roads and the customs and traditions related to them, he explores Hebridean and West Highland attitudes to death and dying.

Many of the customs may seem to belong to a forgotten and lost past. But what strikes me about Ian’s work is how some of the traditions such as the three-day wake, the death croon and the keening seem to find correspondences in our modern funeral rituals. Perhaps it’s fanciful but I think of our modern emphasis on music at funerals. I think of the family visit we make as celebrants before a funeral, and how that affords people an opportunity to speak about their loved ones and recall memories. I think about the emphasis we place on telling someone’s story. Maybe we are recreating in modern terms some of the things that gave meaning to funerals, and to death itself, in the past.

Such a stimulating and fascinating book and such a great talk. Thanks again to Ian and to Pushing up the Daisies for making it happen.

Michael Hannah, Dundee, 28 February 2024

The Coffin Roads

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