If you’re looking for traditional funeral songs or music, this article should help. We’ve picked out a few traditional songs from Scotland and Ireland, as well as several hymns and jazz tunes. Browse and listen to decide if any are right for the funeral you’re organising.
Traditional Scottish funeral songs
This section is all about traditional funeral songs from Scotland. They would suit a Scottish person’s funeral or a service for someone who took pride in their Scottish heritage.
The Parting Glass
‘The Parting Glass’ is a traditional Scottish ‘parting song’ – a type of song that friends would sing before going their separate ways. It’s since become very popular as a funeral song, especially in Scotland and Ireland.
The song is about celebrating good times and good people. It’s not meant for funerals, but it feels like a farewell from someone who made the most of life. ‘Fill to me the parting glass,’ it says, ‘goodnight and joy be to you all’.
The Dark Island
This song isn’t actually very old. It was written in 1958 and became popular after it was used in a BBC television show. However, with its mournful tune and slow tempo, it has the feel of a traditional funeral song.
‘The Dark Island’ might feel particularly fitting if the person who has died moved away from Scotland. The singer says they long to be home on the ‘lovely dark island’ where they grew up. And while they’re now ‘wandering’ and ‘roaming’, they say they’ll return when they die.
More traditional funeral songs from Scotland
Auld Lang Syne
A Man’s a Man for A’ That
Traditional Irish funeral songs
These songs are popular at Irish funerals and wakes. Have a listen and see if you think they would make a good tribute.
The Night Visiting Song
Ireland has a long tradition of ‘night visiting’ songs, which tell stories of lovers uniting under the cover of darkness. This one is a traditional tune that was made famous by Luke Kelly, one of Ireland’s best-known folk musicians.
‘The Night Visiting Song’ doesn’t mention death, but its lovesick melody and tender lyrics make it suitable for a funeral. ‘I must be guided, without a stumble, into the arms I love the most’, Kelly sings, as if looking forward to meeting loved ones in the afterlife.
Flight of Earls
The Flight of the Earls was a real event. In 1607, several prominent Irish leaders left the country to live in mainland Europe. Their ‘flight’ changed the course of Irish history.
In the song, the real-life Flight of the Earls is used as a symbol for Irish people moving abroad to find work. The lyrics say that, while the people are sad they had to go, they know they’ll be welcome when they come back home to Ireland.
‘Flight of the Earls’ was written in the 1980s by Liam Reilly. It has a traditional Irish folk sound.
More traditional funeral songs from Ireland
She Moved Through the Fair
Traditional jazz funeral songs
Jazz music is very emotional. It can feel happy, sad, playful or serious – even if there are no lyrics. These jazz songs have a wistful sound, so they’re ideal for saying goodbye to someone.
Billie Holiday – I’ll Be Seeing You
Billie Holiday is considered one of the best jazz vocalists of all time. Many of her songs tackle sad subjects, but ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’ might be the best choice for a funeral.
Its lyrics are about remembering a person you loved and feeling happy and sad at the same time. The music has an old-fashioned, nostalgic feel.
The Ink Spots – Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall
‘Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall’ is a duet, sung by The Ink Spots vocalist Bill Kenny and the famed jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. They take turns singing over a jaunty piano and guitar backing track.
But while the music is upbeat, the lyrics are quite sad. ‘Into each life, some rain must fall’, they sing, ‘but too much is falling in mine’. However, the chorus ends on a positive note: ‘someday the sun will shine’.
More traditional jazz funeral songs
Ella Fitzgerald – Every Time We Say Goodbye
Charles Mingus – Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
Dexter Gordon – I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry
Traditional funeral hymns
Here’s a selection of traditional Christian funeral songs that praise God.
Bear in mind that different branches of Christianity have different rules about funeral music. For instance, at traditional Catholic funerals, songs are only allowed if their lyrics are devoted to God. Church of England funerals, on the other hand, often include a mix of religious and non-religious music.
If you’re unsure what’s allowed, check with your priest or celebrant.
All Things Bright and Beautiful
This hymn is all about nature. It describes the beauty of the natural world and praises God for creating it.
‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ was written in 1848 by a poet named Cecil Frances Alexander. It was originally meant for children but has become popular at all sorts of religious services, including funerals.
‘Jerusalem’ is very famous in the UK and is often sung at non-religious events like rugby matches and classical music concerts. The lyrics are very religious, though. They tell a story of Jesus visiting Britain when he was a young man.
The words for ‘Jerusalem’ come from a poem by William Blake called ‘And did those feet in ancient time’. This poem was set to music by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916.
More traditional hymns for funerals
How Great Thou Art (Carl Boberg, 1885)
The Lord’s My Shepherd (Francis Rous, c. 1650)
Lead, Kindly Light (John Henry Newman, 1833)
Hymns and prayers from other faiths
Jeevan Maran Sukh Ho-e Jinhaa Gur Paa-i-aa
Sikhs often sing hymns at funerals. These hymns come from the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book.
‘Jeevan Maran Sukh Ho-e Jinhaa Gur Paa-i-aa’ is one such hymn. Its chorus translates to ‘those who have found the Guru are at peace, in life and death’.
Ram Naam Satya Hai
As part of their worship, Hindus chant special prayers called mantras. These are repeated words or phrases that are believed to have religious power.
‘Ram Naam Satya Hai’ is a mantra that’s often performed during Hindu funeral processions. In English, it means ‘the name of Ram is the truth’. Ram is one of the most important gods in Hinduism.
More funeral music ideas
- Pop songs for funerals (1960s to 1990s)
- Modern funeral songs (2000s to 2020s)
- How to choose funeral songs: a guide
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