Weddings are the happiest occasions. Not only for the bride and the groom, but also for all the family and friends who celebrate along. It is the common way to celebrate marriage in almost every culture around the world. However, every culture may have its very own traditions and customs. Two countries may celebrate the concept of marriage through weddings but in totally different ways. In this article, we will introduce you to the Irish wedding traditions, for Ireland is a very inimitable culture. In general, Ireland is popular for possessing multiple beliefs that are different from the rest of the world. Although it belongs to the European world, it still embraces a lot of its ancient Gaelic and Celtic customs.
How are Irish Wedding Traditions Different From Those of Other Cultures?
Cultures have their own differences yet still share some similarities. That is one reason to answer why the Irish wedding traditions are different. However, there are always different dimensions to everything. While the previously mentioned reason is true, there are other ones that still make sense as much. In fact, today’s Irish weddings are quite comparable to weddings around the world. The Irish wedding traditions of the modern times are all about lavishness. Fancy hotels welcome setting those weddings where a great number of people attend. Moreover, people wear formal attire. On the other hands, churches are other options for those who don’t prefer hotels.
In the past, things were not as fancy as they are nowadays when it comes to weddings. They were much simpler and conventional. On the other side, the traditions of Irish weddings are very lovely. They go back to the Gaelic history of Ireland. You may like to add some of their customs to your big day and surprise the audiences.
The Site of the Wedding Ceremony
Aside from the fancy hotels and churches, there are other places to celebrate at. Nowadays, things have so much developed and gave more options for people. The Irish Government now allow couples to hire out national building for their wedding party. People are in love with this idea because they can go interesting and heritage sites. If your wedding ceremony is soon, choose one of those incredible sites.
Desmond Hall, Limerick
The Ceide Fields Stoneage Visitor Centre, Mayo
Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny
The Casino at Marino, Dublin
Castletown House, Kildare
Barryscourt Castle, Cork
The Blasket Island Visitor Centre, Kerry
The Irish Wedding Traditions during the Past
Ireland had sadly gone through ages of oppression. Those who were oppressed the most were people from Catholics. The oppression extended that there were Penal Laws in the 16th century that inhibited priests from doing their work. The law did not allow the priests to say Masses or conduct Sacrament of Marriage. There were also severe sanctions on those priests that got caught. It was only 1920 that the Penal Laws started to withdraw and Catholics restored their freedom. However, before 1920, they spent centuries practising their religious rituals underground. Thus, they were too loyal to keep their own identity surviving all of those years. No wonder the Irish wedding traditions also have their very own individuality.
The Specific Days for Irish Weddings
This may sound weird enough, but actually, Ireland has specific days when people get married. Other cultures may not pay attention to what day of the week it is when it comes to weddings. But, they arrange days that are suitable for all parties. Despite that strange fact, it actually makes Ireland have a unique identity.
Long centuries ago, Ireland had people set their weddings on Sundays. Probably, the reason was that it was a weekend and people are free of responsibilities. It gave room for everyone to attend the wedding. Through the years, that notion has changed a bit. Naturally, cultures evolve and develop; they ditch some customs and keep others. With the spread of the Catholic religion, Sundays have become disrespectful choices for weddings. Catholic people usually dedicate Sundays to praying. On the other hand, setting weddings in May was against the Irish wedding traditions. Why? Well, because May is the start of the summer season which was the Bealtane; a Pagan feast. It was discourteous to set a wedding during the Pagan feast. Those beliefs used to reside in Ireland for a very long time. They actually derive from an old marriage song that people usually sang.
The Special Days for Irish Weddings Currently
Since Sundays became out of options, weddings nowadays take place on Saturdays instead. Usually, among the Irish wedding traditions, you should plan your wedding years in advance, That way, you facilitate the attendance of your visitors and not close to any religious rituals. However, in modern days, weddings can take place on Sundays, but they are very rare.
The Wedding Day According to the Irish Wedding Traditions
On the wedding day, the bride starts getting ready early. The Bridesmaids start attending the bride’s place and get her ready. With the help of a hairdresser, the bride becomes the prettiest ever. Once she is ready, a fancy limo collects her and drives to the church where the groom awaits. There, start the true traditions and customs of an Irish wedding. So, let’s get familiarized with those lovely Irish wedding traditions.
The Distinctiveness of the Irish Wedding Traditions
Previously, we have stated why the Irish wedding traditions have their very own identity. However, we have not discussed this very identity yet. Here, you will learn about brand new customs that you can barely find around the world. So, let us start.
The Claddagh Ring
Using a traditional Claddagh Ring is a common practice in an Irish wedding. Surprisingly, the groom is often the one to use it. The ring is actually a symbol of romance and marriage. It is improper to buy one for yourself; you should actually earn it as a gift. Most commonly, mothers hand the ring down to their daughters and the cycle keeps going on and on. The name of the ring belongs to a fishing village. It is the Galway Village and it exists in Western Ireland.
So, to get straight to the point; what exactly is the symbol of that ring? Well, yes it does symbolize romance and love. However, the ring acts as the betrothal as well as the wedding ring. Before the wedding, the bride wears the ring facing inward toward the wrist. Once the wedding is over, the bride reverses the ring to face outwards, toward the nail. When the ring is facing outwards, it means that the person is in a long-term relationship.
The Magic Hanky
The magic hanky is another practice that the Irish wedding traditions embrace. It is a special handkerchief made of linen, in other cases; it is made of cheaper materials. The practice involves the bride holding the hanky on her wedding day. The symbol is for that piece to be converted in the future to a Christening hat/bonnet for the bride’s first child. Later generations inherit the hanky and use it in the same manner.
The Lucky Horseshoe
The lucky horseshoe is a tradition that the whole world is familiar with. Those metal pieces was a symbol of luck; people kept it in their houses to hold on the luck. Ireland was not the only country popular of that practice; England was famous for it too. In weddings, Brides would walk down the aisle while holding the lucky horseshoe. The bride and the groom would take the horseshoe to their matrimonial home and the groom would securely pin it. Despite the rarity of this practice now, using ceramic and glass horseshoes in wedding became among the Irish wedding traditions.
In different cultures, like the Greek, for example, the horseshoe did not symbolize luck like the Irish culture. In point of fact, they believed that it was the symbol of fertility along with the crescent moon.
Bells are popular in Christian religions. People believe that bells are capable of driving the evil spirits away. Naturally speaking, people would use to keep their lives and marriages safe. Among the Irish wedding traditions, ringing bells is a sign of wishing you a joyful life. While ringing the bell, it is important that someone throws a shoe over the bride’s head. Of course, the shoe must not hit the bride’s head. This practice ensures good luck, as well as the bells, do.
Cold Feet and Locked Doors
A few centuries ago, people in Ireland used to believe that Irish men got cold feet. More surprisingly, it was something that they get specifically on wedding days. To solve the problem, guests would lock the door of the church. That was the way that the guests used to ensure the groom goes through the ceremony rituals peacefully.
Toasts of Weddings
Toasts are important parts of any happy occasion. People cheer for something great that is coming to pass. Definitely, the Irish wedding traditions involve toasting where everybody gathers to drink wine, toasting to the health of the couple. There are many different toasts and sayings recited at weddings. SLAINTE is the traditional Irish toast; it means “to your health.”
Aitin’ the Gander
Aitin’ the Gander is an Old Irish phrase that actually means “the goose is cooked.” Ireland, especially in Dublin, still uses this phrase. It means that the groom is already taken and there is no going back. The phrase goes back to an old tradition that the Irish practised before weddings. Before the wedding, the groom would visit the bride’s house and the family would cook a goose for him. Cooking the goose became a symbol that the bride and the groom are officially together for good. Thus, people keep saying “His goose is cooked.”
The Ceilidh Dance
If you are going to have an Irish wedding, you have to stick to the Irish wedding traditions. This means you need to learn the traditional Irish dance, Ceilidh. The name of the dance is an Irish term; however, it can change according to other locations in Ireland. Some people refer to it as the Seige of Ennis or the Kerry Set. The couple has this dance on special Irish tunes like Home to Mayo or Galway Shawl. Anyhow, you can choose a song that reflects more your background and your family’s heritage. To make things more fun, share the dance with your guests as well. New couples usually sign up for lessons before their weddings. Some of them consider taking some of their significant guests along to ensure a fun dance.
Hand Fasting (Tying the Knot)
Seemingly, the Irish wedding traditions are numerous and they are all equally exciting. Those traditions included the Hand Fasting. It was an ancient Celtic tradition where the engaged couple ties their hands together right before their actual wedding day. This practice is like giving the couple a chance to show that they are willing to commit to one another. It acted as a temporary marriage until their wedding day; the actual marriage. However, in modern times, the couple practices the handfasting on the same day of their wedding.
Handfasting may be a symbol of commitment nowadays, but it was the legitimate way of marriage during the Middle Ages. When the Penal Laws were over, formal marriage acts took place instead. This act belonged to the Pagan and Wiccan traditions. It involved symbolic items, including crystals, silver boxes, marriage documents, candles, rocks, and a broomstick.
The dowry was one of the popular practices that the Irish wedding traditions included. Well, the term dowry means a wedding gift; it could be money or other valuable things. However, what exactly was the dowry in the Irish wedding traditions? Since the 19th century or so, brides-to-be had always received wedding gifts from their parents. The family of the daughter who was about to get married would transfer money, properties, or other valuable goods. It was the Irish parents’ way to secure their daughter’s future. They wanted to make sure she’d remain in a good financial status in case her husband happened to be irresponsible. In case the daughter’s widowing, the dowry comes in handy when she’s left with no husband.
Moreover, the dowry sometimes is a gift for the newly matrimonial household. Some families agree to provide a gift for the new couple to settle at the beginning of their new life. On the other hand, some parents do not provide gifts; however, they make it a personal gift to their precious daughter. When the gift goes to the household of the newlyweds, the parents’ of both parties should agree to it. In most cases, the parents pay the first half of the dowry on the wedding day. Later, they provide the rest of the payment when the first child comes to the world.
The Modernity and the Dowry Tradition
The dowry has been one of the prominent Irish wedding traditions for so long. However, in the modern days, people have downgraded this tradition. It became more popular in the countryside and rural areas of Ireland instead. On the other hand, the dowry sometimes acts as criteria for choosing a husband. For example, if the bride’s dowry is higher than that of the husband, they can’t get married. That was another way to ensure that the daughter won’t have a financial status below her original one.
Lent and Marriage Prohibition
Lent is a time that Irish people consecrate. Among the Irish wedding traditions, wedding ceremonies shall not take place during Lent. To be clearer, Lent is that period that comes before Easter Sunday and it lasts up to 40 days. The day right before Lent begins is Shrove Tuesday, which means Pancake Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday is actually your last chance to get married before Easter starts. However, if you want to get married, then the period from Christmas until Lent is the best time for it. Again, the Irish wedding traditions involve the importance of choosing a specific day of the week. Some days bring more luck than others do while weekends should be out of the chart. Irish people devoted so much to exchange the wedding vows, so the choice of the day is very significant.
As soon as Lent starts, the first Sunday is a fun day. People refer to it as Chalk Sunday and single men are the target of that day. Chalk Sunday is all about tricks and fun. The trick involved marking the back of bachelors with chalk. When people observe that guy with the mark, they gather as if it is a Mass. That is actually the time when the guy has to run for his life. They all start running and have fun all day long.
It seems like the Irish wedding traditions are quite endless. Here is one more popular custom; Luck Money. In the past, the groom was responsible for giving the parents of the bride money. This practice was one that the Irish people believe brought luck to the new matrimonial house. Luck money was also another reason for pride, especially if the amount of money was a big one. Though this practice has not stayed around for so long, some sources that it’s still around for other reasons. Luck money is no longer one of the Irish wedding traditions. But, it is still around when it comes to buying a livestock or cattle. The practice, in this case, is about giving back a certain amount of the money to the buyer. They believe it brings luck.
The Honeymoon was an Irish Thing
People around the world use the term honeymoon; however, no one considered thinking about the truth behind it. Seemingly, Ireland was the first country to let out that term. It became a popular term that newlyweds around the world use. So, what is exactly the story of the honeymoon? Well, metal is an Irish word that means honey in English. People in Ireland used to name the month after the wedding as Mi na meala. The literal translation of the latter was “The month of honey.”
Ok, here is the story behind the reason of that name. After the wedding, the bride and the groom usually drink mead. It was a way of celebration and it was made of fermented honey. Over and beyond, the guests would give a satisfactory amount of mead to the couple along with special goblets. Those gifts were simple ways to verify a great beginning to the marriage. The couple would share the drink for one full moon after their wedding. From here, the term “Honeymoon’ were combined. Mead and honey were sacred drinks in the Irish wedding traditions; people believed they bequeath fertility for a great marriage.
The Life of an Irish Bride
Being the bride is always something to celebrate. You celebrate finding your soulmate and having your own house. How you celebrate depends solely on your cultural and religious backgrounds. The same goes for Irish brides. They have a lot of unique customs that the Irish wedding traditions imposed on them. Conversely, some of them are quite fun and others are pretty strange. So, let us take a look at the life of an Irish bride.
Break the Cake
Here is one of the first Irish wedding traditions, breaking the cake. It sounds weird and it may as well be the weirdest among all of the other customs. When the bride enters her new home, her mother-in-law shall break a cake of break over her head. Yes, they actually do this or maybe they used to do it but stopped. This strange practice was, in fact, a demonstration that the bride is the woman to take over the house. She is the new mistress. Maybe, the practice stopped; however, it was there anywhere.
When the Sun Shines
Irish people used to have some strange notions. One of them was about the sun and bringing luck. In the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a notion that involved that the sun. If it shone on the bride, it was a sign of good luck to the couple. Once the ceremony was over, it was preferable that a man was the first to wish the bride joy. If a woman was the one to wish first, then bad luck would be around.
Wedding Veil or Headwear
Irish brides have the same choices to other European countries when it comes to bridal headwear. She chooses either a veil or any other couture headwear. Besides, a garland of wildflowers is usually the favourite choice of an Irish bride. Most importantly, it does not matter what she chooses. All the choices are quite good; however, she shall not put the headwear herself. Wearing the headwear by herself was a sign of bad luck.
Keep the Man Around
The Irish wedding traditions involve some simple steps to help the woman keep her man. Women always wanted to ensure the fidelity of her husband-to-be. In order to do that, a woman would give her husband a drink in secret. While he drinks, she shall utter the following words:
“This is the charm I set for love,
A woman’s charm of love and desire:
You for me and I for thee and for none else;
Your face to mine and your hand turned away from all others”.
Paying a Coibche
Coibche is an amount of money that the prospective husband has to pay. When a man proposes to a woman, he has to pay money for the bride’s father. As soon as the father receives the money, he divides it with the head of their tribe. On the second year of marriage, the wife has the right to receive a portion of the amount. Over the years, the amount would increase. Aside from the Coibche, there is also a Tionnscar. That was a payment that the husband shall pay to the father in case they come from different kingdoms. The payment was usually silver, brass, gold, or copper. However, that was among the ancient Irish wedding traditions.
A Marriage Contract
During the 12th century, the Normans arrived in Ireland. At that time, marriage was a casual affair in Ireland. Couples were allowed to marry for one year and after that, either party can withdraw. Later, marriage contracts became a thing. It became more complicated then; it was a social connection for the purposes of procreation.’ Those purposes meant that infertile and poor men shall not make a contract. If one of them happened to marry, the woman has the right to break the contract for those reasons. Weird enough, the society thought that fat men were unable to perform his duties.
Age Does Matter
This custom was popular in a lot of cultures. The eldest girl in the family shall be the first to marry. Then, her younger sisters would marry in order, according to their age. If a younger girl happened to marry first, people would observe the eldest one as a flawed one.
The Perfect Woman for Marriage
Ancient Irish wedding traditions included choosing the perfect woman. Women who were about to marry had to fit the criteria of the ideal woman. Those traits were a sweet singing voice, good sewing skills, cleverness, and a pleasant speaking voice. But then again, those measures were only important during the ancient times. Nowadays, people barely pay attention to any of those things. However, some of those customs still exist in the rural area of Ireland.
The Lace of the Irish Bride
Again, the couture of brides in Ireland is quite similar to that of the Western world. On the other hand, there are things that distinguish the Irish culture and that include the Irish lace. The latter is a unique Irish touch that the bride. Lace is actually a unique fabric in the Irish wedding traditions. Women in Ireland add this nice fabric to their veil or headwear and it looks magnificent. Moreover, some people consider it too expensive or too extra, thus they carry a lace handkerchief. Some brides prefer handing those lace bags as gifts to the attendants. More reasonably, they would receive them as precious gifts too.
Wedding Gifts for the Bride
Usually, laces are special gifts that Irish brides receive. It is one of the important Irish wedding traditions; however, there are lots of other items. Irish linen is equally important to laces; they both represent commitment. Surprisingly, brides do not start their new life without owning collectable Belleek Pottery or stunning Waterford Crystal. This may sound very strange to other cultures, but it is part of the Irish wedding traditions; important ones. Other gifts that the Irish brides usually receive are shakers of pepper and salt. Yes, they do receive such gifts and they are significant according to the Irish wedding traditions. Tall toasting glasses are also lucky gifts alongside porcelain bells that work as reminders for first days of marriage.
Ancient Irish Wedding Traditions
You have too much about the Irish wedding traditions already. However, there are more surprising and fascinating ones that existed during the ancient times but ceased to reach this day. Skim through those eccentric customs; you will definitely come across funny ones.
The Good Omen
People in Ireland have the impulse to believe that a lot of signs are actually ones of luck. But, when it comes to marriage, more than a few signs can change the couple’s mood in no time. One of those signs includes getting married during a harvest; people consider it a good omen. Another luck bringer was hearing the sound of a Cuckoo bird on the wedding day. Besides, they should never cross paths with funeral processions.
Ward Off the Evil Spirits
Traditionally, people rang wedding bells believing that it kept the devils away. However, it seems that this was not their only way to stave off the evil spirits. The ancient Irish wedding traditions obliged the couples to eat salt and oatmeal on their big day. That was one way to ensure a peaceful marriage. Those notions stem back to some Catholicism and Gaelic roots that used to take place in Ireland.
Burying the Statue
The Child of Prague is a statue that the bride should place before her wedding. Some brides bury that statue in their gardens, believing it was a sure-way to bless the day with good weather.
Don’t forget to check out related blogs about Irish history, traditions, legends and Myths: Get to Know Some of The Most Famous Irish Proverbs| Claddagh Ring: The Essence of Loyalty and Faithfulness| The History of Gaelic Ireland Throughout the Centuries| The Globally Celebrated St. Patricks Day| Insight into Irish Wakes and Superstitious Associated with it|