Wedding Traditions from Ireland
The Irish are full of belief and superstition, and weddings are no exception. This, however, makes an Irish wedding all the more interesting, full of tradition and fun to participate in. Since so many of the Irish traditions are beliefs about “good” and “bad” fortune falling to the couple, we’ve organized this post to be easy to read.
- The banns of marriage are still required to this day in some parts of Ireland, and began under British rule. They consist of an announcement in church for three Sundays prior to the wedding so that any who might object to the marriage will be given the opportunity to do so.
- The groom is invited to the bride’s house right before the wedding and they cooked a goose in his honor (this might be where the phrase ‘his goose is cooked” comes from).
- Traditionally, the couple walks to the church together before the ceremony and onlookers toss rice to bless the couple, coins for the local beggar children to collect (and traditionally one could also be showered with items such as pots and pans!)
- Honking of the horns or the firing of weapons was considered a salute to the couple
- The “claddagh” is the traditional Irish wedding ring – it shows a pair of hands clasping a heart, topped by a crown. The heart represents love, the hands friendship and faith, and the crown loyalty, honor and fidelity. The ring’s motto is to “let love and friendship reign.” This ring is worn on her right hand with the heart facing inward during her engagement, and moved to the left to indicate her status as a married woman.
- The dress of an Irish bride was traditionally a blue dress, symbolizing purity. White dresses are now common as well.
- The ‘magic hanky’ is a special hanky the bride carries that with a few stitches can become a christening bonnet for their first baby, and back into a hanky for their wedding day.
- The groom wearing a kilt and asking his groomsmen to do the same, is also very rooted in Irish ritual
- The tradition of the bride standing on the left came from the Irish or Scots, as marriages were often decided upon the capture or kidnapping of a woman. The groom and his “best man” would help him fight off other men who wanted her, or her kinsmen who would try to come and fetch her. He would hold onto her with his left hand while fighting them off with his sword in his right.
- Irish wedding vows often come from their many proverbs, such as, “Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Walk beside me and be my friend.”
- The Irish also embrace many Celtic customs, such as the Celtic knot, which represents eternity and the practice of handfasting, in which a silk cord is used to tie the bride and groom’s hands together symbolizing the bond created between the newlyweds.
- Tossing rice or grain on the newlyweds originates from the ancient pagan rite of showering the couple to promote fertility.
- The Leap Year – Leap year is considered to be a day ‘lept over’ and therefore not a day at all, and with this belief, came the opportunity for the woman to do the proposing of marriage!
- Music, fiddle, bagpipes, and Irish drinking songs are the custom — “The Irish Wedding Song” is the traditional first dance song, and is a slow waltz.
- Traditional Irish far such as corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread, dark beers and “bunratty Mead,” a honeyed ale or wine
It is believed that the term “honeymoon” comes from the Irish. The literal translation is “the month of honey” and the Irish custom is to drink mead from special goblets for a month after the wedding to protect the couple from the fairies coming to whisk the bride away. Another belief holds that the couple would seclude themselves, hidden away from their families for a month (especially if the bride had been stolen from another clan or if they had eloped). The belief was that after a month she would become pregnant and her family would desire that she stay with her new husband.
- The wedding cake is a rich fruitcake doused in brandy or bourbon, the top tier of the wedding cake should be an Irish whiskey cake which is saved for the christening of the firstborn child (a bottle of champagne from the wedding can be used to wet the newborns head as well
- Jumping the broom (although most often associated with an African-American wedding tradition) is also referenced and practiced in Celtic tradition – might have come from a festival in which women would “jump or ride” a broom to ensure the fertiility of the crops
- Carrying the bride over the threshold is traditional, although not rooted in Irish lore
- Reception is typically followed by an open house where everyone is invited. Music is provided, but guests bring their own liquor and sandwiches are served. Often this is also followed by a party for the young people that lasts into the wee hours of the morning.
- Gifts that are often to the couple include a horseshoe which the couple will hand over the doorway of their house, believed to hold good luck (so one should never turn it upside down for fear that all the luck will flow out) and bells to remind of their vows and bring peace
Beliefs that brings fortune or “good luck” on you wedding day
- Lucky days to marry: St. Patrick’s Day is the luckiest day, “Marry in April if you can, joy for maiden and for man,” during a “growing moon” or a “flowing tide,” Christmas and New Year’s Eve, or on Monday for wealth, Tuesday for health, Wednesday the best day of all
- To have your birthstone in your engagement ring
- Looking at the sun when you leave for your wedding (your children will be beautiful)
- Wearing a lucky horseshoe in the bridal attire (jewelry, embroidered, in bridal bouquet or carried). The earrings you wear will be lucky forever after.
- Braided hair which is an ancient symbol of feminine power and luck.
- In the bridal bouquet, the Bells of Ireland, Shamrocks, and English Lavender are mixed with the bouquet to ensure a happy and long-lasting union. (in Wales) brides carry life myrtle and give a sprig to each of their bridesmaids which they then plant. If it grows, the bridesmaid was believed to be certain to marry within the year.
- Hearing birds sing or a cuckoo call on the wedding morning, or seeing three magpies
- The groom wishing joy to the bride before she does the same to him
- To have your veil placed by a happily married woman (bad luck to it on your own)
- Having a shoes thrown over the bride’s head as she leaves the church
- Eating of salt and oatmeal at the beginning of the reception to ward off the evil eye
- Mead promotes virility (if the baby is born 9 months after the wedding, it is attributed to the mead)
- If the brides’ mother in law breaks a piece of wedding cake on the bride’s head (it will bring good luck and assure a friendship for life)
- Accidently tear your dress on your wedding day
- The ringing of bells – believed to ward off evil, restore harmony during a fight and recall wedding vows
- Taking the longest road home from the church and returning home via a different path than the one you took to your wedding
Beliefs that bring misfortune or “bad luck” on your wedding day
- Unlucky days to marry: Marry in May and rue the day, Marry on Thursday for crosses, Friday for Losses and Saturday no day at all, Marry during harvest and spend you lives gathering (could be good, could be bad)
- Meeting a funeral on the road
- Wearing green
- For the bride of groom to sing at their own wedding
- Taking both feet off the floor when dancing, for the fairies love beautiful things and a bride is most definitely worth stealing
- If a glass or cup is broken