Irish wedding traditions may date back many centuries but many are still around today. In fact, several Celtic wedding traditions have crossed over into popular culture, like honeymoons and handfasting ceremonies. Others, like aitin’ the gander (where the couple’s families feasted on a goose before the wedding) may be less well-known. But incorporating Irish wedding traditions into your big day is a lovely touch, whether you’re planning a destination wedding in Ireland or want to add an Irish touch to your ceremony back home first. Here are seven of my favourite customs.
The Claddagh ring
One of the best known Irish wedding traditions, Claddagh rings have been exchanged since the 17th century. They are also often handed down from mother to daughter. The ring’s design depicts two hands holding a crowned heart, representing love, loyalty, and friendship. When the wearer is single, the ring is worn on the right hand, with the point of the heart towards the fingertips. When in a relationship, it is turned, and once married, moved to the left hand.
Irish wedding dresses often include beautiful Irish lace detailing. These intricate laces have been made in Ireland since before the mid-eighteenth century, and patterns differ depending on where they are made. One of the most popular is Carrickmacross lace from County Monaghan, worn by Kate Middleton at her wedding to Prince William.
Bagpipes are an important part of both Scottish and Irish culture, but here in Ireland, we favour the Uilleann pipes. They have a quieter, sweeter sound. They’re part of many ceremonies and celebrations, but are especially atmospheric at Irish weddings. It’s a very special way for the bride to walk down the aisle!
The handfasting ceremony
If you’ve ever wondered where the phrase ‘tying the knot’ comes from, here’s your answer! Handfasting is an ancient Celtic wedding ceremony, where the couple’s hands are bound together with rope, ribbon, or lace. The love knot symbolises unity, even in times of trouble. I love how this Irish wedding tradition can be personalised, using fabric or colours that suit your wedding style.
In ancient Ireland, guests toasted the newlyweds with mead, a drink made of honey. It was believed to endow luck and fertility, and keep away the fairies. After the wedding, the couple were given enough of the brew to last them a month, or the cycle of one full moon. ‘Mi na meala’, the ‘month of honey’ is where we get the term ‘honeymoon’!
In Celtic tradition, the braid is a symbol of feminine power and good luck. Many Irish brides have worn their hair in braids, often interwoven with ribbons or lace. There are so many beautiful braided hairstyles to choose from, whatever your hair type or length!
Ringing the bells
According to this Irish wedding tradition, the sound of bells is meant to ward off evil spirits and keep harmony in the home. Some Irish brides carry small bells in their bouquets, while others receive a small bell as a gift. This is sometimes called a ‘make-up bell’, as couples can ring it during their marriage after an argument, as a reminder of their wedding vows. Bells always make a lovely addition to your Irish wedding ceremony, or can be given as favours, to honour this tradition.
Which of these Irish wedding traditions is your favourite?
Slán go Fóill,
Images by Lisa O’Dwyer