Explaining the Meaning of Irish Wedding Traditions
If there’s one thing the Irish love, it’s a party — and, in particular, a wedding party. Although, like the rest of the world, marriage celebrations now take many forms, a lot of people still hold onto some of the unique, charming and quirky traditions for their Irish weddings.
Irish Wedding Traditions: Tying the Knot
Although you’ve probably heard the term, ‘to tie the knot’, you may not know that this comes from an old Irish tradition whereby, during the ceremony, the couple’s clasped hands would be literally tied together with ribbon to symbolize their becoming joined together, hence the couple would be said to have ‘tied the knot’.
Blue Wedding Dress
Like in many societies, most Irish brides now favor white bridal gowns, however, this tradition only began with the wedding of Queen Victoria in 1840. Previous to this, it was customary for an Irish bride to wear blue which, like the white, was said to symbolize purity.
Horseshoes: No Evil Spirits Allowed
Today, as in ancient times, Irish brides will carry a horseshoe for luck. Mythology has it that the primitive goblins were afraid of the metal weapons of their enemies, therefore people hung horseshoes over their doors to ward off evil spirits. These days, rather than carrying a heavy and unsightly real horseshoe, most Irish brides will wear a horseshoe-shaped pendant or charm as part of their wedding outfit.
The Claddagh Ring
One of the oldest and most enduring Irish wedding traditions is the Claddagh ring. Chances are that, when you meet an Irish woman, she will be wearing one of these. Ornate with a central heart, this ring is often given from mother to daughter as a gift, at which point she will wear it on the right hand with the heart pointing toward the fingertip. When a young woman is engaged, the ring is switched to the left hand with the heart pointing toward her wrist to indicate that her heart is now taken.
Although a popular symbol of marriage these days, in old Ireland, wedding bells served a very specific purpose — to ward off evil spirits. It was considered vital that the couple about to be married were protected against malicious spirits and, so, guests would be given small bells which they would ring as the couple approached the church for their wedding.
Old Irish Wedding Tradition: Celtic Pebble Tossing
Many churches in Ireland are located near a source of water such as a river or lake which are thought to be blessed by the gods. At traditional Celtic weddings, the couple and their guests would toss pebbles into the water whilst making a wish of happiness for the couple.
The Irish Grushie
Like most cultures, a feature of a traditional Irish wedding is a wish for prosperity for the couple. Whilst in many cultures, this involves a gift from guests to betrothed, the Irish Grushie involves the newly married couple throwing coins to their guests.
Irish Wedding Dress Traditions: the Last Stitch
As any bride will know, the gown is one of the most important parts of any wedding and, in traditional Irish weddings, the last stitch sown on a wedding gown would bring good luck on the big day of the wedding.
Although, these days, many opt for a more modern ceremony, the order of service for a traditional Celtic wedding would be:
- The consecration or blessing of the sacred wedding circle within which the bride and groom will stand.
- The arrival of the couple - first the groom and then the bride, to be presented to their guests.
- The bride and groom will recite their wedding vows to one another and exchange rings.
- The vicar or priest will bind or fast a ribbon around the couple’s hands to symbolize their joining.
- The vicar or priest will give thanks and will reiterate the vows recited by the couple.
- The blessed or consecrated circle will be closed, followed by a blessing and a prayer.
Many Irish wedding traditions come from this unique country’s religion and heritage. For the ultimate in good luck, many believe that getting married on St Patrick’s Day is the way to ensure a long and happy marriage.
St Patrick is Ireland’s Patron Saint and is thought to have been a Christian missionary in the fifth century. St Patrick’s Day is celebrated around the world on March 17 with traditional dancing, shamrocks and, of course, a drop or two of the black stuff.
Conservative Irish people also believe that the month in which you are married indicates the future of the marriage and, this is symbolized by many rhymes and songs. St. Patrick’s Day is considered to be the best day to get married. There are some common poems which state during which months one should — or should not — get married in Ireland. According to folklore, January, April, September, November, and December are the happiest months to marry. Those marrying in other months are told to beware; particularly in May — many of the old sayings promise that those marrying in this month will rue the day!
Whatever kind of an Irish wedding ceremony and traditions you choose to have, you’ll be sure to find a heart-warming welcome in this country and many new friends, who will always be happy to join your celebrations!