Ireland boasts a range of traditions steeped in a healthy dose of myth and magic, and Irish weddings are no exception.
Filled with abundant fascinating symbols, rituals, and enthralling entertainment, old Irish wedding traditions are plentiful and deeply meaningful. In fact, you’ll probably be surprised to learn that many Irish wedding traditions are already staple traditions for all weddings.
If you’re dreaming of having a traditional Irish wedding, here are the essential traditions you need to know about.
Well, why not?
An Irish wedding is a great way to honor your ancestral roots and connect with an ancient culture. If your heritage hails from the Emerald Isle, what better way to proudly show it off?
And if you’re Irish yourself, why not embrace your birthright with an Irish wedding? Many Irish traditions, such as clothing and symbols, are lost in modern life, so making Irish wedding traditions central to your wedding is the perfect opportunity to experience them.
However, even if you have no association with Ireland, you can still enjoy Irish wedding traditions without feeling like you’re appropriating the culture. After all, toasts and honeymoons are historically Irish, and almost all weddings have these!
Yes, it’s true. The honeymoon is one of the most wonderful Irish wedding traditions practiced by newlyweds across the globe.
Although the meaning of honeymoon has changed to mean little more than a nice vacation, its history is fascinating. In ancient Ireland, wedding guests toasted with honey mead and the newlyweds received, as a wedding gift, enough of the drink to last a full moon’s cycle. They would then sup the drink daily for 30 days, hoping it would bring them fertility and luck, while warding off bad fairies and spirits.
Did you know the wedding toast also originated in Ireland? It began sometime in the 17th century, when raising a glass was a way to praise the Celtic gods.
Here is an example of a traditional Irish toast:
“May your troubles be less, and your blessings be more. And nothing but happiness come through your door.”
Handfasting is part of a traditional Irish wedding ceremony, and it’s where the term “tying the knot” originated.
A handfasting ceremony consists of the couple holding both hands on top of each other while someone else winds a length of ribbon around their wrists and hands in a symbol of the couple being “bound” together.
Interestingly, this ritual is also now commonplace during humanist wedding ceremonies.
The Claddagh ring is an easily identifiable Irish symbol featuring a heart, hands, and a crown. It represents the three beacons of marriage: loyalty, friendship, and love.
Ancient Irish wedding traditions dictate brides pass the ring down through generations. Unwed women wear the ring on the right hand, with the point of the heart facing toward the fingertips. Then, after they’re engaged, they move the ring to the left hand and flip it so the heart’s point faces the body. This action signifies that the wearer is now in a committed relationship.
Many modern Irish weddings love to incorporate this beautiful tradition, and it’s a perfect way to involve all your guests in the ceremony.
During the ceremony, the wedding officiant will announce that the ring warming is about to start. Then, the congregation passes the rings around. Each guest holds the rings for a moment and makes a wish or blessing on the couple’s behalf, while music plays.
Eventually, the rings return to the bride and groom, well-warmed with the energy and positivity of every person present.
Horseshoes have long been considered a symbol of luck, but did you know this symbolism originated in Ireland?
During traditional Irish weddings, the bride receives a horseshoe, to bring her and her spouse luck. In order to ward off evil fairies, the horseshoe must be made from iron. During the ceremony, the bride is obligated to carry the horseshoe upon her person, with the shoe’s ends pointed upwards in the shape of a “U.” After the wedding, the newlyweds hang the horseshoe above their threshold.
Modern twists on this tradition include incorporating small horseshoes into the bouquet and buttonholes or embroidered on the bride’s clothing.
The Celtic love knot (also known as the Irish love knot) is another highly traditional Irish symbol representing eternal life and shared love. This highly versatile symbol might find a place on a wedding ring, cufflinks, tie pattern, and more.
No Irish wedding party would be complete without some traditional Irish music to get things moving.
Popular choices for your ceremony’s processional song include:
Hiring an Irish band will also ensure your theme remains firmly traditional once you’ve said “I do.” From sweet lilts to rowdy Irish jigs, there’s something for every part of the event.
Traditional instruments you can expect to find played in an Irish band are:
You’ll need some Irish dancing to complement your traditional Irish music. Consider hiring a dancing troupe to perform step dances and jigs.
You and your guests might want to practice mastering the “Ceili” (pronounced Kay-lee). This a very traditional Irish dance that originated in the 1,500s that incorporates:
This charming tradition symbolizes fertility. The bride tucks a handkerchief into her sleeve or within the bouquet, keeping it there throughout the wedding day. Then, after the birth of the couple’s first child, the handkerchief is incorporated into their christening bonnet.
Modern non-religious versions of this tradition include using the handkerchief to make a blanket or baby garment.
Of course, Irish wedding traditions don’t stop at the ceremony. You can go all out and dress from head to toe in traditional Irish wedding attire.
Long before white was considered the color of purity, blue symbolized the virginal qualities of a bride. Therefore, a stunning deep blue gown adorned with delicate Irish lace is a great choice for Irish brides.
Historically, Irish brides also often wore braids to symbolize power and luck. Sometimes, a wildflower wreath accompanied the braids.
Grooms following Irish traditions should wear a kilt made from their family tartan, along with the Brian Boru jacket. Long socks with ribbons, a sporran, and a white shirt with a bow tie complete the look for the wedding day.
Famous Irish wedding traditions include the honeymoon, handfasting, the ring-warming ceremony, symbols of luck, the magic hanky, and more.
Irish brides traditionally wore blue. Irish grooms donned tartan kilts in colors corresponding to their county or district.
Typical and popular Irish wedding symbols include the Claddagh, the Celtic knot, and the Celtic cross. Shamrocks and horseshoes also feature prominently.
The average amount spent on a wedding gift in Ireland is €50 to €200. Though cash is the most popular gift choice, traditional Irish wedding gifts also include bells, salt and pepper shakers, and wine glasses.
The traditional Irish bride wore a wreath of wildflowers and held a bouquet of aromatic herbs and lavender. Today, the Bells of Ireland — green bell-like funnels along a vertical stem with tiny white flowers — is the most popular choice.
There are plenty of Irish wedding traditions to choose from. Many modern couples add their own modern twists to them, like adding Irish lace to the wedding cake, or having horseshoes and Celtic knots as part of the décor.
It’s up to you which traditions you pick for your wedding, as there are no hard and fast rules for what you should do. The point is to have fun and choose what’s meaningful for you and your spouse-to-be.
Do you want more fascinating wedding tradition info? We’ve compiled some great cultural wedding traditions from Indian to Korean to Scottish and more! Check out our other articles over on The Groom Club.