Irish Wedding Traditions
3rd May 2023
There’s nothing more beautiful than weaving ancient traditions into a wedding ceremony. Acknowledging your ancestors, welcoming good fortune, and celebrating your heritage as a couple is all part of getting married.
That’s why Irish traditions and customs are still so popular, and have survived for such a long time. If you’re thinking of adding some Irish flair to your special day, take a look at some of the most popular Irish wedding customs that will make your day unique and bring a little bit of luck too.
What Are Irish Wedding Traditions?
Irish tradition is rich and long. Wedding traditions are up there with some of the most important celebrations, and many of the Irish wedding customs are to do with bringing luck and good fortune upon the marriage. Some traditions have even sparked popular phrases or customs that are used to this day all over the world.
Handfasting is an ancient ritual whereby a couple literally “tie the knot”. By tying a knot around both of their hands in front of their community, Irish folklore and tradition says that the two are meant to be lifelong partners.
This can be a beautiful way to add Irish tradition to your big day and to include family in the ribbon and rope that is tied around the hands. Each ribbon can be picked by a family member to add meaning to the knot tying and symbolise that person’s blessing.
Wearing Celtic Symbols
In Irish tradition, the bride may add celtic symbols to her wedding dress to bring good fortune and hold extra meaning.
A Celtic Knot is the most common symbol that is worn to represent eternity and longevity in their marriage, but people may also use the Celtic tree of life, a horse shoe or lucky shamrocks to bring about good fortune on the day.
Wear a Claddagh Ring
Claddagh rings contain very special symbols that represent love, friendship, and loyalty. They are often exchanged at wedding ceremonies to represent the binding agreement between partners.
How you wear your Claddagh ring holds significant meaning, and often people will already have a Claddagh ring that they turn around, or move hands once they are married. This is an important ritual and one that has been passed down through centuries in Ireland.
Claddagh Rings are sometimes given on big birthdays (like 16, 18 and 21 years old) and then worn in a particular way until the individual is married. When single, the Claddagh ring’s heart point will be facing away from the body. When in a relationship, the ring will be worn on the right hand with the heart facing towards the hand, and then, once married, the ring will be worn on the left hand facing towards the body.
Lock the Church Door
Locking the church door is a tradition with a bit of a sad side. It used to be believed that Irish men tended to get cold feet – especially on their wedding day. To solve the problem of the groom running away, guests began to lock the door of the church as soon as the bride arrived to make sure he went through with the ceremony.
Play Traditional Irish Wedding Songs
The Irish people are known for their ancient music and dance rituals, and the Uillleann pipes can add an authentic Irish touch to any wedding.
Whether you want to use them while the bride walks down the aisle, or add them to the feast and celebration, using traditional Irish wedding songs is a traditional part of the ceremony.
Announcing the dowry
Although a little outdated now, the dowry was once a popular practice in Irish wedding traditions. The term dowry means a wedding gift (literally it means fortune) from the bride’s family to the groom’s in order to secure a good match. This could come in the form or money or valuable items but was more likely that not to be a gift of land or livestock.
It was a prominent Irish wedding tradition for many centuries but has been abandoned in more recent times. Instead, it is common for families and guests to gift the couple with money or presents but they are just that – a gift.
What the Bride Wears
Wedding customs also dictate what a bride should wear on her wedding day – from the colour of her dress to how to style her hair.
Wear a Blue Wedding Dress
In ancient Celtic culture, blue was the symbol of purity and virginity, not white. For this reason, traditional Irish weddings sometimes feature the bride wearing blue.
You may have heard the phrase “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue and a penny for her shoe”. This phrase, although used worldwide today, also came from Irish wedding traditions. These are age-old rituals that were thought to help ward off evil spirits and bring good luck for the happy couple.
Have Your Hair in Braids
In ancient Celtic tradition, braids were a symbol of power and luck. Therefore brides would wear braids in their hair, often woven through with ribbons, lace and wildflowers given to her by her friends and family.
Wear Wild Flowers in Your Hair
Back in the good old days, most Irish weddings took place outdoors. Because of this, a tradition sprung up where guests, friends, and family would pick wildflowers and place it in the bride’s hair as a symbol of friendship and love. The flowers would be place on or incorporated into the bride’s hair, but never by the bride herself.
What the Groom Wears
The groom isn’t safe from traditional wedding customs either. There are a couple of traditional items that a groom can wear the help bring luck to the marriage.
Irish Tartan Kilts
Traditional Irish groom outfits will have a full formal kilt outfit. They will likely wear a Brian Boru jacket, a white tux shirt with bow tie, knee socks with ribbons to match the colour of their tartan, a Sporran with shamrock detailing and Ghillie Brogue shoes. Irish tartan represents the county or district of Ireland from where the groom’s family originate from.
Have a Magic Handkerchief
The magic handkerchief is a lovely Irish custom that symbolises fertility. The bride tucks the magic hanky into her sleeve or her bouquet on her wedding day, and then keeps it to turn into a Christening bonnet for their first-born child.
Irish wedding bells are special as they were once used to ward off evil spirits. Once the marriage has been solidified, the wedding bells will ring in the church but often the bride and groom will also be gifted their own smaller wedding bell for good luck.
It’s well known that to be born Irish is to have poetry in your blood. A romantic ceremony like a wedding is the perfect opportunity to show off this national talent and share your most beautiful poems and blessings with the world.
This could be from bride to groom, from groom to bride, or from those making toasts like the best man and father of the bride, traditionally. These Irish wedding blessings are seen as a vital part of the Irish tradition and bring luck and best wishes to the couple.
No wedding is complete without some free flowing drinks but did you know that an old Irish tradition is where we get the term “honeymoon” from? Back in the day, mead was the wedding drink of choice. It’s a type of alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey and water together. On their wedding day, the bride and groom would toast each other for the first time and would continue to do so every day for the first month or moon cycle. Hence the phrase honeymoon. Mead is far less popular nowadays but plenty of drinking happens regardless!
Ancient Irish Wedding Superstitions
Horseshoes are probably one of the most iconic symbols of luck. In ancient times, a bride would carry a horseshoe down the aisle, open side up so that her luck would never run out. Superstitions like this still thrive in Irish weddings today to bring luck and ward off evil spirits.
To ward off evil spirits on their wedding day, a bride and groom would eat oatmeal sprinkled with salt to chase away any unsavoury spirits watching over them and ensure a peaceful marriage.
We’ve all tossed confetti or rice over a freshly married couple but did you know that there is an ancient tradition where an old shoe was thrown over their heads instead? It was considered good luck to have your guests toss their shoes over newlyweds.
If you’re lucky enough to hear a cuckoo bird or see three magpies on your wedding day, you’ll be blessed with good luck according to ancient Irish superstition.
The Child of Prague Statue
Putting a statue of the Child of Prague in the garden of newlyweds before the wedding took place was said to ensure the event was blessed with good weather – a tradition much needed in the Emerald Isle. Some would take this tradition even further and bury a statue in their garden.
Get Married During Harvest
It was said, historically, that getting married during a time of ‘plenty’ such as a harvest would offer good luck to any couple getting married. It was thought that getting hitched during a time of prosperity would offer good luck and abundance to the newlyweds.
Washing Hands Separately
It’s a good idea to wash your hands anyway, but on their wedding day, it’s thought that if a bride and groom wash their hands at the same time in the same sink that bad luck will befall them. So if you were planning on romantically washing your hands together for some reason, make sure to wait your turn instead.
Breaking The Cake
A little more on the unusual side, but probably good for a laugh, breaking the cake is a tradition whereby the mothers of the bride and groom literally break a piece of cake over the bride’s head. It was said to guarantee a good relationship between the two as they become family.
Irish Uilleann Piper and Celtic Harp
Nothing sets the mood at a wedding quite like some good music and for an authentic Irish vibe, you can’t go wrong with a Uillean piper and the celtic harp. While the Scots prefer the loud and bold sounds of the bagpipes, the Uillean pipes offer a more gentle, dainty sound and are ideal for playing inside the church. The celtic harp is an iconic musical instrument of Ireland and can be used to add a magical touch to the music.
Whether you’re literally or figuratively tying the knot at your wedding, we’re sure you’ll find some traditional Irish customs to include in your big day. Another bit of tradition for weddings is the exchanging of wedding rings. Shop our stunning range of wedding rings to find the perfect pair of bands to show off your love and dedication to each other once you’re officially married.