THE TRADITIONAL IRISH WEDDING by Bridget Haggerty
There is one wedding Irish tradition that states: 'Marry
in May and Rue The Day' while another states: 'Marry in
April if you can, joy for maiden and for man'.
When I told my daughter about this Irish superstition, she
changed her wedding date so that she'd be married in April!
What began as a search for Irish traditions and customs
that she could incorporate into her celebration ended up as
an incredible pile of notes that eventually took on a life
of its own. Long after her wedding, I was still obsessed
with delving into history and folklore, looking for
everything I could find on how weddings were celebrated in
Ireland long ago.
I am convinced that if couples make the effort, they can
have a totally Irish celebration from beginning to end -
even to the pre-wedding parties. There's one quaint custom
where the groom was invited to the bride's house right
before the wedding and they cooked a goose in his honor.
It was called Aitin' the gander it has to be where we get
the expression 'his goose is cooked!' We threw one of
these dinner parties for my daughter and everyone had a
great time. (The apple-potato stuffing has become a family
There are so many other traditions, customs and just an
incredible amount of folklore to draw upon, that it would be
remiss to be of Irish descent and not take advantage of all
the possibilities. Here are just a few ideas culled from
what eventually has become a 200-plus page book called 'The
Traditional Irish Wedding' and it is now available in the
United States and will be released in Ireland this spring.
As complete as I could make it, the book covers attire,
decor, menus, recipes, music, toasts, vows, and perhaps of
most value, a resource listing that will help you find
everything from Irish wedding gowns and tiaras to sheet
music for a Celtic Mass.
Here are some more:
* Bunratty Meade is a honey wine that's served at the
Bunratty Castle medieval banquet. It's from a recipe based
on the oldest drink in Ireland and if you've never tasted
it, it's well worth trying. In the old days, it was consumed
at weddings because it was thought that it promoted
virility. (If a baby was born nine months after the wedding,
it was attributed to the mead!) Couples also drank it from
special goblets for a full month following the wedding,
which is supposedly where we get the word honeymoon. This
was to protect the couple from the fairies coming to spirit
the bride away.
* Lucky horseshoe. Irish brides used to carry a real
horseshoe for good luck. (Turned up so the luck won't run
out). You can get porcelain horseshoes which most Irish
brides carry these days, or one made of fabric which is worn
on the wrist.
* Magic Hanky. This charming custom involves having the
bride carry a special hanky that with a few stitches can be
turned into a christening bonnet for the first baby. With a
couple of snips it can be turned back into a hanky that
your child can carry on his/her wedding day.
* Make-up bells. The chime of bells is thought to keep evil
spirits away, restore harmony if a couple is fighting, and
also remind a couple of their wedding vows. Giving a bell as
a gift has become an Irish tradition. You could also have
your greeters hand out tiny bells to your guests to ring
as you process. (You might want to let them know when
they're supposed to be rung - perhaps mention it in your
program along with an explanation of the custom). Guests
could also ring their little bells at the reception in lieu
of clinking glasses.
* Irish Dancers. Consider hiring a group of Irish dancers
hand out your programs before the ceremony. Dressed in their
full regalia, it would add a wonderful touch of of pageantry
and color. They could also dance at the reception later. We
did this at my daughter's reception and it was a major hit.
* Music. There's so much wonderful Irish music available,
you'll have no problems in finding appropriate selections
for both the ceremony and the reception. The difficulty will
be in deciding which pieces to play!
* Readings: My daughter had the following Irish wedding vow
on the front of her program:
By the power that Christ brought from heaven, mayst thou
As the sun follows its course, mayst thou follow me.
As light to the eye, as bread to the hungry, as joy to the heart,
may thy presence be with me, oh one that I love,
'til death comes to part us asunder.
On the back of the program, she had this old Irish proverb:
Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow.
Don't walk behind me, I may not lead.
Walk beside me and just be my friend.
* The Irish Wedding Song. Very popular at contemporary Irish
weddings. We had two friends sing this at my daughter's
reception while the newlyweds cut the cake. (Afterwards I
thought we should have had the lyrics typed up and placed on
the tables so that everyone could join in).
* Flowers. In the old days, many Irish brides wore a wreath
of wildflowers in their hair; they also carried them in
bouquets. For my daughter's wedding, our florist designed
gorgeous bouquets that included a flower called Bells of
Ireland. In Wales, brides carried live myrtle and gave a
sprig to each bridesmaid which they planted. If it grew, the
bridesmaid would marry within the year. If you're planning a
more general Celtic celebration, this might be worth
* Ancient custom: In the old days, couples ate salt and
oatmeal at the beginning of their reception: Each of them
took three mouthfuls as a protection against the power of
the evil eye. Also, when a couple is dancing, the bride
can't take both feet off the floor because the fairies
will get the upper hand. Fairies love beautiful things and
one of their favorites is a bride. There's many an Irish
legend about brides being spirited away by the little
people! For the same reason, it's bad luck for a bride to
wear green. I've also heard that it's bad luck for
anyone to wear green at an Irish wedding - but I think it
really only applies to the bride. It's also bad luck for a
bride or the groom to sing at their own wedding.
Portents and omens:
* A fine day meant good luck, especially if the sun shone
on the bride. If you're a Roman Catholic, one way to make
certain that it won't rain is to put a statue of the Infant
of Prague outside the church before your ceremony.
* It was unlucky to marry on a Saturday.
* Those who married in harvest would spend all their lives
* A man should always be the first to wish joy to the bride,
never a woman
*It was lucky to hear a cuckoo on the wedding morning, or
see three magpies
* To meet a funeral on the road meant bad luck and if there
was a funeral procession planned for that day, the wedding
party always took a different road
* The wedding party should always take the longest road home
from the church
* It was bad luck if a glass or cup were broken on the
*A bride and groom should never wash their hands in the same
sink at the same timeit's courting disaster if they do
* It was said to be lucky if you married during a 'growing
moon and a flowing tide'
* When leaving the church, someone must throw an old shoe
over the bride's head so she will have good luck
* If the bride's mother-in-law breaks a piece of wedding
cake on the bride's head as she enters the house after the
ceremony, they will be friends for life.
Many other customs are interspersed throughout the book,
e.g. (from the reception section) the top tier of your
wedding cake should be an Irish whiskey cake which is saved
for the christening of your first baby. I've also heard of
another custom which just came to my attention and will be
included in the next edition: a bottle of champagne is saved
from the reception so that it can be used to 'wet the baby's
head' at the christening.
In finally making this book a reality, my hope is that when
he says to you 'would you like to be buried with my people',
or you say to him 'would you like to hang your washing next
to mine', you'll say yes, and then use the suggestions to
help you plan an Irish celebration reflective of your roots
and as romantic as your heritage.
And for all engaged couples and their families in the midst
of pre-wedding chaos, I raise a parting glass: May all your
joys be pure joy and all your pain champagne.
Get this book by visiting here: <A HREF="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0937702188/theinformatabout">AMAZON BOOKSTORE</a>
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