The use of Irish wedding traditions is a beautiful way for the bride and/or groom to celebrate their Irish heritage. What’s wonderful about Irish wedding traditions is that there are so many to choose from and most can be incorporated in ways that are meaningful to the bride and groom. According to tradition, the luckiest time of year to get married in Ireland is New Year’s Eve, a chance to say goodbye to the life you had as a single person and, welcome in a new year and a new love. ‘When December’s showers fall fast, marry and true love will last.’
On the wedding day, it was traditional for the bride and groom to walk together to the church. This symbolized equality in ancient Ireland that was at the heart of the wedding ceremony. (The groom often referred to his wife as his ‘co-lord’ and women often kept their family surname) In ancient Ireland, the typical attire for the bride consisted simply of her very best dress. If the family could afford it, she donned a blue dress, which was the traditional color for a wedding dress in Ireland. In later years, brides wore white dresses adorned with beautiful Irish lace. The wedding ceremony itself is steeped in tradition. A tradition that still exists today is the use of the unity candle. This consists of a central candle accompanied by two slim candles which the bride and groom use to light the central candle together. This symbolizes the sacred union between the couple. Another Irish wedding tradition is the use of the Claddagh ring as a wedding ring. The Claddagh ring features two hands clasped around a heart adorned with a crown. The fourth finger of the left hand with the point of the heart worn inwards symbolizes that the wearer’s heart is taken. A groom may say “With these hands, I give you my heart, and crown it with my love.” Handfasting is another Irish wedding tradition with Celtic origins. Handfasting involves the officiant tying together the hands of the bride and groom (commonly with a ribbon) as they recite their vows. Once they have recited their vows, the officiant removes the tie, thus symbolizing that the couple is now bound together in their hearts.
The traditional Irish wedding reception consists of a feast of Irish fare (common dishes are Colcannon, Irish stew, Boxty, Irish soda bread), Irish music (the playing of the harp, fiddle and bodhrån) and of course traditional Irish dancing. Irish wedding toasts are also a key part of the traditional Irish wedding. Some of my favorites include ‘May your troubles be as few and as far apart as my grandmother’s teeth’ and ‘May your right hand always be stretched out in friendship, but never in want.’ Ultimately, the best thing about Irish wedding traditions is that they can be easily adapted and used in modern wedding ceremonies today. Irish wedding traditions are used by both Irish and non-Irish couples around the world and are legendary because of the inevitable craic Agus ceol (fun and music) associated with every Irish wedding!
Irish wedding toasts
Wedding toasts really ‘seal the deal’ on the big day as they are a humorous, heartfelt way for family and friends to raise a glass to the bride and groom. Irish wedding toasts are particularly special because they tend to encapsulate humor, warmth, sincerity and good wishes to all in a few short sentences. Here is one of my favorites:
‘May you be poor in misfortune
Rich in blessings
Slow to make enemies
Quick to make friends
But rich or poor, quick or slow
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward’
Funny wedding toasts with an Irish twist include:
‘I drink to your health when I’m with you
I drink to your health alone
I drink to your health so often
I’m starting to worry about my own’
‘Here’s to eyes in your head,
and none in your spuds’
The best thing about funny wedding toasts is that they have a very positive effect on the atmosphere in the room. Particularly if guests have been subject to somewhat serious wedding toast speeches, the light relief of a few humorous wedding toasts is very welcome indeed!
The best man wedding toast is generally one of the most highly anticipated toasts of the day. Instead of the usual, ‘And don’t the bridesmaids look lovely?’ or the plain old ‘Please raise your glasses for John and Mary’ why not incorporate ‘a touch of the Irish’ into your best man wedding toast? Irish wedding toast examples that can be used in a best man’s speech or toast include, ‘[As I always said to John] when you go forth to find a wife, leave your eyes at home but take both ears with you, and looking at Mary today it’s clear he followed my advice.’ (Ok, that might be a little risky, depending on your relationship with the bride and groom!). If the bride and groom have known each other for years or have recently met up after years of not seeing each other the best man could refer to the fact that ‘Old coals are easiest kindled’. One of my favorite Irish sayings though is ‘A man is a man when his woman is a woman’.
You will find so many more examples of Irish wedding toasts in Irish Wedding Secrets: The Definitive Guide. Don’t let your wedding speeches and wedding toasts be the same run-of-the-mill toasts you hear at every wedding. Dare to be different, dare to add a little flair and look to Ireland for inspiration and encouragement!
Discreet Irish wedding traditions
Many brides I’ve met who are keen to add a touch of the Irish to their wedding are worried about the whole day turning out to look like a tribute to St. Patrick. I get worried when I hear wedding officiants say things like ‘Drape an enormous tri-color flag on the walls of your venue.’ I don’t know about you but the brides I meet are looking for a bit of class, a bit of discretion. They don’t want to be leaping around praising their love of leprechauns but they do want their guests to know ‘Yes, my Irish heritage is important to me’. So here’s my no-nonsense quick start guide to having a subtle Irish wedding theme.
- Ask your bridesmaids to wear horseshoe necklaces and your groomsmen to wear horseshoe cufflinks (better still give these to them as gifts!)
- Use an Irish love poem as part of your ceremony. There are hundreds to choose from. You will find my favorites in Irish Wedding Secrets. Think of poets such as Yeats, Heaney, Hardy etc.
- Let your guests know why having an Irish themed wedding is important to you – you could say a few words yourself or ask the officiant/priest to speak on your behalf.
- Green can be an overwhelming color but hints of it here and there are just beautiful. The edges of the tablecloths, the flower girls’ dresses, a hair piece for the bride. Avoid a garish green and opt for subtle classy shades such as moss and seagreen.
- Name your tables at the reception after counties in Ireland, or lakes, or mountains (or GAA players if that’s your thing!)
- Choose an Irish flower to build your theme around. This is a great idea because it’s not immediately obvious what flowers are actually Irish, and choosing something unique will get your guests talking and be just one of many memorable aspects of the day. Beautiful Irish flowers include ivy (more of a plant really), Irish orchids, Irish bluebells and Butterwort
- Choose a favor that is steeped in Irish tradition and has a story behind it. This will require some thought and research behind it, but one idea is to have little bells as favors – particularly if you have used the Irish Wedding bell in your ceremony.
Irish Bridal Showers
Bridal shower ideas with an Irish twist!
The bridal shower is a long-standing tradition where friends of the bride come together with the bride-to-be and ‘shower’ her with gifts. It is a special celebration of female bonding and friendship and one which lends weigh to the importance of getting married. After all this is the last time the bride to be will gather with her friends as a single woman! It can be difficult to come up with unique bridal shower ideas. One of the most popular bridal shower themes is an Irish theme. This is especially fitting if you’re also planning an Irish wedding theme
The first step in organizing your bridal shower (though this is sometimes the role of the Matron of Honor or Chief Bridesmaid) is to design or purchase bridal shower invitations. Many free printable bridal shower invitations can be purchased online. Site like Invitationland.com
‘From this day forward,
You shall not walk alone.
His heart will be your shelter,
And his arms will be your home.’
An important and fun element of every bridal shower is, of course, the bridal shower games. Here’s an example of a bridal shower game with an Irish twist:
It’s called ‘How Much?’ Get yourself a mini plastic cauldron (bear with me!) and fill it with gold chocolate coins. (This represents the ‘pot of gold’ at the end of the rainbow) Don’t forget to count the coins as you put them in the cauldron. At the bridal shower, pass around the cauldron and let the guests decide how many pieces they think are in it. Take note of everyone’s guesses. Whoever gets closest to the actual amount wins.
Bridal shower cakes are also quite popular. Bridal shower cake ideas range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Instead of struggling with a myriad of bridal shower cake designs my favorite idea is to make a simple sponge cake and to decorate: think about perfect quotes for a bridal shower cake.
Again, for Irish themed bridal showers this is a great opportunity to include a beautiful line of Irish poetry or perhaps an Irish toast – examples include
‘The best test of a man is his choice of wife’
‘Sláinte agus táinte’ (Health and wealth to you)
Simply ice the quote onto the cake using a decorating bag or decorating pen. Simple but effective!
A cake iced in green and white would be beautiful, as would shamrock cookie (which can also be used as bridal shower favors
Irish Wedding Gifts
Wedding gifts with an Irish twist!
Traditionally, wedding gifts tended to comprise of household items such as toasters, cutlery sets, fruit bowls, etc. This was to help the married couple to set up their first home together. However, with the majority of couples now co-habiting before getting married, these traditional gifts are often redundant. So what does this mean for your average guest? Time to use your imagination!
For those attending a wedding celebration that has an Irish theme, or where the bride or groom may be Irish, or perhaps even if the couple has decided to honeymoon in Ireland or set up home here, then this gives great opportunity for some unique wedding gifts. For example, I know a couple who received a set of bathing robes each embroidered with a gold shamrock, with ‘Mr’ embroidered on the back of one and ‘Mrs’ embroidered on the other one. This is a simple yet interesting way to give your wedding gift an Irish twist.
Personalized wedding gifts are indeed very popular. An example of a personalized wedding gift with an Irish twist is a set of Galway Irish crystal champagne flutes engraved with the couple’s names and wedding date. These can be purchased from www.personalcreations.com. It can be difficult to find decent wedding gifts under 100 dollars, but these Irish champagnes flutes are a great buy at $49.95. Other ideas for wedding gifts under 100 with an Irish theme include items from the Newbridge silverware collection. Newbridge is an Irish brand from Co.Kildare that specializes in beautiful silverware and giftware. The married couple will certainly appreciate something that has been crafted in Ireland. Another one of my favorite Irish wedding gifts is the Ogham Love Health and Happiness gift which can be purchased from www.giftsdirect.com. More info on the ancient Ogham alphabet including history and translations can be found in Irish Wedding Secrets: The Definitive Guide.
Engraved wedding gifts with ‘a touch of the Irish’ include Unity Sand Ceremony Vases or a beautiful Irish Carved Wedding Stone (www.celticattic.com). Alternatively, you may like to purchase an engraved Irish Wedding Bell which is an example of a traditional wedding gift in Ireland. The bell has rich historical and cultural significance. It can be used as part of the wedding ceremony (see Interview with Maureen Thomson) and then kept in the home afterward as a reminder of the wedding day. In times of confusion, upset or disagreement the couple ring the bell as a reminder of the love and joy they felt on their wedding day. The ringing of the bell acts thusly as a commitment to the wedding vows spoken by the couple on their wedding day. The bell can be engraved with the couple’s names and date of the wedding as well as detailed engravings of Irish symbols such as the Claddagh or the Celtic unity symbol.
I have a friend who is a big fan of giving unusual wedding gifts. In her opinion, the quirkier, the better. She bought her best friend a personalized apron for her wedding with marriage advice emblazoned across it! How about a pair of matching aprons then emblazoned with some Irish sayings such as ‘The only cure for love is marriage’, ‘A man’s wife is his blessing or his bane’, ‘Better the fighting than the loneliness’, ‘It is a lonely washing that has no man’s shirt in it’ or ‘What fills the eye fills the heart’. Personalized aprons can be found at www.wackyplanet.com
I hope this gives you some food for thought. You know your friends and loved ones the best, so I’m sure you’ll know exactly what to choose. Happy shopping!
The majority of brides I meet are looking for unique wedding dresses. Anything from camo wedding dresses to gothic wedding dresses, vintage wedding dresses and more are being considered by today’s bride-to-be. Introducing color is becoming more popular with brides feeling this is a good way to express their personality while at the same time giving their wedding a unique feel.
In ancient Ireland blue was, in fact, the favorite color of a wedding dress, the all-white wedding gown not becoming popular until relatively recently. So as a subtle way of incorporating your Irish heritage on your wedding day you may wish to wear a blue dress or a white or ivory dress with blue trim. Another subtle tip is to have Irish bluebells as part of your bridal bouquet.
In these economically challenging times, many brides-to-be are prudently on the lookout for cheap wedding dresses. Imagine then if, instead of spending months trying to find the perfect wedding dress, you decided instead to wear your best dress on your wedding day? This was the custom of the farming classes in ancient Ireland, the focus is on the practicality of wearing something that can be worn again. This may be taking the notion of cheap wedding dresses to the extreme, but it has got me thinking about buying a wedding dress that can be worn again either as it is, adorned with contemporary accessories or even dyed a different color. Definitely more economical than splurging on one of those Vera Wang wedding dresses we keep reading about (thanks Chelsea Clinton!)
If you are committed to wearing an Irish wedding dress, one of the most beautiful ways of reflecting your Irish heritage in your wedding dress is to adorn the wedding dress with handmade Irish lace. One example of the type of lace you could use is Carrickmacross lace where the lace designs are embroidered on a very fine net backing. This makes it easy to attach the lacework to the dress. More details can be found on
An alternative is Kenmare lace which is a very fine needlepoint style of lace based on the detached buttonhole stitch. See http://www.kenmarelace.ie
Resources and References
This article is provided by Emer O’Leary, author of Irish Wedding Secrets: The Definitive Guide to adding ‘a touch of the Irish’ to your wedding. Special thanks to Lois Pearce, Master Bridal Consultant of Hamden, Connecticut, for her time and energy gathering the majority of information used here. We also wish to thank the Association of Bridal Consultants for their assistance.
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