Traditionally speaking, weddings have always symbolised a celebration of love, unity, and two soulmates declaring the undying bond they plan to share for the rest of their lives. Right across the world you’ll find that different cultures celebrate weddings and marriage in very different ways. Ireland is no different and has its own set of unique and beloved wedding traditions that have become inherently Irish.
In this article we are going to explore four of the most popular Irish wedding traditions, why these practices and conventions have stood the test of time, and how they are still incorporated into modern day Irish weddings.
Irish Traditional Music
What is a wedding or a celebration without music? It goes without saying that Irish traditional music is a central pillar in the pantheon of Ireland’s culture and identity. When it comes to Irish weddings, the inclusion of traditional music and folksong is one of the best ways to give a wedding that unique Irish aesthetic.
Strictly speaking, an Irish wedding traditionally consists of one or more uilleann pipe players adorned in kilts and playing periodically throughout the ceremony. In modern times, many choose to opt for a more ‘trad session’ inspired approach, enlisting the help of fiddle players, bodhrán players, harpists, flute, mandolin, and concertina players to name but few.
The sheer beauty and emotive nature of these instruments is enough to make any wedding ceremony instantly more memorable. Some of the more popular Irish traditional tunes that people like to include in their wedding ceremony include:
- Spancil Hill
- Galway Bay
- Only Our Rivers Run Free
- Scenes of Antrim
- The Meeting of the Waters
- The Bride’s Return
- Mná na h-Éireann (Women of Ireland)
Jewellery plays such a vital role in wedding traditions, and Irish wedding traditions are no different. Most Irish people when they hear the words ‘jewellery’ and ‘wedding’ immediately think Claddagh, and there’s a very good reason for this. Claddagh rings have been an Irish wedding tradition for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Claddagh rings are a symbol of love, friendship, and loyalty, making them the perfect wedding ring. These special rings feature two hands surrounding a small heart, and atop the heart is a crown. These features are vital, as traditionally Claddagh rings are placed on the bride and groom’s wrists with the heart facing inwards towards the heart of the wearer. Some brides opt for a Claddagh pendant or bracelet instead of the more traditional ring.
It wouldn’t be an article on Irish traditions with some elements of luck and superstition. Now, when it comes to lucky Irish wedding traditions, we could be here all night! There are quite literally dozens of different traditions that Irish couples like to partake in to bring some good fortune into the marriage and kick off their new lives together on a positive note. So, here are some of the more popular lucky charms when it comes to Irish weddings.
Firstly there is the classic horseshoe down the aisle. Perhaps on the older side of Irish wedding traditions, but brides in Ireland used to carry a real horseshoe down the aisle on the day of their wedding, so that their luck would never run out.
There’s also the sixpence tradition that even predates the horseshoe tradition, in which the bride would walk down the aisle with a sixpence coin in her right shoe for good luck. In keeping with the coin theme, Irish grooms often tossed a handful of coins to the crowd right at the end of the wedding ceremony to bring good fortune to the newly married couple.
While these traditions are not quite as popular anymore, many Irish couples have chosen to adapt them in modern times by having shamrocks, horseshoes, coins, and other lucky charms as part of the flower arrangements or general wedding décor.
Sláinte! - An Irish Toast
In Ireland, toasting to one’s health, wellbeing, success, and good fortune in their lives is a longstanding and cherished tradition. When it comes to Irish weddings, the sentimental value of an Irish toast is all the more touching. The wedding reception dinner will often be accented by a number of speeches* from people at the top table including the bride, groom, best man, and father of the bride. These speeches will often end in the traditional Irish toast ‘Sláinte!’, which in English means ‘cheers’ or ‘to good health’.
*As a side note, another more cheeky and playful Irish wedding tradition is for each table at the reception to take bets on how long these speeches will last, wagering rounds of drink or money. The person who guesses to the nearest minute wins!
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