There’s nothing quite like an Irish wedding, and while nowadays couples are inclined to make their celebrations a bit more unique and personal, there are some Irish wedding traditions that have stood the test of time and remain as popular in 2022 as they were one hundred years ago.
In this article we are going to explore five of the most popular Irish wedding traditions, the history and cultural relevance behind them, and how they are still incorporated into modern day Irish weddings.
1. Claddagh Rings
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.
2. 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)
3. Lucky Charms
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.
4. Traditional Irish Wedding Cake
Did you know that Ireland has it’s very own traditional wedding cake? And if you think that because it’s Irish that there must be some sort of alcohol involved, well, you’re absolutely right. The traditional wedding cake used at Irish weddings consists of a fruitcake soaked in Irish whiskey!
In a similar sense to American weddings it is tradition for the bride and groom to cut the cake together and take out the first slice. However, there’s also a more quirky tradition at Irish weddings where the bride’s new mother-in-law breaks a piece of the cake over her the bride’s head to symbolise a good relationship between them for the rest of the marriage.
5. ‘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!’
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