Ancient Irish Wedding Traditions - ShanOre Irish Jewlery

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Ancient Irish Wedding Traditions: Then and Now

Before Christianity and English occupation, Ireland had very different traditions. Here are Ireland’s most exciting and bizarre wedding traditions.

Originally posted on June 20, 2018

A wedding is a time to embrace tradition, but what we think of as Irish traditions still needs to be completed.

Irish weddings have rich and exciting traditions that many people don’t know. In this blog post, we talk about these old practices, how they are practiced to date, and those no longer practiced.

Celtic Wedding Traditions found in modern ceremonies

Does the approach of the ancient Celts speak to you more than the Irish wedding traditions of your grandparents? Many couples want their wedding ceremony to be unique but not over the top. While their approach was pragmatic, our pre-Christian ancestors did have a romantic streak.

Here are some traditions practiced to date:

Handfasting Ceremony

hanfasting-wedding-tradition-in-Ireland
In this tradition, the couple joins hands with a ribbon wound around their hands. It symbolizes their commitment to stay together. It’s beautiful and gives you a profoundly moving wedding keepsake in the form of the ribbon used.

Celtic knot rings

Irish wedding rings are another way to add a nod to the Celts. Irish knot work rings are gorgeous, and the design has no beginning or end. Knots symbolize eternity, so they are a perfect symbol of commitment without limitation.


Explore this Celtic Knot ring


Claddagh rings

These rings are popular among Irish wedding jewelry. It has a Gaelic name, which is the ‘Fáinne Chladaigh.
“Named after Galway, a city in western Ireland, the Claddagh is a symbol of three things: friendship, loyalty, and love. Giving someone the “heart clasp” means you have their heart in your hands.

How you wear your Claddagh ring reveals your relationship status. Wearing the Claddagh with the heart facing “in” signifies that you are engaged, while wearing it on the right hand with the heart facing “out” indicates that your heart is available. It always looks like it might fall out of someone’s hands.”

You may also like this article on the history of the Claddagh ring.


Explore this Claddagh ring


Irish Dancing

Irish-dancing--wedding-tradition
Another common tradition is Irish dancing. Traditional Irish dancers grace wedding receptions with their dance steps. Sometimes, it could even be some guests entertaining others.

Music from a local Irish band or sweet tunes from an Uilleann pipe player follow these dances. Sometimes, the music played was a popular selection of Irish music known to most guests, like the Irish Rovers.

Local music instruments

Music-at-an-Irish-wedding
Music makes up a massive part of Irish weddings. Two instruments that are unique to these events are the Uilleann Pipes and the Celtic Harp.

Uilleann Pipes: These are beautiful small instruments commonly heard in churches. They look dashing in kilts and full regalia at an Irish wedding. Pipers perform when guests arrive or just before the bride and groom walk down the aisle.
Celtic Harp: They are known for their lyrical tone and haunting Irish music. They also make for the Irish national symbol, giving one the feeling of an authentic Irish wedding.


Weird Irish wedding traditions

In addition to these practices, some interesting Irish wedding superstitions have inspired certain traditions.

Horseshoes for good luck

Horseshoe-used-in-Irish-weddings
The horseshoe is another common symbol of Irish weddings. Horseshoes are still commonly presented to new brides as a symbol of good fortune. A horseshoe’s “luck of the house” was kept by hanging vertically over a door or inside a room.

It is custom to have the bride carry a horseshoe down the aisle. The Groom subsequently then locked it up in the marital home. They often came in glass or ceramic.

Child of Prague

Child-of-prague-as-an-Irish-wedding-tradition
This is a funny Irish wedding tradition. The child of Prague is a statue popularly known to ward off bad weather, which can rue the day. The figure is placed in different ways but performs the same function.

Some parents leave their children in their hallway the night before a wedding. Others abandon their children outside, while some put the child out under a bush.

In addition, people tend to behead the statue before placing it at the selected spot. The rationale is that the figures are not of the best quality. Their head usually fell off by themselves when left out overnight; hence, it was better off already beheaded. Some people even reattach it afterward.

Ward off evil spirits with bells

Bells-at-an-Irish-wedding
In ancient Irish weddings, people believed bells kept evil spirits at bay. Some also thought it chased away discord. So, bells rang after a wedding, or guests handed small bells to ring as the couple walked down the aisle.

Sometimes, people even gifted bells or included them in the bride’s bouquet as a sign of good luck.

Magic Hankie

Handkerchief-at-an-Irish-wedding
One of the most charming customs involves a traditional Irish bride carrying a special cloth that can be turned into a christening bonnet for the first baby with just a few stitches. It can also be transformed into a fabric for your child to wear on their wedding day with just a few snips.

Although, in recent times, unless it had been passed down or found in a local Irish Gift Store, it isn’t easy to find these hankies. Finding these “magic Hankies” is problematic.


Ancient Irish traditions

Ancient-Irish-wedding-traditions
To begin, we compiled some ancient traditions that will most likely still need to be practiced again. These customs existed way before the English came to the country.

It’s not till ‘death do us part.’

Druids led communities back in the day. Brehon Law governed how we lived.

Weddings were civil, not religious, affairs. While some involved a vow of lifelong fidelity, that wasn’t universal.

The ancient Celts recognized several types of marriage. And they also had very liberal divorce laws. They knew not all marriages would last, and they planned for it.

In ancient Celtic traditions, one could opt for a one-year trial marriage. If all went well, they could take more permanent vows. If it didn’t work out, they each went their way, free to try again.

What is mine is not yours?

Men and women enjoyed equal rights in the 1100s. Irish brides owned their property; if the marriage ended, they took it with them. They would also take a portion of any wealth the couple acquired together.

Many couples today live more like the ancient Celts than our great-grandparents. Generations ago, living together before marriage and divorce, were massive scandals, but to the ancient Celts, they were just everyday life.

Specific days for weddings

In Ireland, weddings were on specific days. Sunday, for most Irish households back then, was the perfect wedding day. It just made sense to tie the knot on a day when most people were free from work, even farmers.

Additionally, May was a forbidden month to celebrate your big day. It was considered the start of the summer season, also known as Bealtane – a pagan feast. People thought it was bad luck to set a wedding during the Pagan feast.


To conclude

With roots stretching so deeply through time, Irish culture gives us many ways to celebrate it. Weddings can blend Irish wedding traditions from different eras as seamlessly as marriage combines the lives of the happily married couple.

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