Irish Wedding Traditions and toasts

An Overview of How Irish Celebrate Their Weddings

Irish weddings are full of heritage some of which have become modern-day practices taken for granted. Some other are so distinctly Irish you can't mistake them for other traditions. Filled with superstitious beliefs, an Irish wedding will invoke high spirits among the participants. So let's get high...



In the old days, after marriage proposal had been accepted, the bride's family would invite the groom to their house shortly before the wedding day. On this occasion, they would cook a goose to honour him. This goose cooking supposedly originated the expression 'His goose is cooked!'. After it was cooked, they would eat it together and so this sacred dinner was called 'Aitin' the gander'.
When the families discuss about the wedding plan, they traditionally follow an age-old adage, 'Marry in May and Rue The Day', and will avoid May. And they will do their best to secure a day in April because there's another adage, 'Marry in April if you can, joy for maiden and for man'.

Other than April, there are four popular dates for Irish wedding planners. These dates are the four ancient, major Irish festivals. Beltane is the mark of the beginning of summer and has been traditionally celebrated on 1 May, so it is a good choice for couples and families who want to have a spring wedding. Lughnassadh is held to welcome the harvest season and ripening of first fruits, on 1 August, so summer Irish weddings will be well fitted on this occasion. Samhain is the time to take stock of the herds and grain supplies, observed on 1 November, and has been regarded as Celtic new year in Celtic folklore. This festival is the most popular among the four for Irish weddings. Imbolc has been traditionally associated with the onset of lactation of ewes and most commonly celebrated on 2 February, so winter weddings will usually be held on this date.

Modern Irish couples will also consider St. Patrick's Day (17 March), Christmas, New Year and 31 December! Yes, the last day of a year is an option, in fact, a quite popular one, because there is an Irish philosophical outlook that the final moments and remembrances in the year of a couple's wedding should be the happiest. So why not have the wedding on the last day of a year and therefore not risking even one day for possible sad moments to happen? I would say, ingenious thinking!
Whichever date is selected for the wedding, it will almost always be on any day except Saturday since it is believed to bring bad luck to the marrying couple to wed on Saturday. To make matters more complicated, some Irish will even check their calendars to make sure the wedding day doesn't fall during the rising of tides.

An engagement is traditionally not carried out. Instead, Irish couples, if they do this at all, take a two-step process of declaring their promise to marry each other. The first step is a symbol of promise to future wedding. The second step has a meaning of special friendship, and so it reflects the couple's heightened feelings for each other above amorous desires. In both steps there is almost always only one pair of rings exchanged.

On the night before their wedding, the bride and groom (or their families) put a statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague outside their houses and the church where they will hold their wedding ceremony. This is a peculiar Irish tradition of inviting good weather on the wedding day. It will particularly be considered good luck for the bride to be shone by the sun on her wedding day.

Traditional Irish Wedding Ceremony

It is an Irish traditional custom for the bride and groom to say their solemn vows and unite themselves into a holy matrimony in a Catholic church. Catholicism has been in Ireland since as early as the 5th century.
During this church wedding ceremony, the bride typically wears a white dress and shies away from anything green as the colour carries a risk of getting snatched by spirits. So, next time your female Irish friend is planning an Irish wedding, remind her of this good-natured superstition, especially if green is her favourite colour!
Whatever wedding dress the bride chooses to wear, she will traditionally carry a small paraphernalia in the shape of horseshoe in an effort to invite and keep good luck. Modern day Irish wedding horseshoes are made of ceramic or fabric, so they won't take up much of the bride's energy. But Irish brides of previous generations had to muster mightier muscles because they carried real horseshoes.

Also an Irish dress custom, wild flowers are part of Irish brides' clothing ornament. They used to be worn on a bride's hair in a wreath, and carried in her hands in a bouquet. This tradition seems to be springing back to life in modern wedding ceremonies. Shamrocks, of course, are regarded to bring good luck when worn during a wedding ceremony. Many Irish marrying couples accentuate the bride's bouquet with a twig of shamrock and the groom's buttonhole with another. This may be the only green colour allowed to adorn the bride's and groom's attire; not too many Irish are willing to depart with their national symbol and pride.
But probably the most prevalent Irish heritage in a wedding ceremony is the wedding ring. It is called the Claddagh Ring. It has three distinct elements that symbolise three characters. A pair of hands holding a heart signifies friendship; the heart itself is a token of love; and a crown, which is atop the heart, shows an honour of loyalty. Together, they exude an Irish expression, 'Let love and friendship reign.'

The ring is clouded with at least two different stories of origin. But all of them are emotional stories, so it is not a surprise the Claddagh Ring has become emotionally attached to Irish lovers and marrying couples. And because of the Irish tradition of the way of wearing it, singles may also put one on when they are on the look for lovers and special friends. Remember then, when later a friend gives you a Claddagh ring, don't put it on your left hand when you actually want to find a partner!

As far as music goes, a typical Irish Roman Catholic church will have very strict rules regulating self-chosen songs to be played during the ceremony. However, some churches will grant permission to play some secular songs if they still sound and carry the sacred spirit within the boundaries of the church. If you happen to be the kind of bride or groom who wishes some non-church, Irish songs to be sung, make the selection carefully and involve people who understand the sophisticated thinking of the church. If you do this, you'll increase the likelihood of your songs to be performed in the church ceremony.
Whether or not the church grants permission for some non-church songs to be sung, the bride or groom is forbidden by Irish tradition to sing on their own wedding. They will not be belittled, though, because there will always be future opportunities for them to publicly prove their vocal talents.

Apart from the songs, the sound of Irish wedding bells is a welcomed one because it is regarded as a means to keep evil spirits at bay. The bride and groom usually hold a wedding bell throughout the ceremony and ring it when called for. Guests may be provided with tinier ones and they may join the bride and groom in ringing them at appropriate times. Those tiny bells can also be used when they leave the church and when they attend the reception. (See “Wedding Reception” below.)
The Irish wedding bell held by the bride and groom will be brought to their new home afterwards. When later in their marriage life they have a heated argument, one of them can take it out and ring it to remind the other of their wedding ceremony and solemn vows they have exchanged.
The solemn vows they exchange will likely consist of the following traditional Irish wedding prayer's words:

By the power that Christ brought from heaven,
mayst thou love me.
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.

And when the wedding ceremony is over, there is another popular, superstitious act that must be performed. A flying shoe over the bride's head is thought of good omen and will bring good luck. Hence, someone is expected to throw his or her shoe over her head, outside the church of course. It is imperative, therefore, to ask someone who has a solid track record of shoe-throwing or who you simply trust to be a good thrower, if you ever want this act to be carried out, because you definitely do not want to risk hurting and wounding the bride's head on her happiest day in life. Also, prepare a shoe especially for this purpose because expecting the thrower to go home limping in only one shoe will risk incurring hospital bills not covered by his or her health insurance.

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