When we think of weddings, most of us picture the traditional ceremony that has been handed down from Victorian England. In recent years, however, many engaged couples elect to forego those traditions and use their wedding to celebrate their cultural roots. In this article, I’ll provide many ways in which couples can incorporate Irish customs into their own wedding ceremony, and in a following article, I’ll describe traditions regarding the wedding reception.
Invitations and Other Wedding Stationery
In most stationery stores, you can find images and symbols common to Ireland, such as shamrocks, heraldic harp, Celtic cross, Celtic love knot, swans, and the Claddaugh. You might also find that many places have fonts derived from the Book of Kells for the wording in your invitations.
Choosing a Date for Your Wedding
Traditionally, most Celtic wedding ceremonies were held during one of the four major festivals. If you wish to have a spring wedding, why not during Beltane, which occurs around the first of May? For a summer wedding, Lughnassadh was celebrated in early August. Samhain, on November 1, is thought by many to be the Celts’ New Year and is a popular time for wedding celebrations. The last of the four major festivals is Imbolc, which is celebrated on February 1.
Other days considered especially lucky to be married on include: the last Tuesday before Lent, Christmas, New Year’s, St. Patrick’s Day, and December 31. In “Irish Wedding Traditions”, Shannon McMahon Lichte explains that “it is thought that your last memories of the year you marry should be the happiest ones” (13).
If you’re able to do so, consider ordering your wedding gown from an Irish designer. There are many places on the internet where you can find traditional Celtic wedding apparel. Even in America, you can find Celtic wedding designers; a web search will bring up numerous hits. If you do order a traditional Celtic wedding dress, you might like to also wear a Kinsale cloak (if the weather permits). These cloaks are very beautiful and would make a lovely addition to your wedding attire.
But if the traditional Celtic gowns aren’t your style, you can still incorporate some Irish customs into your attire. You could have your gown embroidered with Irish symbols, such as the Celtic knot. You could use handmade Irish lace on your veil and/or dress. You could carry a traditional Irish linen handkerchief and/or wear a green garter with a shamrock on it.
The groom could dress in traditional Celtic apparel, to match the bride. Or for a more modern ceremony, he could wear a green cummerbund or tie with his tuxedo. Cufflinks sporting Celtic symbols might also be located or specially-ordered.
Another tradition regarding wedding attire is that the Irish consider it lucky to be married in a pair of old shoes. Lichte, in “Irish Wedding Traditions,” states this custom may derive from the “idea of beginning a new journey with something familiar, like a favorite pair of broken-in shoes” (46). Lichte also suggests using old shoes, rather than tin cans, on the back of the couple’s getaway car as leather is believed to ward off evil spirits and shoes symbolize fertility (47).
Engagement and Wedding Rings
Today, many brides are choosing emerald engagement rings, rather than the traditional diamond, to symbolize the Emerald Isle. In Ireland, the most popular style of wedding rings is the Claddagh. This gold band features two hands holding a heart which is topped with a crown. The hands represent friendship, the heart love, and the crown loyalty. This ring has several legends surrounding it dating back to Medieval times.
In addition, there are many manufacturers of wedding rings who utilize Celtic themes, such as the triquetra or Celtic knot. With so many styles to choose from, there’s sure to be one to please everybody.