As brides and grooms of many ethnicities find to their delight, it’s a rare nationality that doesn’t offer its own distinct (and often colorful) wedding traditions — and the Irish are no exception. In fact, the Irish have so many intriguing traditions, it’s easy to tell an Irish wedding from any other. Some of the better-known ones include Claddagh rings, ancient Celtic superstitions, a special toast featuring that ancient Irish beverage, honey mead, and of course the kilts and bagpipes.
One Heart, Two Hands
The Claddagh ring plays a special role in a traditional Irish wedding. Even if you’ve never seen one, they’re still easy to identify — every Claddagh ring features two hands holding a heart (symbolizing love) that’s topped by a crown (symbolizing loyalty). In the most traditional Irish weddings, the Claddagh ring is passed down from mother to daughter from generation to generation, not purchased by the bride or groom.
Another tradition involving the Claddagh states that a woman who is engaged wear the ring with the crown tips facing outward, toward the fingertips, on the right hand. In this position, the ring symbolizes that the wearer is taken. When the bride actually marries, she moves the ring to the left hand, still facing outward, signifying that her heart is taken forever.
On the other hand (so to speak), an unattached man or woman typically wears the ring on the right hand with the crown pointing inward, symbolizing that the wearer’s heart is still unoccupied. Though according to tradition, all this is slightly counter-intuitive — so you’ll sometimes find web sites stating the opposite.
Something Old …
Ancient superstitions also lend their color to a traditional Irish wedding — and may even ward off bad luck. For example, at an Irish wedding, a rainy day isn’t only cause for grimaces, it’s a superstitious omen. Ancient tradition dictates that the sun must shine down on the bride for the couple to enjoy good luck. Birds also play an important role in blessing an Irish wedding. The couple’s sure to ave good luck if they see three magpies or hear a cuckoo bird on their wedding day. Yet another interesting superstition says it’s bad luck if a woman is the first one to congratulate the bride. For that reason, a male relative or friend of the groom usually takes pains to be first to wish her well.
The traditional Irish wedding usually wraps up with a toast that’s been passed down through the ages. When the reception ends, the guests gather around the newlyweds for one last toast. The couple starts things off by saying,
“Friends and relatives, so fond and dear,
’tis our greatest pleasure to have you here.
When many years this day has passed,
fondest memories will always last.
So we drink a cup of Irish mead
and ask God’s blessing in your hour of need.”
The well-versed guests then respond to the toast by answering:
“On this special day, our wish to you,
the goodness of the old, the best of the new.
God bless you both who drink this mead,
may it always fill your every need.”