Irish history is steeped in colorful folklore and superstitions, many of which can be found in Irish wedding traditions. Among the wonderful examples is the belief of early brides and bridesmaids, who wore similar gowns in order to confuse the fairies that wanted to steal the bride away.
Other traditions include:
- The horseshoe has long been a symbol of good luck, and especially so for newly married couples. It dates back to pre-Christian times,
when the shape of a crescent moon was thought to enhance fertility. Irish tradition has it that a horseshoe given as a wedding gift to the bride and groom and kept in their home will bring them good luck. But the horseshoe should be hung like the letter “U” so the luck doesn’t spill out.
- Bells were thought to keep the evil spirits away from the bride on her wedding day. The tinkling of small bells is said to restore harmony if a couple is fighting, as well as remind a couple of their wedding vows. Some brides carry small bells in their wedding bouquets. Bells can also be placed on tables at the reception — guests can ring the bells before a toast rather than tap on glasses.
- Irish lace was one of the most important industries in Ireland — especially for Irish women. During the height of the potato famine in 1845-50, Ursuline nuns shared their knowledge of Venetian lace brought over from France. Seeing the employment opportunities in lace making, the nuns helped spare families from the famine by teaching girls and women to produce the beautiful crochet that has come to be known as Irish lace. Before long, fashion houses in London, New York and Vienna sought out Irish lace. Today, many brides add Irish lace to their wedding gowns or carry Irish lace hankies. The Sheelin Irish Lace Museum shows some of the many vaireties of Irish lace.
- The bridal bouquet is a beautiful tradition dating back centuries. In ancient Celtic wedding traditions, brides carried herbs beneath their veils to symbolize fidelity and spices to frighten off evil spirits.
- It is good luck for the newly married couple to take a different route leaving the church after the wedding than they took to arrive there. This signifies the start of their new life together.
- The wedding cake has always been a special part of the wedding celebration. In early Celtic wedding traditions, a thin loaf was broken over the bride’s head at the close of the ceremony to symbolize fertility. Guests eagerly picked up the crumbs as good luck charms.
- Honey meade, a winelike drink made from honey, water and yeast, was thought to have the powers to improve virility in men and fertility in women. It held such a significant place at weddings, it is where the term “honeymoon” is derived. The groom would capture the bride at her home and bring her to the wedding feast, where large quantities of meade were served to all the celebrants. When the festivities were over, the bride and groom would lock themselves away for a period of a “full moon” in hope that the bride might become pregnant and the marriage could not be challenged.
- The Grushie is an old custom found in many Celtic regions. The groom tosses a handful of coins into the crowd after the wedding ceremony to bring good luck.
- In the early 1900s in Ireland, the bride and groom would walk to the church together for the wedding ceremony. If the people of their parish approved their union, they would throw rice, pots, pans, brushes and other household items at the couple along their route. Thankfully, bridal showers have replaced this practice.