If you’re like me, one of the first things that come to mind when you hear the word Irish or Ireland is a four-leaf clover. Well, the four-leaf clover is an American symbol, and the shamrock (3 leaves) is the iconic symbol of Irish heritage and culture. This got me thinking, have I been wrong about Irish wedding traditions all along?
Here’s what I found when I did some research for a lovely couple planning their Irish destination wedding. Both have families that immigrated to the United States during the Great Famine in 1845. We call a wedding which takes a couple back to their roots “heritage-return.”
St. Patrick’s Day is good luck for weddings!
St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, and he used the 3-leaf clover to explain the Trinity. Thus, green today is often associated with the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day and a hugely popular day for Irish weddings. It’s very easy to incorporate green into wedding festivities in both subtle and obvious ways. Using green font on wedding invitations, green florals in the bridal bouquet or wedding flowers or shades of green in the bridesmaid’s dresses are just some ideas to get you started!
Tying the knot is literal.
Just as a handshake signifies making a deal, the ancient Celtic tradition of “handfasting,” signified betrothal. Binding a couple’s hands together with ribbons or cords during the ceremony pays homage to this beautiful tradition. The Irish woven sash called a “crios” is a popular choice for this ritual and available in many color schemes to match the wedding colors.
With this Claddagh ring.
Placing a ring on the finger of your beloved has been a recognized symbol of promise for centuries. The Irish have a special ring just for this called the Claddagh ring. It is a heart with a crown held by a pair of hands. The ring represents love (the heart), loyalty (the crown), and friendship (the hands). A beautiful family tradition is to hand this ring down from generation to generation. They were originally designed by Richard Joyce, a silversmith from Galway in the 1600’s. This vibrant Irish town on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way continues to remain hugely popular for couples to purchase their Claddagh rings.
Wildflowers for wreaths and bouquets
In ancient times weddings took place outdoors in beautiful natural settings. Female wedding guests would pick wildflowers from the fields for the bride to wear in her hair as a loving gesture of friendship. The flowers would be placed on or incorporated into the bride’s hair, and never by the bride herself. Women wore their hair long as a symbol of strength, power, and luck. Wildflower bouquets would complement the flowers in her hair.
Horseshoes: A symbol of luck
The horseshoe as a symbol of luck comes from an ancient Irish tale of a blacksmith and the devil. When the devil came to the blacksmith’s shop asking for shoes the blacksmith recognized the devil. He hammered a burning shoe to the devil’s hoof. The devil jumped away in excruciating pain and tore it from his foot swearing never to go near one again. The Celtic tradition was born and since then an upright facing horseshoe is thought to ward off the devil. It’s a fun tradition to use in decor on invitations, seating card holders or even for games at the wedding to entertain the guests.
For whom the bell tolls!
Bell ringing was believed to ward off evil spirits and keep the fairies from stealing away the bride on the wedding day. Bells have been added to the wedding bouquets of Irish brides for centuries. Newlyweds sometimes hang bells over the threshold of their home so when they enter as a newlywed couple they will be under its protection.
Mead, the champagne of yesteryear
Before champagne there was mead. A fermented beverage made from honey and widely popular at Irish weddings. Guests would raise their glasses and toast the newlywed couple. The tradition has carried on through the ages and variety of beverages (most commonly champagne) is used today.
The parent’s of newlywed couples wanted the sweetness of the wedding day to last. So they gave one month’s supply of this honey mead to the couple to carry them through until the next full moon. And the term honeymoon was born!