What the Bride Wears
For brides with Irish heritage, there are lovely ways to make their dresses uniquely special. Some choose to have their dresses custom-made, while others enhance a ready-made dress with Celtic symbols like knots, crosses, or shamrocks in beautiful white embroidery. Another elegant touch is the addition of Irish lace. You may also spot an Irish lace headpiece or a veil adorned with Irish lace accents. In cooler weather, a classic bridal cloak made of wool or a combination of lightweight wool and Irish linen can be a charming option.
What the Groom Wears - Kilt
Irish kilt tartans represent the various counties and districts of Ireland, whereas Scottish kilts represent specific clans with their unique tartan designs and colors. There's also a famous Irish national tartan, created as a response to the Anglicization of Ireland by the British. Traditional Irish weddings often feature a full formal kilt outfit for the groom. Expect to see the groom dressed in a Brian Boru jacket, named after the Irish warrior king, along with a white tux shirt paired with a bow tie, knee socks adorned with ribbons matching their tartan's color, a Sporran featuring shamrock detailing, and stylish Ghillie Brogue shoes. Interestingly, it's more common and popular for grooms to wear an Irish kilt in America compared to Ireland itself. Many pipers and Irish musicians also don kilts, not to mention the graceful Irish dancers.
Although green is the color commonly associated with Ireland, historically, blue was the official color of the country until the 19th century. King Henry VIII named Ireland an independent Protestant kingdom and granted them their own coat of arms and flag, which featured a gold Celtic harp on a blue background. For centuries, Ireland's flag was blue, and it was also considered lucky for brides. Blue symbolized fidelity and the bride's commitment to her partner. So, don't be surprised to see some beautiful blue elements incorporated into the wedding along with, or even instead of, the many shades of green.
At an Irish wedding, every wish for the couple is for a long and blissful life filled with good fortune. You may come across lucky shamrocks and tiny horseshoes adorning the bride's bouquet, tablescapes, favors, and even the cake. In the past, Irish brides used to carry a real horseshoe down the aisle, open side up, to ensure their luck never ran out. For an extra dose of good fortune, an old superstition suggests that the bride should walk down the aisle with a sixpence coin in her right shoe.
Irish Uilleann Piper and Celtic Harp
While the Scottish favor the grand Highland Bagpipes, the Irish embrace the sweeter and more delicate Irish Uilleann Pipes. These smaller pipes are used indoors, as bagpipes can be quite loud. Dressed in kilts and full regalia, pipers make a striking appearance at an Irish wedding. The piper may play before the ceremony as guests arrive and announce the bride's arrival at the church, just before leading the processional down the aisle. It's also customary to have the piper lead the couple out together down the aisle during their recessional. Alternatively, the enchanting sound of the Celtic harp, renowned for its lyrical tone, can fill the air with hauntingly beautiful Irish music. As the national symbol of Ireland, the Celtic harp can be found on everything from Irish government documents to labels on Guinness bottles.
Handfasting or Tying the Knot
Handfasting, an ancient Celtic tradition dating back 2,000 years, has become a popular symbol of unity at many weddings. Originally, it was an engagement or commitment ritual, allowing the couple to live together for a year and a day to see if they were compatible. If not, they could simply separate. Nowadays, many couples choose handfasting as a meaningful alternative to traditional vows or unity candles. During the ceremony, the officiant places a ribbon or cord around the hands of the bride and groom while they exchange vows of promise and commitment aloud, symbolizing their deep bond. All four hands are bound together, or the more common approach is to tie only the bride and groom's right hands together, signifying their union and commitment to each other.
The history of the Claddagh ring traces back to the 1700s in Galway, Ireland. This distinctive ring features two hands clasping a heart with a crown resting above it. It carries a silent message for those in the know about the wearer's relationship status. When used as an engagement ring, the Claddagh is placed on the left hand with the bottom of the heart pointing away from the wrist. During the wedding ceremony, the rings will be exchanged and worn on the left-hand ring finger, with the point of the heart facing inward towards the heart of the recipient—an enduring symbol of eternal love. Adding to the charm, many couples choose to have the inside of the rings engraved with a Gaelic sentiment, adding a personal touch to this cherished tradition.
Bells hold special significance in warding off evil spirits and bringing harmony to a marriage. It's a lovely tradition to have church bells ring after the wedding ceremony or to provide guests with tiny bells to ring as the newlyweds make their way down the aisle as a married couple. Offering a bell as a wedding gift is a timeless gesture, symbolizing best wishes for the couple's future. You might also notice the inclusion of Bells of Ireland flowers in the bride's bouquet, as they carry their own meaning of luck, making them an ideal addition to the celebration.
Many Irish brides still carry a white Irish linen handkerchief as an old tradition, and it's a delightful way to incorporate Irish culture into bridal attire. These handkerchiefs are often beautifully embroidered with shamrocks, making them a lucky talisman for the bride. In Ireland, the handkerchief is later sewn into a bonnet as part of the first-born child's christening outfit, a touching link between generations.
An Irish wedding reception simply wouldn't be complete without the lively presence of Irish dancers. These skilled performers bring an infectious energy to the celebration, delighting guests with their intricate footwork and vibrant costumes. Irish dancing schools often perform alongside an Uilleann pipe player or an Irish band, adding an authentic touch to the festivities and creating unforgettable memories for everyone present.
The wedding reception is sure to feature a selection of delightful Irish beverages. Meade (or mead) is one such traditional drink, made from honey, and it holds the distinction of being Ireland's oldest drink. In medieval times, the bride and groom would toast each other with special goblets filled with mead for an entire month or one moon cycle, giving rise to the term "honeymoon." Alongside mead, you can expect to find Irish mist liqueur, Irish whiskey, cream liqueur, cider, and beer—each carrying their unique flavors and adding to the merriment of the occasion.
Irish Toasts and Blessings
An Irish wedding reception is a time for heartwarming toasts and blessings. These begin with family members, followed by the wedding party and friends, all before the traditional toasts are raised. Glasses are kept full, and the spirit of "Sláinte" (meaning "health") fills the air as guests join in wishing the couple a lifetime of happiness and good fortune. It's a joyous and heartfelt part of the celebration, bringing everyone together to share in the love and joy of the newlyweds.