Marriage in early Ireland was a lot more freewheeling than you might think. Until the Normans arrived in the 12th century, Irish couples could marry for a one year trial period, and could easily divorce or separate afterwards as well. Despite the patriarchal society, wives could own property independent of their husbands, and it was common for priests or monks to have wives.
Many of the old Irish wedding traditions that persist to this day have roots in this time. If you’re getting married and want to incorporate some Irish history and ancient ritual into your ceremony, it can be fun to pick and choose some of your favourite traditions. Below are some of our very favourite rituals!
1. TIE THE KNOT, LITERALLY
Not many people realize the phrase “tie the knot” comes from the Celtic ceremony of handfasting. In ancient Ireland, a couple would clasp hands together with a braided cord or ribbon wrapped around their hands to symbolizing the joining of two and their unity: this was called hand-fasting. As Christianity took over, some popular elements of the pagan rituals remained, including handfasting. You can buy handfasting cords to this day; it’s one of the truest gestures of affection out there, we think!
2. WEAR SOME IRISH LACE
In the midst of the potato famine, Irish lace emerged as an important source of income in a devastated Ireland. Skilled Ursuline nuns, familiar with crocheting Venetian lace, began teaching local women to produce the fine crochet now known as ‘Irish lace.’ This was staid European lace-making revamped with Irish ingenuity and innovation. Irish lace is famous for its patterns and dimensions; many families had their own particular designs and techniques, passed down from mother to daughter.
If you’re not into the idea of a full-on lace dress (though those are exquisite!), you can incorporate Irish lace into your wedding with a gorgeous veil, lace garter, or lace-wrapped bouquet.
3. STUMPED ON THE RING? GET A CLADDAGH
The famous Claddagh ring is one of the most romantic accessories in the world, we believe. Named after a West Ireland fishing village in Galway, the lovely Claddagh ring traditionally represents love, loyalty and friendship (love is symbolized by the heart, loyalty by the crown, and friendship by the hands). When betrothed or married, you wear the exquisite Claddagh ring with the heart facing inward to let all the world know yours is taken!
See ShamrockGift’s complete collection of Claddagh rings for more ideas.
4. A LUCKY HORSESHOE
We aren’t particularly superstitious, but we will never sniff at some easily-earned good luck. Irish brides used to carry a horseshoe on their wedding days – no one is exactly sure how this originated, but it had something to do with the Celtic belief in the power of iron, long considered a lucky metal that warded off harm and evil.
If you don’t want to physically lug a heavy horseshoe around on your big day (completely understandable), a good symbolic compromise might be iron jewelry or donning a miniature horseshoe, like horseshoe earrings, pendants, rings or bracelet (we have them all!)
5. WISH ON A STONE, NOT A STAR
The pebble toss is one of the most beautiful Celtic traditions that make a wedding more interactive and fun for the guests. The idea is that all well wishes, happiness, hopes and prayers for the new couple are placed into the stone – the object now contains the positive thought. After the ceremony, each guest tosses their stone into a nearby body of water. Since water is the important element, some modern weddings now have the guests drop the stones into a vase of water that the couple then keeps.
6. RING THE BELLS
We just love the Irish tradition of gifting a couple with a ‘make-up bell’ for their engagement, wedding or anniversary. This special bell’s chime is said to ward off evil spirits and restore harmony to a couple even mid-disagreement. Ring the bell to remind the couple of their vows, or symbolize when one partner is ready to make up with the other (hence the name!). Romantic and sweet-natured, this is a perfect present.
7. THOUGHTFUL GIFTS
Some Irish wisdom regarding gift-giving for engagements and weddings. On your registry, it’s good to list:
Salt and pepper shakers, so your home will never be without food.
Wine glasses or champagne flutes, so your home will never be without something to drink.
A candlestick & holders, so your home will always have light.