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Marry in May and Rue the Day
by Bridget Haggerty

When I told our daughter about this old Irish verse, she changed her wedding date from May to April: Marry in April if you can, joy for maiden and for man.

I am convinced that if couples make the effort, they can have a totally Irish celebration from beginning to end - even to the pre-wedding parties. There's one quaint custom where the groom was invited to the bride's house right before the wedding and they cooked a goose in his honor. It was called Aitin' the gander and it has to be where we get the expression "his goose is cooked!" We threw one of these dinner parties for our daughter and everyone had a great time. (The apple-potato stuffing has become a family favorite!).

There are so many other traditions, customs and just an incredible amount of folklore to draw upon, that it would be remiss to be of Irish descent and not take advantage of all the possibilities. Here are just a few ideas culled from what eventually became a 200-plus page book called "The Traditional Irish Wedding."

Bunratty Meade is a honey wine that's served at the Bunratty Castle medieval banquet. It's from a recipe based on the oldest drink in Ireland and if you've never tasted it, it's well worth trying. In the old days, it was consumed at weddings because it was thought that it promoted virility. (If a baby was born nine months after the wedding, it was attributed to the mead!) Couples also drank it from special goblets for a full month following the wedding, which is supposedly where we get the word honeymoon. This was to protect the couple from the fairies coming to spirit the bride away.

Pipers: Consider having a piper at the church to play as guests arrive. After the ceremony the piper could pick up the recessional tune and continue it outside as guests leave. Then you could have him/her play as your guests arrive at the reception and when you both make your entrance. But make sure the piper(s) plays Irish or "Uillean" pipes which are very different from Scottish bagpipes. Check out the soloist on the video of the original Riverdance (Dublin production). An incredibly beautiful sound that is much more gentle on the ears than Scottish bagpipes.

Lucky horseshoe:Irish brides used to carry a real horseshoe for good luck. (With the points turned up so the luck won't run out). Today, most Irish brides carry a horseshoe made out of porcelain or fabric.

Magic Hanky: This charming custom involves having the bride carry a special hanky that with a few stitches can be turned into a christening bonnet for the first baby. With a couple of snips it can be turned back into a hanky that your child can carry on his/her wedding day. Magic hankies are available at most Irish gift shops.

Make-up bells: The chime of bells is thought to keep evil spirits away, restore harmony if two people are squabbling, and also remind a couple of their wedding vows. Giving a bell as a gift has become an Irish tradition. You could also have your greeters hand out tiny bells to the guests which they could ring as they leave the church. (You might want to let guests know when they're supposed to be rung - perhaps mention it in your program along with an explanation of the custom). Guests could also ring their little bells at the reception in lieu of clinking glasses.

Irish Dancers: Consider hiring a group of Irish dancers to hand out your programs at the church. Dressed in their full regalia, it would add a wonderful touch of of pageantry and color. They could also dance at the reception later. We did this at our daughter's reception and it was a major hit.

Readings: Our daughter had the following Irish wedding vow on the front of her program:
By the power that Christ brought from heaven, mayst thou love me. As the sun follows its course, mayst thou follow me. As light to the eye, as bread to the hungry, as joy to the heart, may thy presence be with me, oh one that I love,'til death comes to part us asunder.
On the back of the program, she had this old saying that is very popular in Ireland:
Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow.
Don't walk behind me, I may not lead.
Walk beside me and just be my friend.

Irish Wedding Song. Very popular at contemporary Irish weddings. We had two friends sing this at our daughter's reception while the newlyweds cut the cake. Afterwards, I thought we should have had the lyrics typed up and placed on the tables so that everyone could join in.

Claddagh: If you're interested, we have an article that explains how this romantic symbol came into existence, click The Claddagh Ring.

Flowers: In the old days, many Irish brides wore a wreath of wildflowers in their hair; they also carried them in bouquets. For our daughter's wedding, the florist designed gorgeous bouquets that included a flower called Bells of Ireland. In Wales, brides carried live myrtle and gave a sprig to each bridesmaid which they planted. If it grew, the bridesmaid would marry within the year. If you're planning a more general Celtic celebration, this might be worth considering. I don't know of any other specific flower, but for a sentimental touch, you might want to do what many Irish couples do for good luck - add a sprig of shamrock to the bride's bouquet and to the groom's boutonierre.

Salt and oatmeal: In the old days, a bride and groom would take three mouthfuls of salt and oatmeal as a protection against the power of the evil eye. Also, when she's dancing, the bride must never take both feet off the floor because the fairies will get the upper hand. Fairies love beautiful things and one of their favorites is a bride. There's many an Irish legend about brides being spirited away by the "good" people! It's also very risky to wear green and it's very bad luck for a bride or the groom to sing at their own wedding.

Strawing a wedding: It was said to be very lucky if the straw boys came and danced at your wedding. While there are several different versions of how they came into existence, the one I like best is this: young men who were being chased because they were rustling the landowner's sheep would sneak into a wedding reception and mingle with the guests. Eventually, it became a tradition for friends of the groom to disguise themselves with straw masks and suddenly show up.

Jaunting Car: The men of the bridal party would hoist the groom in a chair and parade him around as a newly married man.

Here's a list of other superstitions. And it's by no means complete...

-A fine day meant good luck, especially if the sun shone on the bride. If you're a Roman Catholic, one way to make certain that it won't rain is to put a statue of the Infant of Prague outside the church door on the wedding morning.
-It was unlucky to marry on a Saturday
-Those who married in harvest would spend all their lives gathering
-A man should always be the first to wish joy to the bride, never a woman
-It was lucky to hear a cuckoo on the wedding morning, or to see three magpies
-To meet a funeral on the road meant bad luck and if there was a funeral procession planned for that day, the wedding party always took a different road
-It was bad luck if a glass or cup were broken on the wedding day
-A bride and groom should never wash their hands in the same sink at the same time — it's courting disaster if they do
-It was said to be lucky if you married during a growing moon and a flowing tide
-When leaving the church, someone must throw an old shoe over the bride's head so she will have good luck
-It's bad luck if newly-weds don't meet a man on their way home from the church
-If the bride's mother-in-law breaks a piece of wedding cake on the bride's head as she enters the house after the ceremony, they will be friends for life
-At one time, the groom was locked inside the church on the wedding day in case he got cold feet!

I hope you've enjoyed reading this brief introduction to an Irish wedding. And if you're planning to be married soon, I'll end with this contemporary Irish toast: May all your joys be pure joy, and all your pain, champagne. Sláinte!

For those who are planning a wedding or know someone who is, click Weddings for more.

We really appreciate hearing from you - especially when your comments make us laugh - as this one did:

"Just want to say how happy I was to see your site. Enough here to keep me busy (and out of trouble) for ever! Thanks so much!"
Lou
Associate Member of The Boring Biddies' Baking & Knitting Society, bean an ti of The Cottage, and Founder of The Giggle and Lilting Society.

 

Tue, Dec 2, 2014


Holly and Ivy hanging up and
something wet in every cup*

Not so long ago, Irish Christmas decorations were much simpler than they are now. The children gathered holly and ivy for adorning, windows, doorways, mantles and pictures, and the father would carve out a turnip in which would be placed a large red candle. This would go in the window to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve. Only in relatively recent times did an Irish family have a Nativity scene and a decorated tree in the house. As for Mistletoe, it's quite rare in ireland and is generally associated with ancient Celtic and Druidic fertility celebrations; this is most likely where the custom of kissing under the mistletoe comes from.
*Old Irish Christmas toast
Image: Pashley Manor Gardens.

Click for More Culture Corner.




Back in Print!
The Traditional Irish Wedding

In this expanded, revised, and updated version, Bridget has added sections on Getting Married in Ireland and ideas for a vow renewal "with the sound and feel of Ireland." This new edition also includes the origins of Irish Coffee; the truth about Aran Isle Sweaters and information about kilts.
Shipped directly from the author, the latest edition of The Traditional Irish Wedding can be personally inscribed and signed if desired. Please contact Bridget.


 

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