Traditional Irish Wedding Customs for Your Big Day

From the food and drink to the music and dancing, traditional Irish weddings are steeped in folklore, celebration, and symbolism. If you or your groom are of Irish descent, incorporating your heritage into the big day can make for a meaningful occasion. There are a myriad of traditions associated with Irish weddings, which means you have the opportunity to make the wedding decidedly yours. 

Understanding some of the most popular Irish wedding customs may help as both of you pick and choose the aspects you want to include for your big day.

Food and Drink: Honey Wine and Irish-Cream Filled Cakes 

Honey wine, also known as mead, is one of the trademark Irish wedding customs. It’s a type of wine made from honey, water and yeast, and stems from Ireland’s oldest drink recipes. In days of old, couples drank it at weddings because it was thought to increase virility. Nowadays, if you want to include this signature drink, you may find liquor stores that sell organic honey wine in varying flavors like elderberry and cranberry. 

Add corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread, and dark beer, and your food offerings will take on a decidedly Irish taste. For dessert, Irish wedding traditions favor fruitcake soaked in alcohol or cakes filled with Irish cream. 

Jewelry and Accessories: Claddagh Rings, Kilts, and Horseshoes

Claddagh rings are perhaps one of the most recognizable Irish symbols, and feature a heart surrounded by hands, topped with a crown. Meant to symbolize loyalty, friendship, and love, it’s quite popular for engagement or wedding rings, and may even be emblazoned on wedding announcements or invitations. 

Depending on your groom’s preference, he may opt for a Celtic kilt. While these aren’t as common in American weddings—and in some ways are a “newer” addition to Irish culture, having originally come from Scotland—they serve as a wonderful way to represent his family and ancestors, as all kilt designs are unique to a particular family. 

The horseshoe, a symbol of good luck in Irish culture, is often given to a bride and groom to be hung in their home. Traditionally, brides would carry a real horseshoe, but today’s adaptations can be found in porcelain or fabric varieties.

Flowers: Shamrocks and Bells of Ireland

Years ago, Irish brides would wear wreaths of wildflowers in their hair and would even have complementary flowers in their bouquets. While wreaths of wildflowers may not be as commonplace, adding a flower known as Bells of Ireland and myrtle stems is a popular option. Folklore stated that when the bride gave her bridesmaids this flower to plant, and it grew, the bridesmaids would marry within the year. 

Another option is to accent tuxedos, bouquets, and flower arrangements with shamrocks, an Irish symbol for luck made universally famous.

Music: Bagpipers, Wedding Songs, and Bells

Music has so much power to set the mood at events, and your wedding is no different. 

You can opt to have an Uilleann bagpiper play at different points throughout your wedding. Perhaps you want a piper at the church, as guests arrive, or maybe you would rather just have the piper at the reception. 

You also may choose to accent your ceremony with what are known as make-up bells, which, when rung, restore harmony to a fighting couple. You could make your way from the ceremony to the sweet sound of these little bells, and your guests could enjoy a memorable party favor.

Specific songs to consider for your reception include the “Irish Wedding Song,” a slower-tempo tune used for first dances and cake cutting, as well as romantic ballads like “Black Velvet Band.”

Choosing Trademark Irish Customs for Your Wedding: Tips to Remember

You can incorporate as many or few Irish elements to your wedding as you wish. You may find popular and well-recognized Irish customs will be easiest to explain to your vendors and simplest to execute. 

For example, some hallmark Irish customs can strongly influence your wedding and reception, such as choosing honey wine for one of your main beverages. Others, such as incorporating claddagh wedding rings, can serve as a subtle addition to the day. 

The most important questions to ask include: 

– What traditions are most important to us as a couple? 

– What customs are most meaningful to us and to our families? 

– What customs are most representative of my and my groom’s Irish culture?

When both of you are honest with one another about the customs and traditions you most enjoy as you begin your lives together, you will truly have cause for celebration. Sláinte!