There are many weird and wonderful Irish wedding traditions.
Some, like the use of a Claddagh Ring are fairly common.
However, some of the other customs that take place at a traditional Irish wedding, like handfasting, are nice and unique.
Below, you’ll find a mix of weird and wonderful Irish wedding ceremony traditions along with some etiquette pointers!
Some quick need-to-knows about Irish wedding traditions
Before we get stuck into the toasts and blessings, let’s go over the basics along with notes on etiquette:
1. They vary greatly
No two traditional Irish weddings are alike. Each is tailored to reflect the bride and groom. As such, there’s a huge variety of different Irish wedding traditions out there. By no means should you feel like you need to include them all on your big day.
2. Don’t believe everything you read
An online search of Irish wedding traditions will bring up endless lists of customs. Take some of these with a pinch of salt. Throughout my life, I’ve been to more than 30 Irish weddings and I’ve never come across half the traditions you’ll read about online! Be sure to do your research before deciding on any tradition to include.
3. At the end of the day, all that matters…
Is that you mark your wedding in a way that’s meaningful for you. There’s absolutely no point in going along with a tradition that means nothing to you just for the sake of it. As I said, every wedding is different, and we should all celebrate that!
The most popular Irish wedding traditions
Right, now that we have the above out of the way let’s dive into some popular Irish and Celtic wedding traditions!
Below, you’ll find everything from handfasting and The Child of Prague to the groom’s attire and more.
1. The Child of Prague
This one is a bit bizarre now that I think about it, but it’s one of those quintessential old Irish wedding traditions. “What is a Child of Prague?”, I hear you ask.
Well, it’s a flamboyantly dressed statue of the wee baby Jesus of course! I’ll not go into all the details, but apparently the first one was a wedding gift at the marriage of a Spanish noblewoman and a Czech nobleman.
The Child of Prague must’ve eventually found his way to Ireland, because now most people, whether they’re religious or not, will have one at home.
And many wouldn’t dream of getting married without putting the quirky statue out in the garden the night before to ensure sunny weather for the big day.
Around Ireland, there are many variations on the theme, including breaking his head off, burying him in the ground, and hiding him under a bush.
2. The bride’s attire
If you’re going super traditional, the bride might wear a blue dress rather than a white one.
Many brides will also incorporate Celtic knots and other traditional patterns into their dress, as well as Irish lace, particularly for the veil.
They tend to be long, flowing fairytale-esque dresses, often complete with an intricate sash belt, and rich embroidery. In cold weather, the bride might also wear a traditional hooded cloak, made of warm wool or linen.
3. The groom’s attire
For a really traditional look, the groom would be decked out in a full formal kilt outfit on the big day. The different tartan patterns in Ireland represent a specific Irish county or district, although there’s also an Irish national tartan.
Besides the kilt, the groom would wear matching knee-length socks, Ghillie Brogues (a special type of formal shoe), a sporran—typically with Celtic symbols and shamrock detailing—a white tux shirt with bow tie, and a Brian Boru jacket.
Nowadays, it’s not that common for grooms to wear the full traditional attire in Ireland, with many Irishmen opting for a more modern suit. However, the tradition is fairly strong among Americans with Irish ancestry.
4. Pre-wedding drinks
Before the night of the wedding, it was common for the bride and groom to spend the night apart.
They’d spend time with their close friends, typically the bridesmaids and groomsmen, having a few drinks and shaking off any last minute nerves and doubts with those closest to them.
Before modern stag and hen dos, this would fulfil much the same purpose, but typically with less debauchery!
It’s still a common thing to do, though nowadays the bride, groom, and all their friends will often enjoy some drinks together.
5. The toasts
There are plenty of chances to raise a glass and toast the married couple during a traditional Irish wedding ceremony.
As such, there are several different Irish toasts that are typically used. These are normally said by the best man, the bride and groom themselves in honour of their guests, and the father of the bride.
Here are some toasts for you to consider:
6. Wedding blessings
Like toasts, you’ll also hear several Irish wedding blessings during a traditional ceremony.
There are lots to choose from, each with its own meaning and relevance.
Some are used to bless the wedding rings, while others bestow a rich and happy life upon the bride and groom.
7. Betting on the speeches
Betting on the length of the speeches is one of the more popular modern Irish wedding traditions.
The guests are all sat at tables of about 6 to 10 people or so, and normally you’ll each pop a fiver into the pot and take a guess at how long each speech will take.
The winner takes all, but has to buy a round of shots for the table!
Of course, you might well find yourself betting on other things too, such as what the first dance song will be, what the evening feed will consist of, or who’ll be the first to break into song.
8. The evening feed
Once the party is in full swing, around 10pm or so, many hours after the main meal has been finished, a second round of finger food will often be laid out.
This might be cocktail sausages, sausage rolls, or crisp sandwiches, but whatever it is, it’ll be some of the best food you’ve ever eaten! It’s also a very welcome treat after several hours of drinking!
9. The Claddagh ring
The Claddagh Ring might be an iconic piece of traditional Irish jewellery, however, it isn’t actually all that common at many Irish weddings.
But, for those looking to celebrate Irish ancestry, it’s not a very popular choice.
With two hands clasping a heart topped with a crown, it represents love, friendship, and loyalty.
This is one of many symbols of Ireland you can include in your big day.
10. The handkerchief
This is a nice tradition that you’ll see from time to time at an Irish wedding. The bride will carry a lace handkerchief, typically embroidered with a special message, the couple’s initials, or the date of the wedding.
Traditionally, the handkerchief would later be used to make a bonnet for the couple’s first child and would often be passed down from generation to generation.
Ever wondered where the phrase “tying the knot” actually comes from? In a traditional Irish wedding, the bride and groom would stand face to face, holding hands.
Their hands would then be tied together as they recite their vows.
It’s an ancient tradition that dates back more than 2,000 years at least. It’s often seen as a pagan tradition, but more and more people are embracing it in their ceremonies nowadays.
12. A lucky horseshoe
Traditionally, a lucky horseshoe would be presented to the bride on her wedding day to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck.
Later, the groom would hang it up in their home, for protection and as a kind of blessing.
13. Irish dancers
Irish dancers are sometimes hired for traditional weddings as entertainment at the reception for those looking to incorporate Celtic wedding traditions into their big day.
Paired with traditional pipe music, it’s a fantastic spectacle and one that’s sure to get people in the mood for dancing!
14. Traditional instruments
Traditional Irish instruments play a big part at many weddings. Irish Uilleann Pipes are similar to Scottish bagpipes, but are smaller, with many saying they produce a sweeter sound that’s more suitable to playing indoors.
A traditional wedding may feature an Irish Uilleann Piper, who’ll entertain guests before the ceremony, as well as providing music to announce the bride, and leading the bride and groom up the aisle after the ceremony is over.
During the reception, a piper may also provide music for traditional dancing.
The Celtic Harp is another great choice, with the soothing, almost haunting music grabbing the attention of guests.
15. Something blue
This one isn’t unique to Ireland, but it has a close connection to Irish history. For many years, the Irish flag was actually blue, with a Celtic harp on it. Blue was also the traditional colour that Irish brides would wear.
As such, many traditional Irish weddings will feature more blue elements than the more obvious emerald green.
16. The ceremony music
During the ceremony, music will accompany the couple. It’s often recorded rather than live, but some weddings will have a live band, piper, or harpist.
These days, you’ll often hear a song that means something to the couple, typically a more modern song.
However, you might also hear traditional music, particularly outside of Ireland. Those with Irish ancestors are generally more likely to use a traditional Irish song or piece of music to accompany them down the aisle.
See our guide to the best Irish songs for some inspiration.
17. A dowry
This is another of the old Irish wedding traditions. A dowry is essentially the transfer of goods or money to the bride from her family when she marries. It may come in all shapes and sizes.
Traditionally, with nobility it would involve property and riches. Among regular people, it would typically include things that would help a bride establish her new home, such as linens, furniture, kitchenware, and clothes, as well as family heirlooms and jewellery.
Nowadays, it’s not a very common practice, but the essence may be retained by the parents of the bride presenting their daughter with a special gift.
18. The venue
Nowadays, a lot of people have their wedding reception and ceremony in a hotel or event space. There are some spectacular spaces too, that really go the extra mile to ensure you’ve got everything you need.
But, in a more traditional Irish wedding, the venue might be anything from a castle or country house to a private beach or lakeside chapel.
19. Irish themed drinks
The wedding bar will typically be stocked with a range of traditional Irish tipples. You’ll often find Guinness or another popular local ale on tap, high quality Irish Whiskey, Bailey’s Irish Cream, mead, and of course, Irish Coffee for after the meal.
However, there are plenty of other choices, with classic Irish cocktails and shots, like Baby Guinness doing the rounds!
20. The goose
This is one of the old Irish wedding traditions. Ever heard the phrase “your goose is cooked”?
Traditionally, the night before the wedding, a goose would be cooked in the bride’s house for the groom’s wedding meal.
When the meal was fully prepared, it would be seen as bad luck for life to back out of the wedding. So, the phrase, “your goose is cooked” pretty much means there’s no backing out now!
You may sometimes see goose on the menu in honour of this tradition, but even if not, you’ll often hear people telling the groom that his goose is cooked.
21. The honeymoon
So this one’s not really unique to Ireland, but the honeymoon is typically an integral part of the wedding.
A chance for the bride and groom to escape and take a well-earned break after the stress of organising the wedding!
What Irish and Celtic wedding traditions have we missed?
I’ve no doubt that we’ve unintentionally left out some traditional Irish wedding customs from the guide above.
If you have one that you’d like to recommend, let me know in the comments below and we’ll check it out!
FAQs about old Irish wedding traditions
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What Celtic weddings traditions are good for a summer wedding?’ to ‘Which traditions are the most unusual?’.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
What wedding traditions are popular in Ireland?
One of the more popular old Irish wedding traditions is the process of handfasting which symbolises the happy couple tying the knot.
How do the Irish celebrate the wedding?
This will vary by couple. Generally, there’s the ceremony which usually contains readings, regardless of whether it takes place in a church or not. Then the group moves to a wedding venue for drinks, food and music.
Andy was once on a glorious worldwide trip on his equally glorious motorcycle. After 4 years, he’d still only made it as far as Eastern Europe, before falling in love with his surroundings and deciding to settle down a while. Nowadays, he spends his time writing about traveling through the places he once explored, normally while sipping a pint.