Irish and Celtic wedding traditions: Dresses, flowers and decorations

Though wedding fashions and styles have changed in Ireland, her tradition still shines through. Those traditions add charming touches to modern Irish vows.

On her wedding day, every bride wants to look her best. On Erin’s shores, brides are no different. Although styles there have changed throughout the years, Ireland’s tradition still shines through.

What would an Irish bride wear?
In Ireland today, many brides wear off-white or cream colored dresses. Yet in times past, they made more colorful choices. Brides were typically married in their best dress, which was decorated with additional lace, embroidery, and jewels for the occasion. Irish brides have always been careful not to be married in the color green. For according to legend, if a bride wears green she tempts the Gentry, the fairies, to steal her away to a fairy raft.
Historically, the color of choice for the Irish bride was blue. For until the nineteenth century, blue and gold were the country’s official colors. The Irish flag was traditionally a field of blue with a golden harp in the center. The blue represented good St. Patrick and symbolized fidelity. The gold of the harp brought to mind the color of heather, which was believed to be lucky. Historically, some brides also chose to wear a brilliant red bridal cloak. This tradition is believed to have begun in the eleventh century, when Mourne O’Glanny made a red cloak for her marriage to Aran Roe O’Neill, the legendary Irish freedom fighter.
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What would an Irish bride carry?
Irish brides have for centuries carried bouquets of seasonal flowers. During medieval times, it became common for brides to wear wreaths of flowers on their heads to match those they carried. However, it was considered bad luck to carry lilac or apple blossoms, so those blooms were carefully weeded out of any bridal arrangements.

It is an old Irish tradition for the bride to carry a horseshoe along with her bouquet. The horseshoe was thought to bring luck to the happy couple, and the bride carried or wore one on her arm as she walked to meet her groom. In recent years, lighter ceramic copies have replaced the heavy metal shoes.

One other interesting item carried by Irish brides is the, ‘magic handkerchief.’ This is a decorative embroidered handkerchief carried by the bride and then put away until the birth of the couple’s first child. When it is time for the baby’s christening, the mother adds a few stitches to the kerchief, and it becomes a christening bonnet. Years later, the stitches can be removed, and the kerchief is ready to be reused in the child’s wedding. Magic handkerchiefs often become cherished family heirlooms.

What would an Irish groom wear?
Traditionally, wealthy Irish grooms wore shirts of yellow silk. These were made with intricate pleats and were tinted with dye made from yellow autumn crocuses. The shirt was worn un-tucked and tunic-like over a pair of tight fitting breeches and was topped with a sleeveless cloak. A decorative pin held the cloak at the shoulder. Today, however, it is quite common for an Irishman to wear a standard tuxedo, including a vest, on his wedding day.

Are rings exchanged?
Typically, both the bride and groom wear wedding bands. Often, the bands are Claddagh or Heart-and-Hand rings. There is a charming tradition surrounding these rings. According to legend, a sixteenth century fisherman by the name of Richard Joyce lived in the village of Claddagh. The week before his wedding, Algerian pirates captured Joyce’s fishing vessel. He was taken prisoner and sold into slavery. The story tells how a Moorish goldsmith bought Joyce and taught him to work the precious metal. Pining for his beloved, he made her a very special wedding ring. Much later, Joyce escaped and returned to Ireland. Upon arriving in his homeland, he discovered that his truelove had waited faithfully for him. There were at last married, and he presented her with the ring he had made during his captivity.

What music is played at an Irish wedding?
Celtic bands often play traditional songs, jigs, and reels at weddings. These bands typically include harp, whistle or flute, fiddle, a handheld drum called a bodhran, and a concertina. They can also include other instruments, such as the dulcimer and accordion. Often step dancers perform as part of the entertainment. Guests are encouraged to join in the dance. When the festivities come to an end, a bell choir rings the new couple out and sends them on their way. In Ireland, bell music is legendary for driving away evil. If no bell choir is available, guests are sometimes given tiny handheld bells to ring as the new couple starts their life together.

What kind of decorations might there be at an Irish wedding?
In Ireland, both modern and traditional weddings are known for being festooned with seasonal flowers. In recent years the tradition of placing bows and flowers on the end of each church pew, to create a pretty walkway for the bride, has gained popularity. In years past, friends and family would decorate the bridal bed with flowers and soft straw, which symbolized plenty. This was one final way for loved ones to bless the couple’s future.

In conclusion…
When at a wedding in Ireland wear gold for luck or blue for fidelity. Bless the bride with flowers, though perhaps not on the bridal bed. Listen to the music, and join in the step-dancing if you dare. When the last dance is done ring the bells loudly, for evil has no place in a happy day.

Posted by on Jul 5 2012. Filed under Women & Lifestyle. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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