There is one wedding Irish tradition that states: 'Marry in May and Rue The Day' while another states: 'Marry in April if you can, joy for maiden and for man.'
When I told my daughter about this Irish superstition, she changed her wedding date so that she'd be married in April!
What began as a search for Irish traditions and customs that she could incorporate into her celebration ended up as an incredible pile of notes that eventually took on a life of its own. Long after her wedding, I was still obsessed with delving into history and folklore, looking for everything I could find on how weddings were celebrated in Ireland long ago.
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 it has to be where we get the expression 'his goose is cooked!' We threw one of these dinner parties for my 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 has become a 200-plus page book called 'The Traditional Irish Wedding'. As complete as I could make it, the book covers attire, decor, menus, recipes, music, toasts, vows, and perhaps of most value, a resource listing that will help you find everything from Irish wedding gowns and tiaras to sheet music for a Celtic Mass.
Here are some more:
* 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.
* Lucky horseshoe. Irish brides used to carry a real horseshoe for good luck. (Turned up so the luck won't run out). You can get porcelain horseshoes which most Irish brides carry these days, or one made of fabric which is worn on the wrist.
* 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.
* Make-up bells. The chime of bells is thought to keep evil spirits away, restore harmony if a couple is fighting, 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 your guests to ring as you process. (You might want to let them 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 before the ceremony. 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 my daughter's reception and it was a major hit.
* Music. There's so much wonderful Irish music available, you'll have no problems in finding appropriate selections for both the ceremony and the reception. The difficulty will be in deciding which pieces to play!
* Readings: My 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 Irish proverb: 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.
* The Irish Wedding Song. Very popular at contemporary Irish weddings. We had two friends sing this at my 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).
* Flowers. In the old days, many Irish brides wore a wreath of wildflowers in their hair; they also carried them in bouquets. For my daughter's wedding, our 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.