From Celtic wedding bands to Celtic wedding dresses and Celtic wedding vows, the ideal how-to guide for a traditional Celtic wedding.
There is an Irish proverb that says of the Celtic wedding tradition: "Marry in May and rue the day; Marry in April if you can, joy for maiden and for man."
Whether you choose to believe this superstition or not, no matter what month you marry in, you can recreate an authentic Celtic wedding ceremony, complete with traditions, blessings, vows, and songs that Irish couples have practiced for thousands of years.
Here are some tips to have the perfect traditional Celtic wedding:
Wear a Claddagh ring
A Claddagh ring is a traditional Irish ring that represents love, loyalty, and friendship through a heart, a crown, and a pair of hands. It was traditionally worn as an engagement ring when the crown was worn nearest to the knuckle, and as a wedding ring when the crown was worn nearest to the nail. The heart represents love, the crown represents loyalty and the hands represent friendship.
Add a lucky horseshoe to your bouquet, turned up for good luck
The horseshoe has always been associated with good luck because of the importance the Celts placed on their livestock, especially horses. Tuck a horseshoe into your bridal bouquet or sew it into your gown. Some modern brides will wearing a simple horseshoe charm on a necklace or bracelet, but always in the upright position so no luck falls out! Usually made of porcelain or silk.
Buy a marriage bell
It's an old Irish tradition to present the bride and groom with a bell. The bell affords good luck, and if at any time during the marriage there is "discord," the ancient Irish remedy for lovers' quarrels is to ring this special bell and break the spirit of discontent and renew again the spirit of love. Buy one for your new home together, or at your wedding ceremony, have your greeters hand out tiny bells to your guests to ring as you process. Guests can also ring their little bells at the reception in lieu of clinking glasses.
Wear old shoes
This is a sign of fertility. Begin your new journey wearing something familiar, and don old shoes at your wedding. If you'd rather your shoes be your "something new," you can tie several pairs of old shoes to the back of your car instead of tin cans.
Play "The Irish Wedding Song"
"Here they stand, hand in hand ..." A favorite at Irish and Irish American weddings! Listen to Andy Cooney's version here:
Hire Irish dancers to perform at the reception
Traditional Irish dance can be either performative or social, so you can all try it together after you watch the pros.
Eat Irish Wedding Cake
The traditional Irish wedding cake is a fruitcake filled with almonds, raisins, cherries, and spice, laced with brandy or bourbon. The bride and groom must share a piece - a tradition dating back to ancient Rome, that signifies your willingness to share all things with each other.
Drink Bunratty Mead
This is a honey wine, which was drunk in courts in ancient Ireland (its tagline is "The Drink of the High Kings of Ireland"). The wine is said to bring virility and fertility, and it was a custom for the bride and groom to drink it during the full moon after their wedding - hence the term "honeymoon." Your wedding guests can toast you with a glass of mead as you depart the ceremony for your honeymoon.
Toast the person who introduced you
This is done to honor Ireland's match-making tradition.
Give harvest knots as wedding favors
To signify devotion, young people in Ireland would give harvest knots made of straw to their love interest, to be worn on a man's lapel or in a woman's hair. You can decorate straw harvest knots with small flowers or bells to give to guests as favors. Attach a scroll explaining the significance.
Invite the "strawboys" to your wedding reception
Strawboys at Weddings
Although not invited they arrived dressed in straw
"Here we are stout & strong— duchas.ie (@duchas_ie) May 13, 2021
A gallon of stout is our demand
If that we don't get without delay
The bride from you we will steal away."#FolkloreThursday https://t.co/S4RuyNfIu8https://t.co/PbOTN7Nua2 pic.twitter.com/tUHxghUXfw
A peculiar Irish wedding tradition was for youths wearing cone-shaped straw hats and masks to arrive at the wedding dance, where the leader would claim the right to dance with the bride. They wore straw suits resembling many-layered hula skirts or white shirts and petticoats decorated with colored ribbons. At the party's end, the strawboys burned their costumes in a huge bonfire. Reenact this scene for a truly traditional Irish wedding.
Receive traditional Irish gifts
On your registry, be sure to ask for the following: salt and pepper shakers, so your home will never be without food, wine glasses or tall toasting flutes, so your home will never be without plenty to drink, and a candlestick holder, so your home will always have light.
Aran sweater dress
An Aran sweater wedding dress? If the very thought conjures memories of that beautiful but rather itchy woolen sweater your mother made you wear for family photos, think again!
Don O’Neill, the Kerry-born and raised designer behind the label Theia (favored by everyone from Taylor Swift to Oprah Winfrey to Amy Poehler), draws inspiration from his Irish roots for practically every collection.
However, he outdid himself with Theia’s Fall 2015 Bridal Collection, which offered something stunning for every taste. The standout gown, though, has to be the Erin – a glamorous take on the fishermen’s sweaters of the Aran Islands in cashmere knit, with a turtleneck and sexy, scooped back.
* Originally published in March 2009. Last updated in Feb 2024.