Irish-American Traditional Weddings

Irish-American brides often hire a piper for their entrance to the church, processional, and other key moments of the ceremonies. Try to find an Irish piper (contact your local St. Patrick’s Parade committee for references) or an uillean piper, whose pipes are more traditionally Irish and whose music will probably be more fitting at the church than the larger Highland Bagpipes.

Traditional Irish music and dancers add a lot of fun and “Irishness” to the reception, especially if many of your guests are familiar with Irish dancing. If possible, treat the bridal party to ceilidh lessons, to learn one or two of the simpler Irish set dances, and feature this dance at your reception. If you are familiar with your family’s history, and know where their ancestral home is, choose a song or dance to reflect this heritage, and let your guests know its significance. Some set and ceilidh dances are named for places: the Kerry Set, and the Seige of Ennis, for instance, while many waltz tunes also mention names: “Galway Shawl” and “Home to Mayo”.

Bridal fashion in Ireland has always reflected that of the rest of the Western world, but few regions can match Ireland for making beautiful lace. While expensive, its loveliness is worth the extravagance, if a bride can manage to find a dress or veil in Irish lace. A nice touch that is much easier and more affordable would be to give the bride’s attendants handkerchiefs of Irish lace to carry. A color scheme of green, white or ivory, and gold also reflects an Irish heritage.

Many American brides follow the old rhyme: “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a penny in her shoe…” Do the same with an Irish penny.

For centuries, the Irish wedding feast was celebrated at the bride’s home, and often, those invited would contribute a little something to the meal – a specialty dish, a loaf of homebaked bread, or bottles of Guinness. If this isn’t what you want for your reception, plan another party at the bride’s house, or her mother’s house, to make favors before the wedding or simply to celebrate privately before the big day: make it potluck, with everyone contributing their recipe to a scrapbook the bride can keep. Irish favorites – soda bread, champ, coddle, and stew – would be especially welcome for this theme.

The wedding cake in modern Ireland is often a rich fruit cake, iced in white, though other cakes are also used. In the past century, the wedding cake was cut not by the bride and groom, but over the bride’s head: as she sat in a chair, the groomsmen held the cake over her head, and one of her sisters or attendants cut the first slice of cake. Another version of this is to take a smaller cake (sometimes shortbread, oatbread, etc.) and break it over her head, and then serve the same type of cake round the room.

Races were often run at wedding celebrations, on foot or horseback, especially from the church to the bride’s home, where the feast would be held. Prizes were often whiskey, or the bride’s garter. This tradition could easily be revived at an outdoor wedding where room allows, and replace throwing the garter.

Another ancient practice still observed in some parts of Ireland is that of firing rifles and other weaponry into the air as the couple pass; of course over the past centuries this has occasionally been observed with devastating results. Safely performed by licensed gun-owners shooting blanks, however, this makes for a dramatic entrance or exit.

PeteIrish-American Traditional Weddings