Ancient folklore and customs

ShamrockThere are many Irish customs relating to weddings and marriage – for the purposes of this article, I have tried to focus on those that relate in particular to the wedding reception.

Historically, it is recorded that couples would eat three mouthfuls of salt and oatmeal at the beginning of their wedding reception, as a protection against the evil eye. Another Irish tradition (but not exclusive to Ireland) is the Irish Salt Ceremony. During this ceremony, bride and groom hold a decorated cup or jar of plain, uncoloured salt. They then pour their salt into one larger container, symbolically mixing their grains of salt together. This process represents the couple’s commitment to each other as a bond that can never be undone, just as the individual grains of salt can never be separated again. Salt is also symbolic of permanence, purity and good luck.

Irish wedding seating plan

An Irish wedding seating plan is broadly similar to the traditional European wedding seating plan, and is made unique by the use of many traditional Irish decorations symbolising good luck. For example, the most famous Irish symbol, the Shamrock, is most commonly associated with bringing good luck, warding away evil spirits and biblically with St Patrick and the Holy Trinity. The Celtic cross is symbolic of Irish culture and faith, and the beautiful celtic knot represents “no beginning, no ending, the continuity of everlasting love and binding together or intertwining of two souls or spirits”. Other decorations with strong Irish elements could include lavender, bells, horseshoes and the four leaf clover (different to the Shamrock, which has 3 leaves).

Food and drink

ColcannonTraditional Irish wedding fare makes for a fantastic wedding feast – consider including Irish soda bread and Irish brie, salmon and colcannon (a mix of potatoes and cabbage). The Irish wedding cake is traditionally three tiers high and an Irish whisky cake (rich fruit cake) with a slice of the largest cake saved for the first anniversary, and the top layer saved in its entirety for the first christening.

Irish wedding toasts are given first by the father of the bride, who expresses his sadness to see his daughter leave, as well as his pride and happiness for her marriage. The groom follows and, on behalf of himself and the bride, thanks everyone for being at their wedding. It is customary for the bride and groom to use the same cup for their wedding toast and to continue drinking from special goblets for a month following the wedding, to protect the bride from being spirited away by the fairies. Choose Irish drinks – for example the most famous of the Irish drinks, Guinness, as well as Irish whisky and a traditional honey-wine drink known as mead (thought to promote virility!).

To conclude the celebrations, the groom is often lifted in a chair (“jaunting car”) to celebrate that he is a married man.

First on the Dance Floor

After the bride and groom have danced together, it is traditional for the groom to dance with his new mother-in-law and then with his mother, while the bride dances with her new father-in-law and then with her father. The best man also joins in dancing with the chief bridesmaid and the ushers with the other bridesmaids when the bride and groom first change.

After the first dance, all the guests are invited to join the newlyweds on the dance floor.


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