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What would your Irish great-grandmother or grandfather make of the nod we give to Irish traditional weddings today? Was "something borrowed, something blue" even a thing back then? 

And what of that Irish rebellious spirit you've been told you inherited? Would your ancestors ever have been so bold as to step out of tradition and go against the norm? Would not having a church wedding make them turn in their graves? 

It depends on how far you go back. You may be surprised...

Irish Wedding Customs

Which Irish wedding traditions today match those of our ancestors?

Many of the customs and superstitions associated with the ritual of an Irish marriage have been modified over the years. Our grandparents’ weddings looked very different from their grandparents' weddings, and so on back in time.

Some of Ireland's oldest wedding traditions, such as Strawboys gatecrashing the wedding party for entertainment, are still alive and well at rural Irish weddings today. Whereas others are relatively new. Did you know that “Something old, something new…” was introduced by the Victorians? 

According to old Gaelic Irish tradition, marriage was never considered a commitment for life. Brehon Law permitted divorce at will and a succession of spouses. Wives, concubines, and their children enjoyed equal legal rights and status in Gaelic Irish society. Long after Canon Law and church prohibitions were introduced by the Normans, old Irish Gaelic ways continued to hold sway in rural Ireland.  

Up until the 1820s, marriage in Ireland was subject to Mediaeval Canon Law. Of the rules that did exist, they applied mainly to the upper, property-owning classes. Among the peasantry, marriages were informal. Every generation had its saints and sinners and cohabitation (to avoid the cost of a wedding) was not uncommon.

Ever heard the phrase "They got a Tailteann marriage"? This means a couple could try each other out for a year with the option of calling it quits!  SEE Telltown Marriages

The Great Famine (1845-51) changed how marriage was arranged and celebrated in Ireland forever...


The Irish peasantry married young and for love. Back then, a potato garden was all one needed to get a start in life – and being married meant recognition as an independent adult – so why wait? 

Match-makers were usually family friends or relatives.

Up until the latter half of the 19th century, the majority of Irish weddings took place in a private house (traditionally the home of the bride) and at night. 

For the impulsive, a marriage on the spot (with few questions asked) could be officiated by a wandering parish-less priest aka "couple beggar". 


 Matchmaking became less about romance and more about hard-headed business. 

Weddings took place in a church or chapel (the Catholic bride’s home parish).

Late marriage, "permanent celibacy", or joining a religious order became acceptable options. 

Even on an island as small as Ireland, customs varied from region to region and era to era. Here we outline Irish marriage customs, as observed in traditional rural society in the 19th century. 

Piseoga – Wedding Day Superstitions  

What the Irish considered lucky or unlucky has also changed with the times, but certain pishogues (such as the groom not seeing the bride in her dress before the big day) have long remained intact.  

  • The old saying "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, a sixpence in your shoe” originated in 19th century Lancashire. Its first mention in Irish newspapers was in 1881. [Meath Herald  
  • To meet a red-haired woman on the morning of your wedding was unlucky. If this happened they had to return home and start again.  
  • To meet a man on a horse on your way to church was lucky.  
  • The Victorian custom of throwing an old shoe or boot at the couple on their way to church was done for luck. Later it evolved into tying old boots and shoes to the tail of the horse or carriage.  
  • No Strawboys turning up on your wedding day was considered bad luck, especially in Cork.    
  • It was said that if the bride coughed while getting married she would not make a good wife. 
  • Leaving the church, couples were careful to cross the threshold together, because it was believed that whoever left first, would live longer. The same applied to entering their new home.  
  • A sheaf of straw was sometimes burned at a marriage to bring luck.
  • In Galway, green rushes were thrown on the doorstep ahead of the couple.  
  • A horseshoe hung over the door (open side up to hold in the luck) on your wedding day was very good luck. But to enter the house ahead of the bride and groom brought bad luck.    
  • If a cup or plate was broken at the wedding, it was said the new bride would break many.  
  • The Irish custom of placing a Child of Prague statue outside to ensure good weather on the day only became a thing in the 20th century. 

GALWAY "Long ago the people thought it very lucky if they got married near the end of June and the beginning of July because they thought that if they got married on any bad days during the year and that they would have no happiness."

An Bainis – Irish Wedding Planning

When a marriage was announced, neighbours would say "The match is made and all" (meaning "all" the work that went into making arrangements).

In the early 19th century, a marriage and its arrangement were often completed in a day or less, including consulting the parish priest and agreeing on the marriage dues.

The match was introduced in the morning and the young couple united in the bonds of matrimony before midnight. And of course, no wedding was considered a wedding without a big supply of goose, bacon, and whiskey, and yet a most plentiful wedding would be ready in the space of a few hours.

CAVAN  “Long ago, before arranging to marry, the man would ask his intended to wash for him. If her sister could wash better than she could, sometimes the man took her sister’s hand instead." 

LEITRIM  “No girl would marry a man unless he was a good fighter with the blackthorn stick.”

Setting the Date

Since ancient times, winter weddings have been favoured by the Gaelic Irish. Indeed, up until a century ago, the most popular months for Irish weddings were November and February. Waiting until after harvest was a practical necessity those days.  

Matchmakers and clerics found themselves increasingly busy in the lead-up to Advent and Lent (as marriage was not permitted during these fasting periods). From Christmas Day to Ash Wednesday the race was on, peaking on Shrove Tuesday (aka Serapht in old Ireland). On the last day of Shrove collective weddings were common with as many as 10 marriages being celebrated by the parish priest in a central house in the townland.  LEARN MORE What is a townland?

June was also considered a lucky month to marry but  "Marry in May and you will rue the day." 

‘The couple that marries in May – in a short time one of them will make clay.’ 

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were unlucky days to get hitched, Friday being “the day our good Lord died on the cross”. 

‘Monday for health, Tuesday for wealth, Wednesday the best day of all, Thursday for losses, Friday for crosses, and Saturday no luck at all.’

An Gúna - the Wedding Dress

The bride was not to wear her wedding dress before the wedding day, and she was not to put in the last stitches herself. In Galway, if a bride whistled before putting on her gown the marriage was doomed.  She must also not make her wedding cake herself for fear of misfortune. 

"Married in white she has chosen all right. Married in blue she's sure to be true. Married in yellow she’ll be ashamed of her fellow. Married in grey she will go far away." 

Green is generally avoided when the bride is getting her trousseau because it is the fairies’ colour. In 1930s Kerry, the most common wedding dress colour was blue, whereas, in the previous century, it was grey. Wearing silk was considered bad luck in Co. Mayo.

Irish Wedding Venues

From the latter half of the 19th century, people married early in the day, with a wedding breakfast held in the bride's house after the church ceremony (to break the fast). The priest was also invited to attend. Sidecars (aka jaunting cars) a popular mode of transport since the early 19th century, were used if the family had one. If not, they rode to church in a dung-cart or on horseback.

However, in rural Ireland before the Great Famine, the marriage ceremony and wedding feast were typically held in the home of the bride at night. Wedding fires were lit at the crossroads, with boys holding up furze sparkling and blazing to welcome the newlyweds as they passed by.

The Wedding Procession

In rural Ireland, there were few local roads long ago. To attend a wedding celebration, ordinary folk simply walked across the fields.  Where a bridle path existed, the bride sat on the horse behind her father or brother, and when the ceremony was over she rode as a cúlóg behind the bridegroom to her new home. Ribbons were tied to the horse's tail, and flowers to her mane.

In a nod to the custom of “running away with the bride”, the groom's friends were expected to prevent the bride’s friends from overtaking the couple before he got her across the threshold.

In the latter half of the 19th century, as roads improved, exploits on horseback became customary. Men on horseback (carrying their wives behind them) raced cross country to arrive at the wedding house first. 

They would take the longest road home, with well-wishers out on the road waving flags and cheering them. There was great competition in this, so horses were fed plenty of oats ahead of the big day to be in with a chance of proving they “had the best horse”. It was the custom at a great deal of weddings for the bride to give the winner two ribbons, one white and the other blue.

CAVAN “Sometimes they would walk to the Church to get married, accompanied by a large crowd, including several musicians, and on their way home they would dance at every crossroads. When the bride-to-be would be leaving home, an old shoe would be flung after her denoting good luck.”

GALWAY Long ago people used to break oaten bread on the heads of the bride and groom. Upon crossing the threshold, the man takes off a sock and gives it to her and she gives him one of hers. The wedding is always held in the bride's house and all the people have great fun that night. Late in the evening bonfires were lit.

The Wedding Breakfast

Ever been to an Irish wedding and wondered why we are ravenous by the time we finally get to sit down and eat? This could be a throw-back to the custom of “the wedding breakfast”. One had to be fasting for at least an hour before receiving holy communion.

Following the ceremony, the parish priest joined the wedding guests and drank to the health of all. If not too weary, he would also lead the dance. After dark, Strawboys would gate-crash the party much to everyone's amusement. Celebrations could go on until 10 am the next morning. 

From the early 20th century this custom evolved into travel by motorcar and to a hotel for the wedding breakfast.

CORK "A corson (crowd of friends of the bride and groom) would have a gathering the day after the wedding and go jaunting in side-cars followed by a night of dancing and merriment."

Evening Entertainment 

In Ireland, ‘Strawboys' are a folk tradition where performers dress in elaborate disguises made of straw, to conceal their identity.

Also known as Mummers, Wren Boys, Collicks or Callikers (the Irish for witches), Juggies, Brideogs, Blackmen, Ragmen (CARLOW) or Bann Beggains (LONGFORD) Strawboys are most commonly associated with rural weddings and festivals.

Disguised by vizards, Strawboys would pay a visit to the house on the night of the wedding to cause great amusement. A great guard of straw-boys also went on horseback to the church in some parts. The popularity of a couple was measured by the number of strawboys who turned up. 

Led by a Captain, who carried a large stick and kept them in order, the team would also include an old man and a cailleach (witch) who would take the bride and groom out to dance. They danced and sang but generally weren't allowed to accept food, drink, or money (although in some regions drink was given).

Uninvited but harmless, the Strawboys were generally welcome, especially in the West of Ireland. To refuse them was considered bad luck. As strawboys could cause some mayhem, those "with notions" would sometimes refuse admission.  However, it was customary for the groomsman to invite them in.

GALWAY  "Long ago they came to the feasts at night. When they arrived a big dish of cabbage and meat was sent out to them. After that they caught a duck and put her on a sally stick at the door calling for porter to  be given to them."

Mí na Meala – The Honeymoon 

Mead, a fertility drink for Irish newlyweds in ancient times, was an alcoholic beverage crafted from honey – hence the word “honeymoon”. Irish newspapers do cover reports of newlyweds departing to the continent for their “honeymoon” during this period, but that was the reserve of the wealthy. 

GALWAY  “When the wedding is over it is said that the bride should not go home for a month. The married couple are not supposed to go to mass the Sunday after being married.”

So, where did the couple spend their first month of marriage? It varied widely depending on the customs of the region. But in most cases it was referred to as “the hauling home”.

The Hauling Home

After the Famine, the "hauling home" involved the father of the bride riding ahead or alongside the bride and groom, with the friends of both riding behind them. 

In some places, the hauling home takes place on the wedding day. Or they danced until the following night before going to their new home. In others, the wedding feast is held in the bride’s family home (where the husband stays with her for a few nights) then he returns home, returning on the seventh day with his friends “to haul her home”, where he then throws a feast. In other parts, the hauling home took place a month after marriage, when a great dance would be held with a visit from the strawboys on that night too.

LONGFORD “The dragging home” takes place about a week after the wedding. The bride goes to the newer home and brings anything she may want from her old home with her. The silver used at a wedding is kept to pay for the first child’s christening and the bridesmaid and best man if available to stand for the child as godparents. 

WATERFORD “It was usual for the bride not to come back to her parents’ house for a month after marriage because it was considered unlucky, and then, when she returns there is a big dance again in the house.”

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Our Irish ancestors' Marriage customs and traditions were diligently recorded in the 1930s by Irish schoolchildren who interviewed grandparents and elderly neighbours (many of whom were alive in the mid-19th century). This incentive by the Irish Folklore Commission is known as the School’s Collection and is free to search online. SEE DUCHAS

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