Irish Wedding Traditions for St. Patrick's Day

March 17, 2024

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Or at least, that is the day I am posting this article. All things Irish is the theme. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I wanted to share a few Irish wedding traditions and vows.

In ancient Ireland, wedding traditions were either born out of religion, superstition or the wishing of luck or good fortune. Some of these traditions are still followed today, such as wearing a veil and carrying fragrant flowers. These were originally intended to protect against evil. However, two Irish traditions are no longer followed. One is avoiding having your wedding during the harvest season or on Saturdays. Ironically, Saturdays in September and October are now the most popular months for weddings. Another tradition was to eat salt on your wedding day.

At Irish ceremonies, one might see lucky shamrocks and perhaps tiny horseshoes in the bride’s bouquet or as part of the decor. Irish brides once carried a real horseshoe down the aisle, open side up, so the luck would never run out. Another superstition dictates that the bride must walk down the aisle with a sixpence coin in their right shoe for more good fortune.

The Wedding Dress

It's common for brides of Irish heritage to customize their wedding dresses by adding Celtic symbols like knots, crosses, or shamrocks in white embroidery to readymade dresses or custom-made ones. They can add Irish lace to their headpieces or veils for an elegant touch. In colder weather, brides may opt for a traditional bridal cloak made from wool or a combination of lightweight wool and Irish linen to stay warm.

The Groom’s Outfit

Irish kilt tartans stand for the counties and districts of Ireland, while Scottish kilts represent their clan in their tartan design and color. There is also an Irish national tartan, which became famous in response to the British's Anglicization of the Emerald Isle. In traditional Irish weddings, the groom wears a formal kilt outfit. Typically, the groom wears a Brian Boru jacket, which is named after the Irish warrior king, a white tuxedo shirt with a bow tie, knee socks with ribbons that match the color of their tartan, a Sporran with shamrock detailing, and Ghillie Brogue shoes. It is more common in America for the groom to wear an Irish kilt than in Ireland. Many pipers, Irish musicians, and Irish dancers wear kilts, too.

Something Blue

While we typically think of green as the color associated with Ireland, it was not the official color of the country until the 19th century. When King Henry VIII left the Catholic Church to form his Church of England, he named Ireland an independent protestant kingdom and granted them the right to have their coat of arms and flag: a gold Celtic harp on a blue background. For hundreds of years, Ireland's flag was blue. Blue was also considered lucky for brides, as it was the color of fidelity and symbolized the bride’s commitment to their partner. Don't be surprised if the wedding has blue elements along with, or instead of, the many shades of green.

Handfasting or Tying the Knot

Handfasting, a popular symbol of unity at many weddings, is an ancient Celtic tradition that dates back 2,000 years. This is where we get the term “tying the knot.” Handfasting was an engagement or commitment ritual allowing the couple to live together for a year and a day to see if they were compatible; if they were not, they could merely separate. Today, many opt to have a handfasting ceremony instead of lighting a unity candle or perhaps in place of vows. The officiant places a ribbon or cord around the bride and groom's hands while saying vows of promise and commitment they agree to aloud. All four hands are bound together, or the more popular way is to tie only the bride and groom's right hands together. To read our article on all unity ceremonies, click here.

Claddagh Ring
Photo by Evgeniy Smersh on Unsplash

Wedding rings with clasped hands can be traced back to ancient Roman times. The Irish Claddagh ring, which first appeared in the 18th century in Galway, features two hands holding a heart with a crown above it. The way the Claddagh is worn silently communicates a message to those who know its meaning. When used as an engagement ring, the Claddagh is worn on the left hand, with the bottom of the heart pointing away from the wrist. During the wedding ceremony, the rings are placed on the left-hand ring finger, with the point of the heart facing inward towards the wearer's heart. A nice touch is to have the inside of the rings engraved with a Gaelic sentiment.

Wedding Bells

In many cultures, ringing a bell is believed to have the power to keep evil spirits away. In some traditions, bells are also associated with bringing harmony and peace. For instance, bells are thought to ward off discord between the couple in a marriage. This is why church bells may ring after a wedding ceremony, or guests may be given tiny bells to ring as the newlyweds make their way down the aisle. Additionally, gifting a bell to the newlyweds is a common wedding tradition. You may even see Bells of Ireland flowers included in the bride's bouquet, as they symbolize good luck in the language of flowers.


Irish brides often carry a white linen handkerchief on their wedding day, an old tradition and a lovely way to showcase Irish culture in bridal attire. The handkerchief is embroidered with shamrocks, which is believed to bring good luck to the bride. After the wedding, the handkerchief is sewn into a bonnet as part of the first-born child's christening outfit in Ireland.

Irish Dancers and Music

An essential part of an Irish wedding reception is the performance of Irish dancers. Irish dancing schools often perform with an Irish band or a Uilleann pipe player. While the Scottish favor the Highland Bagpipes, the Irish play the smaller Irish Uilleann Pipes. These pipes are used inside the church, as bagpipes are louder. Dressed in kilts and full regalia, they cut a dashing figure at an Irish wedding. The piper may play before the ceremony as guests arrive and announce the bride’s arrival at the church just before they lead the processional down the aisle. Having the piper lead the couple out together down the aisle during their recessional is also customary. Another choice is to have a harpist play the Celtic harp, renowned for its lyrical tone and the sound of the haunting Irish music written for it. As the national symbol of Ireland, the Celtic harp is included on everything from Irish government documents to labels on Guinness bottles.

Irish Spirits

The reception will feature Irish beverages, including Meade(or mead), the oldest drink in Ireland, made from honey. In medieval times, the bride and groom would toast each other with special goblets full of mead, carrying on with this tradition for a month or one moon cycle, hence the term "honeymoon." Other popular Irish drinks to be served include Irish mist liqueur, Irish whiskey, cream liqueur, cider, and beer.

Irish Toast

An Irish wedding reception typically features multiple toasts and blessings, starting with family members, the wedding party, and friends before the traditional toasts start. Sláinte!

Irish Wedding Blessings or Vows

Many Irish Wedding blessings or vows have long histories and deep meanings. One will notice that Irish/Celtic blessings, vows, art, poetry, and songs often have a bent toward seasons, elements, and nature. Irish traditions center around trees, forests, rivers, coastlands, mountains, and valleys. Because of this, they can be used in religious and non-religious weddings.


Traditional Irish Catholic Wedding Vows

Catholicism is the largest religion in Ireland. Many couples still opt for a traditional church wedding, so many Irish wedding vows come from Roman Catholic ceremonies.

Groom: I (name), take you(name) as my wife, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us do part. (Or: all the days of our life.)
Bride: Repeats this with alternate names and titles.
Priest: What God joins together; man must not separate. May the Lord confirm the consent that you have given and enrich you with his blessings.


The couple then exchange rings.

Priest: Lord, bless (name) and(name) and consecrate their married life. May these rings be a symbol of their faith in each other and a reminder to them of their love. Through Christ our Lord.


The couple then recites the following prayer, and the ceremony is complete.

Bride and Groom: We thank you, Lord, and we praise you for bringing us to this happy day. You have given us to each other. Now, together, we give ourselves to you. We ask you, Lord: make us one in our love; keep us one in your peace. Protect our marriage. Bless our home. Make us gentle. Keep us faithful. And when life is over, unite us again where parting is no more in the kingdom of your love. There, we will praise you in the happiness and peace of our eternal home. Amen.

Ancient Celtic Wedding Vows Pre-Catholicism:

a)      Ye are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone. I give ye my Body, that we Two might be One. I give ye my Spirit, `til our Life shall be Done. You cannon possess me for I belong to myself but while we both wish it, I give you that which is mine to give You cannon command me, for I ama free person, but I shall serve you in those ways you require, and the honeycomb will taste sweeter coming from my hand.
b)     I vow you the first cut of my meat, the first sip of my wine, from this day it shall only your name I cry out in the night and into your eyes that I smile each morning; I shall be a shield for your back as you are for mine, never shall a grievous word be spoken about us, for our marriage is sacred between us and no stranger shall hear my grievance. Above and beyond this, I will cherish and honor you through this life and into the next.
c)      I, (name), in the name of the spirit of God that resides within us all, by the life that courses within my blood and the love that resides within my heart, take thee (name) to my hand, my heart, and my spirit, to be my chosen one. To desire thee and be desired by thee, to possess thee, and be possessed by thee, without sin or shame, for naught can exist in the purity of my love for thee. I promise to love thee wholly and completely without restraint, in sickness, and in health, in plenty and in poverty, in life and beyond, where we shall meet, remember, and love again. I shall not seek to change thee in any way. I shall respect thee, thy beliefs, thy people, and thy ways as I respect myself.
d)     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.
e)     We swear by peace and love to stand, Heart to heart and hand to hand. Mark, O Spirit, and hear us now, Confirming this our Sacred Vow.
f)       You are the star of each night, you are the brightness of every morning, you are the story of each guest, you are the report of every land. No evil shall befall you, on hill nor bank, In field or valley, on mountain or in glen. Neither above, nor below, neither in sea, Nor on shore, in skies above, Nor in the depths. You are the kernel of my heart; you are the face of my sun; you are the harp of my music; you are the crown of my company.
g)      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.
h)     May the gentle breeze bear witness to this ritual and carry its message to all lands. May the sun warm their hearts, and its ever-burning fire fuel their desire for each other. May the water provide for them from its bounty and comfort their souls with their sounds. May the land lend its strength and reveal its mysteries.
Irish Wedding Blessings

The following are some old Irish blessings, usually used during toasts and speeches but can easily be incorporated into personal vows;

A.     “May the gentle breeze bear witness to this ritual and carry its message to all lands. May the sun warm their hearts, and its ever-burning fire fuel their desire for each other. May the water provide for them from its bounty and comfort their souls with their sounds. May the land lend its strength and reveal its mysteries.”


B.     As A Light to The Eye, As Joy to The Heart

By the power that Christ brought from heaven, mayst thou love me.
As the sun follows its course, mayst thou follow me.
As a 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.


C.     May the road rise to meet you, May the wind be always at your back, May the sun shine warm upon your face, The rains fall soft upon your fields. May the light of friendship guide your paths together, May the laughter of children grace the halls of your home. May the joy of living for each other trip a smile from your lips, a twinkle from your eye. And when eternity beckons, at the end of the life heaped high with love, May the good Lord embrace you with the arms that have nurtured you the whole length of your joy-filled days. May the gracious God hold you both in the palm of His hands.
D.     And, today, may the Spirit of Love find a dwelling place in your hearts.” “May joy and peace surround you both, Contentment latch your door, and happiness be with you now. And God Bless you evermore. May you live your life with trust, and nurture lifelong affection, may your lifelong dreams come true for you, Move ever that direction.” “Happy is the bride that rain falls on. May your mornings bring joy and your evenings bring peace. May your troubles grow few as your blessings increase. May the saddest day of your future be no worse than the happiest day of your past.
E.      May your hands be forever clasped in friendship and your hearts joined forever in love. Your lives are very special; God has touched you in many ways. May his blessings rest upon you and fill all your coming days.” “May you feel no rain, for each of you will be a shelter to the other. May you feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth for the other. May there be no loneliness for you; Though you are two persons, but there is one life before you. May you go to your dwelling place to enter into the days of your togetherness, and may your days be good and long together.” “May the raindrops fall lightly on your brow. May the soft winds freshen your spirit.
F.      May the sunshine brighten your heart, May the burdens of the day rest lightly upon you. And may God enfold you in the mantle of His love.” "May the longtime sun shine on you, All love surround you, And pure light within you Guide you on your way." "There they stand, hand in hand, and exchange wedding bands. Today is the day of all their dreams and plans. And all of their loved ones are here to say, God bless this couple who marry today." “In good times and bad times, in sickness and health, may they know that riches aren't needed for wealth. Help them face problems they'll meet on their way -- God bless this couple who marry today. May they find peace of mind comes to all who are kind, May the rough times ahead become triumphs intime, may their children be happy each day -- God bless this family who started today.
G.     As they go, may they know every love that was shown, and as life gets shorter, may their feelings grow. Wherever they travel, wherever they stay, God bless this couple who marry today.

This is a common Irish blessing bestowed on the couple by the priest before leaving the church:

“May the meaning of this hour be fulfilled through the days and years to come. May the love of this man and this woman, their unity of spirit, grow deeper and stronger in the uncertainties and changes of life they will share.
Loving each other, may they love all persons. Trusting each other, may they learn to trust life. May their love reach out to the love of all, that their lives may bless all whose lives they touch. May they find comfort together in shared hours of shadow, as well as in the bright sunshine of joy.
May they be to each other both strong and gentle. May all who follow their lives with interest and affection have cause to rejoice not alone in their happiness, but in their brave and generous living, which makes life beautiful and significant.”
Wedding Vows in Irish

In Ireland, not only are there traditional vows that couples use, but there are also two choices. Couples have the choice to exchange vows in English or Irish. While saying them in Irish Gaelic gives the ceremony a very traditional and cultural feel, not everyone will be able to understand what the bride and groom are saying!

Most couples, even the gaeilgeoirs (Someone who speaks Irish) among us, will often choose English or a mixture of both. For anyone who wants to try to say your vows in Irish, here is a similar version of the traditional Irish wedding ceremony vows above;

Chun grá a thabhairt dá chéile go dílis, más fearr sinn, más measa, más saibhir, más bocht, más tinn nó más slán go scara an bás sinn (nó gach lá dár saol.)

This translates to the 'love each other faithfully, for richer or poorer' section of the ceremony, i.e., the vows proper.

A Thiarna, beannaigh na fáinní seo. Deonaigh go mbeidh siad seo a chaithfidh iad dílis dá chéile i gcónaí. Go ndéana siad do thoilse agus go gcaithe siad a saol faoi shíocháin leatsa agus i ngrá lena chéile. Trí Chríost ár dTiarna.

This is the translation of the priest's blessing of the rings: “Lord, bless these rings and let them be a reminder of their love for one another.”

I wanted to share my favorite saying to close out my St. Patrick’s Day Post. “Everyone is a little Irish on St. Patrick's Day, except the Scottish, we're still Scottish.” I am Scottish. With the last name of Anderson, there is no surprise there. But since Scotts don’t have a big holiday celebrating Scottish traditions, I thought I would leave you with my favorite Scottish Vow.  It speaks to the sacredness of marriage and the endless nature of love. This vow works for civil, religious, and traditional weddings.

I, take thee to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, for fairer or fouler, in sickness, and in health, to love and to cherish, till death we depart, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereunto I plight thee my troth.

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