I cherish the Claddah ring my mom and aunt gave me as thank you gift after they returned from visiting me in Scotland 11 years ago. I wear it carefully on my right hand, making sure the heart always faces out, not to mislead. The three of us traveled through Ireland where I had been admiring the rings. I was touched by the sentiment of mine coming from a jeweler in Wisconsin.
St. Patrick’s Day has prompted me to research the Claddagh ring and the other traditions of an Irish Wedding.
The Irish Claddagh Ring
An Irish bride’s wedding ring is called a Claddagh ring. It is a heart held by two hands with the heart topped by a crown. The hands represent faith, the crown symbolizes honor, and the heart signifies love. The ring’s motto is: “Let love and friendship reign.” If a woman wears a Claddagh Ring on her right hand with the heart facing outward toward the end of her finger she is signifying that she is a single woman, free to see whomever she desires. If the ring is worn on the right hand with the heart facing inward, toward the woman’s knuckle, then she is signifying that she is engaged. And finally, if a Claddagh Ring is worn on the left hand it means that the woman is married.
Wedding Day Traditions in Ireland
An old Irish tradition calls for the wedding couple to walk to the church together before exchanging their wedding vows. As they walk down the main street to the chapel, onlookers would not only throw rice to bless the marriage, but larger items as well, such as pots and pans.
The Horseshoe has long been a symbol of good luck in cross-cultures. Irish tradition has it that a horseshoe given as a wedding gift to the bride and groom and kept in their home will bring them good luck. The horseshoe must always be hung like the letter “U,” so that the luck doesn’t “drip out.”
The traditional Irish bride often wears a blue wedding dress, rather than a white dress. This is because blue symbolized purity in ancient times. It wasn’t until the year 1499 that a white wedding dress began to symbolize virginity and purity.
English lavender, an ancient symbol of love, loyalty, devotion and even luck is often mixed with the bride’s wedding flowers to help insure a happy and long-lasting union
Another tradition is for the bride to braid her hair for her wedding day. Braided hair is an ancient symbol of feminine power and luck.
Jumping the Broom is a custom known and practiced widely in the African-American community, where the broom serves as a symbol of hearth and home. The custom is also referenced both in Celtic and Irish wedding traditions and may have its roots in an ancient festival where women would “jump or ride a broom” to ensure the fertility of their crops.
Another symbol of luck is to be married on St. Patrick’s Day, considered the luckiest wedding anniversary date in Ireland.
An Irish Honeymoon
The Irish translation for “honeymoon” is mi na meala, which means “the month of honey.” It was an Irish custom for the newlyweds to spend a month together drinking honeyed wine, secluded, in case their families tried to separate them. This was especially true if the couple had eloped. The belief was that after a month had passed the bride would become pregnant and her family would then desire her to remain with her new husband. Even today many couples mix ancient beliefs with modern customs to create wedding traditions which pay homage to the past while at the same time keeping pace with the present.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!