Here Comes the Bride

The happy couple

The celebration of an Irish wedding has changed from traditional times when a small gathering would take place at the bride’s home. Nowadays, it is somewhat more lavish. In days gone by, the marriage was often an arranged one and the intended parties probably the last to know. Social class too played a role and matches would be made in accordance with set rules.

Most times these rules were followed, but sometimes not. In the 1930s, Maureen Burke from Co. Galway describes the ‘runaway’:

About sixty years ago, there were a lot more runaway marriages than matches. If the boy and girl liked each other, they appointed a night to meet and the boy took the girl to a friend’s house. This was called the “runaway.” There was great excitement when the girl’s parents heard that their daughter had gone with a man. They took her home again, and arranged a match between them. But they never do that now. In Annaghadown, runaway marriages were so prevalent that the parish priest, Father Lawrence Hansbrough, announced a penalty for every man who stole a girl. This was the penalty. He had a sheet, and he made the couple walk from the church door to the altar rails, with the sheet around them before the whole congregation. This put a stop to the runaway matches, as they were ashamed and afraid of the parish priest. There was also the custom of match-making and it is practised to the present day. If a man wanted a wife, he gave a bottle of whiskey to a friend and sent him to ask the girl he wanted. He asked her father, and if he consented, they made the match. They invited a lot of friends to the girl’s house on the night of the receiving of the fortune.

The old rhyme says that the happiest brides wore blue or white:

"Marry in white and all will be right." "Marry in blue and he is sure to prove true." "Marry in green and soon you will not be fit to be seen." "Marry in red and you will soon wish you were dead." "Marry in black and there's a load for your back." "Marry in yellow means a troublesome fellow." "Marry in pink, troubles through drink." "Marry in grey, you'll live to rue day."

Like hosting the Stations at home, when a wedding was in the offing the entire house had to be scrubbed clean and whitewashed. The day of the wedding would bring great excitement and the women of the village would do the cooking. It was said that the couple would take the short road to the ceremony and the long road home. The bride would enter the house first and in some cases, pieces of the wedding cake were broken over her head to bring good luck. Potatoes and meat were the main part of the meal and “straw boys” would come at night to dance and play music.

In some places after a couple were married the bride would not visit her parents for one month and it was considered unlucky, by some, if two or more from one family married in the same year.

The tradition of placing the Child of Prague statue outside the home of the bride as a petition for good weather still takes place today.

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