The mother, her son and the daughter in law.

Love, marriage rituals, and a wedding theft

Jonathan Smyth looks at some old marriage customs and the theft of clothes in Ballyjamesduff to attend a wedding in his latest Times Past column...

Frank ‘Ol blue eye’ Sinatra, sang manys the love song and one of his favourites was ‘Love and Marriage’, with its rhyming lyrics: 'Love and marriage, love, and marriage, Go together like a horse and carriage. This I tell ya, brother, you can't have one without the other', and so forth.

A myriad of marriage customs are found all over the world, and have the most unlikely of origins and many more that are purely an Irish invention.

In days gone by, carrying his bride across the threshold, was for the man, as old a custom as could be found anywhere in the world. Who doesn’t remember the John Wayne flick, ‘The Quiet Man’ where he carries the feisty Maureen O’Hara through the front door of their new home. Of course, a similar scene is repeated in countless films and novels. The tradition has an unlikely beginning and can be traced back to the ancient world of the Romans where it was a less than pleasant activity associated with the cruelty of the Roman soldiers who took women captive before carrying them over the threshold. These days, the custom is no longer as popular amongst newly married couples.

The Claddagh ring

Walt Disney the great movie-making owner of Disney Studios, and his wife, both wore matching claddagh rings to symbolise their undying love. However, the Irish Claddagh ring is no ordinary piece of jewellery and recently, it was explained to me that there are three positions that the rings can be worn that will show a person's status, whether they be single, searching for love, engaged or married. When worn on the left hand with the heart facing outwards, it symbolises that the person is engaged. Whereas, if the heart is facing inwards, then that signifies they are married. But if the ring is placed on the right hand with the heart facing out, it means that the person is single and searching for love.

Similarly, if you saw the ring on the right hand with the heart turned inwards, it means the individual is in a committed relationship.

Child of Prague

The Child of Prague is considered to be sacred by many and a tradition began where the figure was placed outside on the evening before a wedding to stop rain from falling on the big day, and to persuade some sun to shine. When Pierce Brosnan, the Navan-born James Bond actor, married his bride Keely Shaye Smith at Ballintubber Abbey, Co Mayo, he wanted to make certain that there’d be no downpour bucketing down to ruin the reception later at Ashford Castle. On the previous evening, he slipped out of the hotel in the middle of the night to place the Child of Prague in a bush beside Ashford Castle.

The white dress

Did you know that the trend for white wedding dresses was begun by England’s Queen Victoria who they say, wanted to show-off the white lace she was wearing when she married Prince Albert.

In the old days, a groom gave his bride a silver coin to symbolise the equal sharing of his wealth with her. Quite often parents passed a coin on to the eldest son. In some cases nowadays, partners exchange coins and, if the metal should clink together, then that meant a lot of luck was to come their way. The exchange was accompanied by the words ‘I give this as a token of all I possess’.

The custom of the coin has its origin in the ancient practice of providing a marriage dowry. But of course, it is not all about money.

Somebody once asked the married American poet Dorothy Parker: "What makes you think you’ve got the perfect husband?"

She replied: "Well he remembers my birthday but forgets my age!" Now that is sound advice indeed.

Stolen wedding ‘duds’

A wedding wouldn’t be the same without a new outfit to wear for the occasion. According to this paper, on April 6, 1854, on the day before a wedding, Rose Molloy was charged with going in to Miss Gibson, of Ballyjamesduff, on false pretences to get herself expensive clothes, which she made out were for Miss Hogg from Fintervin, and to convince the shopkeeper she produced ‘an order in writing’ which she said came from Miss Hogg, but the letter was in reality a forgery. Afterwards, Molloy was swiftly arrested.

Having acted like a total gombeen, she told the police she needed new clothes to wear at her brother's wedding and that, given the chance, would have paid back Miss Gibson. In any case, Miss Gibson was repaid and thankfully ‘sustained no loss from the transaction’.

In addition to being compensated, Miss Gibson and her solicitor, Mr Tully, attested to the previous good character of Rose Molloy, while Mr Knipe was certain that if his client pleaded guilty, she’d be let off and ‘set free’.

Miss Molloy had the option of paying a 20-shilling fine or spending a fortnight behind bars. The fine we are told was promptly paid.


In 1853, there were books full of advice to help you get yourself ready for marriage, and for the couples who had the money to buy the first four copies of 'The Family Treasury,' they would be set back by 2d. per edition. There were many tips to help the young couples to know what to expect on the day itself whether they be ‘Dissenter, Catholic, or Quaker'.

And for any runaway partners, there was choice advice on how to get married in Gretna Green, which offered some consolation to runaway lovebirds.

The other day I saw a bumper sticker with these heart-warming words emblazoned across it: ‘No love is greater than the love of an Irish mother’. However, there are also the countless mother-in-law jokes from the other side of the coin. One that I thought was particularly humorous was from a daughter-in-law who wrote: ‘Dear mother-in-law, I don’t need you to teach me how to handle my children. I’m living with one of yours and he still needs quite a lot of improvement.’


The Cavan and Monaghan Lunatic Asylum and a father’s hope