1

Fáilte go hÁrainn
Official Guide to the Aran Islands

A Celtic Wedding Ceremony as Created by Wedding Celebrant Dara Molloy.

Dia dhuit! Hello! My name is Dara Molloy (Dara Ó Maoildhia). I am a Celtic Wedding celebrant. I am also a Marriage Solemniser, which means you can register your marriage with me. 

My ceremonies are secular, even though spiritual. I don’t belong to any religion. 
But I am steeped in the Celtic spiritual tradition, both Christian and pre-Christian. It is this tradition that I bring to your ceremony. 

Celtic weddings are a particular type of wedding. People in Ireland now have much more freedom to choose whatever type of wedding they want. The old way to get married was in a church. The only alternative to that was a registry office. The registry office could be located in a hospital or in a county council building, or some other awful place. They could even be nice places in nice locations, but were too small to hold many guests. Often the service was very formal and took no more than five or ten minutes. 

A Celtic wedding is one of these new ideas that offer great possibilities. If you are going to have a Celtic wedding, you need to be reasonably happy and comfortable with the Celtic perspective on life. The Celts were interested in nature, interested in the environment, interested in the outdoors. They saw the spiritual in everything. 

A Celtic wedding can also include Christianity. It could be a pagan wedding but it could also be a Christian wedding. There is a Celtic version of Christianity. Celtic Christianity existed in Ireland from the 5th to the 12th century.  

While not all Celtic weddings take place outdoors, a lot of them do. When they do, the places chosen are often special places called ‘thin places’. These are places in the landscape connected with this Celtic tradition, or else places where you feel awe and wonder.  The location might be a standing stone, a ring fort, a holy well, a stone circle. It could be a monastic ruin, an old church, a burial mound, or a dolmen. It could also be a beach, the edge of a cliff, the top of a mountain, or next to a lake or river. 

I am a Celtic celebrant. Within the ceremony, I can play the role of the Druid, the Monk or the Priest. I have specific clothing that I wear for each of these roles. I can also dress in my suit as a layman.  Over the course of doing this work (and I have been doing it for 30 years), I have been drawing on this wonderfully rich Celtic tradition to create ceremonies that are relevant, meaningful, and make sense.

The Blessing of the Man and Woman

In the majority of weddings that I perform, it is a man and a woman getting married. I also perform single-sex ceremonies. But for the heterosexual ceremony, I reach deep into the Celtic tradition to find symbols for the masculine and feminine. In ancient Ireland, there is a sense that masculinity or femininity was something out there in nature. You could see animals that were male or female. You saw that flowers and trees had a masculine and feminine element to them. You knew that masculinity and femininity was part of everything living. 

The Celtic imagination worked on that and came up with the idea that masculinity and femininity were sourced in something divine and sacred. I call this the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine. We get our masculinity or our femininity from some divine or sacred source. 

The Celts found elements in nature to represent and symbolize these divine sources of gender. I use these symbols in the Celtic wedding ceremony. 

In the case of the divine masculine, the symbol to represent it is the oak tree. The oak tree in ancient Ireland is the most important sacred tree in the forest for lots of reasons. One of those reasons was because it represented masculinity. The acorn was the shape of a penis. It is symbolic of male fertility. People stood under the oak tree to get married so they could have fertility in their marriage. The oak tree was also likely to have mistletoe growing on it. Mistletoe is associated with love and sexuality. In those days it was regarded as the semen of the gods. So again there was a connection with divine male fertility. 

In ancient times in Ireland, couples stood under the sacred oak tree and were blessed by the Druid for fertility in their marriage. When I perform a Celtic wedding, I use the branch of the oak tree to bless the groom. It is meant to be the very top branch, as this is where the lightning strikes the tree. The branch becomes a ‘magic wand’ to pull down a blessing from on high. I touch the groom on each shoulder with the branch and I bless him for all the roles he will take on as a man. 

In the ceremony, you have both rituals and symbols. In this case, the symbol is the oak branch and the ritual is touching him on each shoulder to bless him for all the roles he will take on. His role on the wedding day is to be a groom. His role after the wedding is to be a good husband. If their marriage produces children, his role will be to be a good father. He will need to be a good son to his parents as they get older, a good uncle to his nieces and nephews, a good brother to his siblings. He can think of all these roles on his wedding day and be blessed for them.

Similarly then with the bride, her femininity is connected to and sourced in the divine or sacred feminine. The expression of femininity is found in nature in the sacredness of the land. The land is beautiful like a woman, it has curves like a woman, it is fertile as a woman. When the Celts walked the land, they believed they were walking on the body of the goddess. This is how Ireland got its name. The goddess Eriú is the land of Ireland.  

To find a symbol for this sacred feminine, you need to find a holy or sacred well. They are to be found all over Ireland. While they are now largely Christianised, their origin was in the Celtic belief that a sacred well was the entrance into the womb of Mother Earth. The holy well symbolizes the source of all life. It is the sacred place in the body of the goddess from which all life comes. The water in these wells is a life-giving source of blessing and healing. 

In the Celtic wedding ceremony, the bride gets blessed with water from a holy well. All she has to do is put her fingers in a bowl of this sacred well water. By doing so, she connects herself to the sacred feminine and seeks a blessing for all her roles – as a bride, a wife, a mother, a daughter, an aunt, a sibling. She seeks a blessing for all the roles she is taking on in her life. 

The Blessing of the 4 Elements

Another aspect of the Celtic wedding ceremony, that is inspired by the Celtic tradition, is what I call The Blessing of the 4 Elements. The four elements are the essence of nature: water, earth, air, and the sun as fire. The four elements are the source of life. They together make our lives possible. They bless us every day. We cannot live without them. 

In the wedding ceremony, I take a symbol of each of those four elements, earth, air, fire, water, and use it to bless the couple in four different ways. 

The earth is their journey, I bless their feet. I get them to think of all that lies ahead, all their plans for their family and for their careers. I get them to think of growing older together, of the challenges that might face them in the future. We think of what is important in it all—that they stay united in love, that they remain confident in their ability to face challenges and achieve goals, that they have good health, prosper and have long lives. I bless their feet with a piece of turf. 

The air is their inner life represented by their breath. I bless their inner lives and all that is going on inside them. They use their breath to communicate with one another. I bless their communication and all that goes on between them in their marriage. They each have an inner world that only they inhabit. But with two anamcharas (soul friends) you choose to share your inner worlds with each other.  The blessing is for the health and wholesomeness of their relationship, that it remains open and honest, and that it be an expression of unconditional love and acceptance. I fan their faces with an eagle’s feather. 

The water is used to represent what surrounds them in their lives. Like water around an island, their lives are surrounded by others. These others are layered around them like the layers of an onion. Nearest to them are their families, then their friends, their neighbors, their work colleagues, then their locality, city, state, and country.  What is most important in their lives is to be surrounded by a good strong community of family and friends. But after that, the workplace needs to be healthy; the society in which they live needs to be healthy.  I turn to the guests at the wedding and I ask them if they are prepared to be a good, strong, supportive community of family and friends for this couple here. Are they prepared to be there for them, watch out for them, help them whenever they need help?  The guests usually give a good resounding yes to that question. I then sprinkle the guests with sacred water to bless them in their role. 

The last element is fire. This is the sun. The sun is essential in our lives giving us light and warmth. In the life of the couple, fire is represented in the fire of their love. I ask them to think of that time when the fire of their love was just a spark. Maybe it was the day they first met or the day they first felt something for each other. Maybe it happened to each of them at a different time.  I invite them to remember that moment as a touch of the divine. That moment changed their lives forever. It set them on a path that has led to this day of their marriage. I invite them to use the sun as the mentor in their marriage. The sun is always bright and warm, even though some days it hides behind clouds. The sun is generous, it is passionate, and it is not going to burn out in our lifetimes. I say all these things and light a match over their heads to represent the blessing of fire. 

There is an awful lot more in the ceremony. The above are just particular parts of it. And yet it does not last more than 35 minutes maximum. We move quickly through each of the parts. 

Below I list some other specific Celtic elements included in the Celtic wedding ceremony:

Handfasting:
Handfasting or ‘tying of the knot’ is one of the most well-known aspects of the Celtic traditional marriage ceremony. I recommend using a crios which is a handcrafted belt made traditionally on the Aran Islands. It is the right length and a beautiful piece of craftwork. Also, it carries relevant symbolism. Every Aran family made their own crios in their own kitchen. They wove into it their favorite patterns and their favorite colors. It was a unique expression of that family’s life. The couple starting out on their wedding are beginning the work of creating something beautiful out of their lives, which this crios represents. 

It is possible to buy one of these crioses online and to choose one’s own colors and pattern. Some couples prefer to have a handfasting cord made elsewhere or to buy one elsewhere. This is fine too. 

As I tie the knot on their four hands together I say some words of blessing and then declare them married. After they kiss, they can then slip their hands out of the knot without opening the knot. The original Celtic tying of the knot would have taken place under the sacred oak tree. 

During the Celtic ceremony, couples also exchange vows and rings. There are readings, traditional Irish blessings, music, remembering the dead, and honoring of their parents. If they have children before their marriage, we acknowledge the children. If they have grandparents present, we acknowledge those. It is also possible to have two people give us introductions to the bride and groom and tell us a little bit about them at the beginning of the ceremony. There can also be the lighting of candles, including the unity candle after the vows. 

A Blessing with Sacred Oil for the health of the marriage

At the end of the Celtic wedding ceremony, the couple is blessed with sacred oil. This is a blessing for their relationship, that it will stay healthy, wholesome, life-giving, and supportive for each of them at every stage of their life’s journey together.  The couple is asked to hold hands as if they are going for a walk. They hold up their joined hands to receive the blessing. The oil is used to make a sign of the Celtic cross on the back of their hands. The Celtic cross is a sign of the sacred used in Ireland long before Christianity. I remind them that their marriage is sacred. 

A Blessing of Protection using sacred water. 

Everything valuable is vulnerable and needs protection. We know how to protect valuable material things. We lock them away, keep them safe, mind them and safeguard them. The same must happen for the marriage. The marriage relationship is more valuable in the life of the couple than any material thing they will ever own. I give the couple a traditional blessing of protection using water from a holy well. To do this, I take a bowl of sacred water, sourced from a holy well, and sprinkle it while walking around them in a circle. I put the two of them in the circle. If they have children, these can come into the circle also. The water is sprinkled around them in the same direction as the sun goes around the earth every day. The ceremony finishes with the blessing of protection and then the blessing of all present. 

If the marriage needs to be legalized, we do the signing of the register after the blessing of protection and before the couple exit. I am a registered solemnizer and have the authority to sign the Marriage Registration Form and declare the marriage legal. 

A Celtic Wedding on the Aran Islands

The Aran Islands is the most popular place for a traditional Celtic wedding ceremony. There is a particular place on Inis Mór where the full extent and richness of a Celtic wedding can be experienced, like no other place on earth. 

This place is the sacred landscape of Mainistir and particularly St Ciaran’s Well and church. 

Blessing the bride at the holy well:
at this location, the bride enters the small field where the holy well is located and greets her future husband. They tie a ribbon on the sacred hawthorn tree. Then the groom is invited to honor his bride the way the sun honors the earth. In the ancient Celtic tradition, the sun god Lugh was espoused to the earth goddess Eriú. During the day, he orbited her, unable to take his eye off her. At night, when the sunset, he went to bed with her. The groom honors his bride by walking around her in the direction the sun goes around the earth. The bride then reaches her hands into the waters of the well to seek a blessing for her marriage. In this instance, the well represents the earth goddess and particularly the entrance to her womb. The bride reaches into the source of her womanhood seeking a blessing. 

Blessing of the groom at the standing stone:
A large standing stone (10 feet high) stands at the west gable of St Ciaran’s church. The wedding party moves to this 2nd location and there the groom is blessed. He is blessed by placing his hands on the standing stone and seeking a blessing. The standing stone represents the connection between land and sky, between heaven and earth. As a phallic symbol, it also represents the sacred masculine. Where the bride draws a blessing from below represented by the holy well, the groom draws a blessing from on high represented by the standing stone. 

Vows, Rings, and Handfasting take place at the altar of the church:
the altar of the roofless church, which traces its roots back to St Ciaran and the 6th century, makes an ideal location for the exchange of vows and the most sacred part of the wedding ceremony. Historically, the altar was used to perform the most sacred parts of ceremonies going back 1500 years. 

The Sundial, a place for sealing the contract, making wishes, and some final blessings:
The sundial outside the east gable of the church is also incorporated into the ceremony. The sundial symbolizes a call to prayer. The monks used it to tell the time of day and particularly as a guide to when to ring the bells for prayer. The monk’s day was divided up into periods of prayer. 

Traditionally, islanders make a wish at this stone. They do this while pulling a silk scarf three times through the hole in the stone. As part of the wedding ceremony, the couple is invited to pull a scarf through the hole and make a wish for their future. Then their guests are also invited to come up to the stone and make a wish on behalf of the couple. 

Islanders also have traditionally used this stone as a contract stone. In order to seal a contract, when they did not have lawyers or could not write, islanders would use this stone. The two people agreeing to the contract would stand on either side of the stone and place the first finger of their right hand into the hole. When their two fingers touched, the contract was sealed. The wedding couple is invited to place their fingers in the hole in the stone and to seal their vows. 

The couple also gets the blessing of the 4 elements, the blessing of oil, and the blessing of protection, just as happens in other ceremonies not held at this location. They can also have music and readings. 

The Mainistir location is not suitable for crowds of more than 40 people. In the case of larger weddings, it is best to hold them elsewhere. A popular place is the local hotel Ostán Árann. They can also have their ceremony on a beach.  

I also travel across all of Ireland to do weddings. These can be either outside or inside. In a hotel, up a mountain, on an island, in a lake, on a beach, in a park, at a sacred site, at an old monastic ruin, a church, a ring fort, a stone circle. I have done weddings all over the country in all sorts of places. Take your pick!.

Same sex couples

Same-sex couples also come to me for a Celtic wedding and I am happy to oblige. I have also done ceremonies for trans-sexuals. The ceremonies can be adjusted to suit the particular circumstance. 

I don’t impose my ceremony on the couple whoever they are. I simply make suggestions. I get them to design the ceremony themselves out of all the suggestions I make and out of any other ideas they have themselves. We do a lot of talking or drafting of the ceremony until we get it exactly how we want it. 

If it is two men getting married, I wouldn’t be bringing in the divine feminine. Normally speaking you wouldn’t mention the feminine at the marriage of two men. So this part is left out of the ceremony. Most of the rest of the ceremony would be very similar. You would still have the readings, the music, the blessing of the four elements, the vows, the rings, tying of the knot, reading of the blessing, honoring the dead and of parents, and the blessings for health and protection. All of that remains the same. There is not much difference between a same-sex wedding ceremony and a heterosexual wedding ceremony. We simply adapt and adjust to suit the couple and whatever they want. 

And to finish:

My Celtic ceremonies also include: 

Vow renewals

Baby Welcoming Ceremonies (Christenings or Naming Ceremonies)

Rites of Passage (these are ceremonies may be to replace First Communion or Confirmation, but can also be for later in life)

House Blessings

Blessing of the Sick

Funerals. 

If you would like your wedding to take place on Inis Mór, I will be happy to perform the ceremony for you. I have been performing wedding blessings and marriage ceremonies for over 30 years. You can check me out at www.daramolloy.com. If you search my name on Google you will see some independent reviews.Your wedding can take place anywhere on the island including:

  • at the hotel (indoors or outdoors)
  • at St Ciaran’s in Mainistir (an outdoor location with a holy well, wishing stone, contract stone, and ancient altar). 
  • on a beach or cliff edge. 

Contact me at [email protected] or 087-2795642 (+353 87 2795642). 

Author Profile

Dara Molloy
Dara Molloy
Dara Molloy is a Celtic priest, monk, and druid. He lives on Inis Mór, the largest of the three Aran Islands.

Website: www.daramolloy.com
Phone: +353 (0)87 2795642
Email: [email protected]

Publications (available at www.aislingpublications.com)
Guide Book to Inis Mór (available in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish).
The Globalisation of God: Celtic Christianity's Nemesis
Reimagining The Divine: A Celtic Spirituality of Experience