Let’s take a look at the Irish traditions that have stood the test of time, for some of the most important Irish rituals that bridge the past and present.
We perform rituals every day of our lives. Whether it’s the mundane task of brushing our teeth or something more spiritual, like attending a religious ceremony, rituals punctuate our days and years.
Some rituals, though, are carried throughout time like an unbroken thread, connecting us to those who performed them long ago.
Ireland, with its rich history, has an abundance of rituals that have survived the sands of time. Many are so deeply embedded into our culture that we may not even be aware of the reason we do them or, indeed, where they came from at all.
Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the Irish rituals that bridge the past and present.
- Let’s take a look at the Irish traditions that have stood the test of time, for some of the most important Irish rituals that bridge the past and present.
- 10. Newgrange − at Winter Solstice
- 9. May flowers blessing − a ritual for May Eve
- 8. Candle at the window − a yuletide tradition
- 7. Halloween − rituals galore
- 6. Brigid’s cross − on St. Brigid’s Day
- 5. Storytelling − folklore and myth
- 4. The wake − a communal ritual for grief
- 3. The Wren Boys − a spectacle on St. Stephen’s Day
- 2. Traditional Irish music sessions − the joy of music
- 1 St. Patrick’s Day − a global celebration
10. Newgrange − at Winter Solstice
No one knows who built the ancient passage tomb at Newgrange. But given the exactitude of building a tomb that will only see sunlight on the Winter Solstice, it is safe to say it was of great importance to the ancient Irish people who created it.
Many still dream of winning the lottery and being one of the lucky few to enter the chamber over the few days a year that it aligns with the sun.
9. May flowers blessing − a ritual for May Eve
The tradition of gathering May flowers (blossoms from the hawthorn or blackthorn tree) and throwing them over homes and farm buildings goes back generations.
This is traditionally performed on the eve of Bealtaine on 1 May, an ancient Celtic festival. It was believed such a showing could protect you from the ‘wee folk’ (fairies, who are thought to be particularly active this time of year).
8. Candle at the window − a yuletide tradition
A special Irish Christmas tradition, the act of placing a single candle on the windowsill on Christmas Eve is a classic example of an Irish ritual that bridges the past and present.
It is thought that this tradition stems back to penal times when it was used as a subtle signal to passing priests that they were welcome to say mass in this home.
7. Halloween − rituals galore
The ancient festival of Samhain, the precursor to Halloween, originated in Ireland. This sacred (if eerie) night saw an abundance of rituals, many of which are still performed throughout Ireland today.
One such ritual is lighting a bonfire on a hilltop. Another is to guise (disguise) yourself as someone else to protect you from spirits who might wish to bring harm.
6. Brigid’s cross − on St. Brigid’s Day
This date marked the feast of St. Brigid of Kildare, but the custom originated before this in the ancient Celtic festival of Imbolc. It is thought that the Christian saint may have acted as a guise of sorts for an older goddess named Brigid.
5. Storytelling − folklore and myth
Ireland is well known for its rich folklore and myth, and storytelling is one of the most beloved Irish rituals that bridge the past and present.
In the past, many a night was spent beside the fire, telling stories of encounters with magical creatures. These rituals are still alive today, albeit less common in this age of technology.
4. The wake − a communal ritual for grief
The wake is a ritual performed by people after someone has died. The ritual can be found in many countries and cultures, but the Irish wake is unique.
Usually a communal event, whole villages will be invited into the home of the departed for a period of three days before the funeral. Sandwiches are made, and memories of the loved one shared.
3. The Wren Boys − a spectacle on St. Stephen’s Day
A strange sight to behold, the Hunting of the Wren takes place in Ireland every 26 December.
The ritual involves elaborate costumes, dancing, and a ritual ‘hunting’ of a wren. In modern times, no animals are actually harmed.
2. Traditional Irish music sessions − the joy of music
You don’t have to be in a pub in Galway to enjoy a traditional Irish music session. Generations of emigration have ensured that sessions like these are held in almost every country in the world.
Perhaps the most accessible tradition of all, trad sessions are one of the most famous Irish rituals that bridge the past and the present.
Check out this article on the top 10 most iconic instruments used in traditional Irish music.
1 St. Patrick’s Day − a global celebration
Ireland became a Christian country in the fifth century, thanks in part to our patron saint, St. Patrick. For Catholics, his feast day on 17 March is marked by attending mass. But it has also long been associated with festivals and parades.
You will find a colourful St. Patrick’s Day parade in almost every large town or city in Ireland and further afield. Our ancestors who left this place in search of a better life have brought this ritual with them, even turning the river in Chicago green to mark the occasion each year.
We hope you enjoyed our list of Irish rituals that bridge the past and the present and that you may even be encouraged to join in on some yourself!