Gaelic and Celtic Customs
from the Hebrides and Beyond

Fada's Farsaing (Far and Wide) is a series of articles by Liam O Caiside in English but with Gaelic words and phrases interwoven in the text. The articles describe a wide range of Gaelic and Celtic customs. These pages were originally published in the "Scottish Radiance" e-magazine and have been reproduced here with the kind permission of the Scottish Radiance editor, Sharma Krauskopf.

Wedding Customs in Shetland, Caithness, West Lothian and Uig on Skye

Wedding customs seem to vary from all over Scotland though there are often similarities. This article focuses first of all on the customs of the Shetland Islands during the 1800s.

All weddings in the Shetland must commence with a new moon otherwise the marriage will be an unhappy one. The week succeeding the 'speering', after which the couple are called bride and bridegroom, they proceed to Lerwick to purchase their 'wedding needs'. The bride's eldest brother and the bridegroom's eldest sister, accompany them. The groom buys a white muslin dress, white shawl and two beautiful caps, tastefully trimmed with ribbons, for his bride, with some 'braw' for each of his and her sisters, and suit for himself. On Saturday the bridegroom's family and friends meet by invitation at the house of the bride's father to celebrate the contract feast. The bride awaits their arrival, and must kiss every invited guest as they enter. The sumptuous 'tea' which follows consists of bread, butter, and fresh mutton, two or three fat sheep having been killed that morning. The bottle is sent round freely. The night is spent in discussing the crops, the fishing, and the condition of the country in olden times. Tales of voyages and shipwrecks and of hairbreadth escapes on returning from the haaf, are told; and after a late but plentiful supper they separate.

This next article focuses on the customs of Caithness.

In Caithness as elsewhere, it was believed that only the people who were stark raving mad marry in May. All other months were lucky. There was a popular marriage rhyme--

Monday for wealth,
Tuesday for health,
Wednesday the best day of all,
Thursdays for crosses,
Friday for losses,
Saturday no luck at all.

Yet Friday is in Caithness by far the most popular wedding day. The only explanation given of this is that Caithness people are economical, and as wedding feast always end on the Sunday a great spread has not to be provided. When the day arrives, the bride ought to be careful to put on her right shoe first, as to put on the left spells bad luck; and as to her dress she must wear "Something old and something new, something borrowed and something blue.'

Of course the bride expected a sunshiny day for her wedding: 'happy is the bride that the sun shines on!' And when she left her father's house, after the ceremony, to proceed to her new home, she had old shoes flung after her and some corn or rice -- indulgences common to other countries. It may be observed here that originally the newly wedded pair had to sleep the first night on a shake-down bed, to teach them due humility, at the start of their new life.

West Lothian Wedding Customs

Another similiar but subtly different rhyme comes from West Lothian. This documents the problem with many of the customs of Scotland. They change as they move from area to area. This rhyme is suppose to help you decide which day to be married. The following is the West Lothian version:

Monday for health
Tuesday for wealth
Wednesday no luck at all
Thursday for loss
Friday for crosses
Saturday the best day of all.

Now We Go to Uig on Skye

Here is a verbatim interview with Iain Nicolson (IN) recorded by Thomas McKean (TM) in 1990 about a wedding at Uig on Skye. (Graphic of Uig Free Church is by Dave Ferguson, via Wikimedia).

IN - But things wasn't so easy got then [just after the Second World War] as it is now. The drinks were scarce at times. But I got so much [i.e. a certain amount], you know, on the quiet. Mm.

TM - How many were at your wedding?

IN - Oh, there would be a hundred anyhow, oh there would be, in Portree. Of course I had to, I butchered two sheep myself and put them up to the hotel because you wouldn't get meat at that time. But I had the sheep here, you know ... on the quiet. [The sheep] went up there and they cooked them there [with] whatever they had over and above that. Aye.

TM - And that was the same day as the queen got married?

IN - Aye, right! Aye, aye, the twentieth of November, [1948). Oh yes I had an anniversary here, three or four years ago, in Portree [laughs]. ... I was there, just the same. Well, it was alright!

TM - Were there a lot of Uig people at the wedding?

IN - Oh yes, quite a lot, yes. Well of Glenconon and ... Earlish and Glenhinnisdal. Oh yes... we got plenty of telegrams anyhow, heaps of them there. Yes.

Source: "Scottish Customs from Cradle to the Grave" by Margaret Bennett.

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