There’s always a lot to decide when you’re planning a wedding. But one thing you won’t have to worry about for your Irish-themed wedding is music. We’ve compiled some of our favorite music selections to help you narrow down the best Irish wedding songs you want to incorporate into the ceremony and reception.
“The Marriage Contract” – Bear McCreary
In “The Marriage Contract”, Bear McCreary composes a rich Celtic melody that’s equal parts jaunty dance tune and soaringly operatic. It juxtaposes the snap of drums with the lyrical drone of the pipes overtop.
We love that it’s fast enough for a whip around the dance floor while still sounding elegant, making it perfect for Irish weddings everywhere.
“The Wedding” – Bear McCreary
This is another McCreary piece. In contrast to the lively “Marriage Contract”, McCreary uses long, sustained phrases for the theme of “The Wedding”.
A few furbelows and appoggiaturas dress it up a bit, but this is primarily an intimate composition. We like it for Irish weddings for exactly that reason.
Whether you’re in a cathedral or a back garden, this is music that invites attendees to lean closer and pay attention.
“Honey Pot” – Bear McCreary
“Honey Pot” is another Bear McCreary “Outlander” composition and another selection that’s ideal for walking down the aisle at Irish-themed weddings.
In the context of the show, it sits in the middle of the character’s stay in France and features all the elegance of 1740s Parisian courtly dance.
At least it does until the midpoint when the harp takes over, and we get much slower more sedate phrasing. It’s still elegant, and the strings work together to create a floating sensation.
This only lasts for the bridge, and then we’re back to courtly high society and baroque sound with the dance rhythm of the strings.
However you decide to feature this piece at your wedding, it’s a choice you can’t go wrong with it.
“Outlander – Skye Boat Song Arrangement” – Bear McCreary
This is yet another stunning arrangement by Bear McCreary. The song uses lyrics from a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson and adapts them for a love story that spans time and space.
As “Outlander” evolved, McCreary reinvented this particular arrangement with each new season. He’s set this piece to music with French lyrics, a pipe and drum accompaniment, and even an A Capella choir.
“Irish Wedding Song” – Andy Cooney
Andy Cooney’s “Irish Wedding Song” is another popular choice for Irish weddings. While most people like it for its sentiment, we love it because it lends itself beautifully to a waltz. And while any couple can dance to it, it’s particularly well-suited for the newlywed couple.
The other place this song works well is as a choral motet while the paperwork gets signed. Another reason we like it in its motet context is its adaptability.
God gets a mention, satisfying the more religious family members, but it’s also full of the kind of secular blessings supportive friends and family would wish for a couple on a wedding day.
“My Wild Irish Rose” – Keith Jarrett
“My Wild Irish Rose” by Keith Jarrett has an interesting history, in that, for a song that has become quintessentially Irish, Chauncey Olcott, its composer, was Irish-American.
Olcott wrote the song in New York, at a time when many Irish-Americans, and especially Irish Catholics, faced restrictions and discrimination.
But none of that comes through in the music. Instead, it’s a swooningly romantic melody dedicated to Olcott’s wife, Margaret. The story goes that the song got its name from a flower handed to Margaret Olcott while the couple was holidaying in Ireland.
When she asked the local boy the type of flower he’d handed her, he said, ‘It’s a wild, Irish Rose.’ She kept the flower, and when Olcott needed a name for his newest composition, she handed him the flower and the title.
We love this song for weddings because it’s the right mix of sentimentality and musicality. Whether you’re walking down the aisle or dancing to it, it suits almost any occasion.
“Sweetest Thing” – U2
Another favorite for Irish wedding receptions, “Sweetest Thing”, came about because the leader of Irish rock band U2 needed an apology to his wife for working on her birthday. Or that’s at least how the story goes!
Lyrically, “Sweetest Thing” isn’t the obvious wedding reception choice. That said, we’re terminally undemonstrative and appreciate the more abstract sentimentality of this piece.
“Kentish Town Waltz” – Imelda May
“The Kentish Town Waltz” is a song by Imelda May. Despite her Irish rockabilly background, the song blends blues and folk perfectly. The result is a mellow, harmonically predictable, but musically lovely song that is perfect for wedding intimate, slow dances.
We love it for the lyrics, which feel almost poetic in their description of domesticity. They’re an excellent sentiment for a wedding too, with the message of sticking together, and thriving, despite domestic difficulties.
“Have I Told You Lately?” – Van Morrison
Whether your Irish wedding is religious or secular, it’s hard to go wrong with “Have I Told You Lately?”. Originally, Van Morrison intended it as a prayer. And while it serves this purpose beautifully, it’s also a deeply romantic ballad.
The combination of religion with romantic language goes back to the metaphysical poets, and one of the things we like about this song is that it’s more approachable than John Donne or George Meredith’s versions for the average wedding-goer.
But ballad or prayer, it’s undeniably beautiful and makes an excellent music selection for a wedding.
“All I Want Is You” – U2
“All I Want Is You”, unlike our earlier U2 recommendation, is a more demonstrative piece of music. It works well for couples’ dances or background music for an Irish wedding.
You can dress it up a bit with string arrangements because something about strings makes everything sound elegant.
“Crazy Love” – Van Morrison
This is another selection from Irish singer, Van Morrison. Like “Have I Told You Lately?”, it blends romance with a touch of religion, ensuring it satisfies all your Irish wedding attendees from the religious to the agnostic.
It’s a beautiful song and sets a comfortable tempo that will get even the most reluctant guests dancing. It’s slow, steady, and intimate.
We love it for the lyrics, which are sentimental enough for a wedding without being too over-the-top. It’s a fine balance, and Van Morrison finds it.
“The One” – Kodaline
Kodaline’s “The One” is another favorite selection at Irish weddings. As someone who sings at their share of weddings, one of the things we appreciate about this particular piece is that it isn’t the obvious choice, especially as a motet, intro, or exit.
We always appreciate musical variety at weddings, and this makes a refreshing change.
But while it’s not obvious, it’s still an appropriate sentiment for a wedding. “The One” is a beautifully romantic expression of shared love and life – exactly what you hope for at a wedding.
“The Pretty Girl” – Cielo De’aranda
While “The Pretty Girl” can be playful and even cheeky in the right hands, this arrangement dresses it up with orchestration suitable for an Irish wedding. Its rippling chord progressions make an excellent intro or exit song.
One of the things we appreciate about it is its measured pace. Whether you process in or out to it or use it for atmospheric background music, this is a song that infuses the room with tranquility.
“Beautiful Bride – Wedding on the Coast with Ocean Waves and Seagull” – Celtic Harp Soundscapes
There’s a lot to be said for a seaside Irish wedding, weather permitting, of course! One of the things we like about this particular song is that it captures the seaside atmosphere, but saves guests from becoming windswept, cold, or being caught out in a sudden downpour.
And while a good bit of temperamental weather is as Irish as shamrocks and fairy folk, we think weddings run smoother when everyone stays dry.
It’s also a wonderful way to capture a bit of outdoors for winter or late-autumn weddings when the light can turn grey early in the ceremony.
So wherever you have your wedding, play a bit of “Beautiful Bride”, and put on your best hat. You won’t have to worry about the wind, rain, or seagulls ruining it.
“A Fairy’s Love Song” – Celtic Harp Soundscapes
It wouldn’t be a truly Irish wedding without a light touch of the harp. “A Fairy’s Love Song” is an excellent way to incorporate the music.
In the tradition of most Irish music, there’s a hint of melancholy and the wee green people. But we particularly like the twist in perspective “A Fairy’s Love Song” gives to the long-established tradition of fairies whisking mortals away through the mist.
In this song, it’s the fairy that’s left behind, waiting wistfully for the return of a mortal.
Musically, some deft accompaniment touches give the music a romantic, rippling sound that hints at those thin spots and magical places, which is ideal for weddings, especially if someone in the family has a superstitious streak.
It’s also intimate enough for dancing and unobtrusive enough that you can talk over the top of it without difficulty. And that’s the real point of a wedding reception.
For the purists, you’ll be thrilled to know there’s a Gaelic version available – it doesn’t get more Irish than that now, does it?
“O’Carolan’s Concerto” – Jürg Kindle
Now, this is a ‘braw’ tune for getting the blood pumping. It’s also an oldie but goodie, ensuring it will please everyone from grannies to traditionalists to the guests looking for an excuse to get a lively jig out of the wedding experience.
The music is in reel time, so it moves at a clip and lends itself particularly well to Irish dancing. That said, it adapts nicely to a quick polka around the room without the fancy footwork of the more traditional dances.
We’re musical by nature, and one of the things we love about “O’Carolan’s Concerto”, besides the opportunity to dance, is the way it lets the musicians show off. It’s not a concerto in the traditional sense, but that doesn’t mean the fiddlers don’t work hard.
The piece was composed by O’Carolan, an established 17th-century composer, in response to a competition challenge issued by Francesco Geminiani. The concerto is a textbook example of what you can do with a dexterous fiddle player or two.
Even without dancing, the blend of fast-paced fiddles and steady bodhrans gives this a recognizably Celtic melody that creates the ideal atmosphere for Irish weddings.
“Marie’s Wedding” – The High Kings
“Marie’s Wedding” or the “Lewis Bridal Song” dates back to 1934. The melody is an old Scottish folk song that got a bit of polish after young Mairi McNiven won the gold medal prize for singing.
Her voice got the attention of John Bannerman, who resolved to write a composition for her. The result was “Mairi Bhan”, now popularly known as “Marie’s Wedding”. The original words were Gaelic, but over time an English version emerged.
This is a fantastic tune for weddings. Its lyrics are cheeky, fun, and the music goes fast. If you’re a traditionalist, you can even dance to “Marie’s Wedding” using old-world dance techniques, which is one of the reasons we love it.
Just remember to slip those left shoulders. Dancing the wrong way is affectionately called “Marie’s Divorce” by the purists.
A family tradition in our home is to swap out the eponymous Marie for the bride’s name and sing along.
“Star of the County Down” – Loreena McKennitt
“Star of the County Down” is another of our favorite Irish melodies, especially if you want to get people moving fast!
Despite sharing a melody with the hymn “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” when you speed it up, the rhythm becomes undeniably Celtic. Lorenna McKennitt brings this out expertly in her recording.
The other reason we love this song is that you can speed it up or slow it down to dance just about anything to it. That’s why it works effectively with slow, ponderous hymns but is more often sung fast as a folk song.
So, musicians can decide if they’re sending dancers reeling or waltzing.
While we’ll dance at any speed, those that are a little more reluctant will still be charmed by the lyrics, which are part Irish blarney and part love song. What could be better for an Irish wedding?
“When You Say Nothing At All” – Ronan Keating
Finally, strings and lyrics come together with this arrangement of “When You Say Nothing at All” by Ronan Keating for an incredibly romantic song.
It shifts between fast and slow while still creating an intimate sensibility for listeners. Perhaps the thing we love most is the refrain.
As already mentioned, we’re not demonstrative by nature, and there’s something we find incredibly moving about the idea of understanding without needing words. And, of course, it’s a sentiment ideally suited for weddings.