Strawboys at Irish Weddings
Rosaleen Fallon in her book, “A County Roscommon Wedding, 1892: The marriage of John Hughes and Mary Gavin” explores the customs connected to rural weddings of Ireland. According to Fallon in this time period more than 88% of rural weddings were done in the first quarter of February. That is certainly a huge percentage of marriages and also may indicate some connection to the growing cycles of the farm life at hand. AS the couple moved from church to home celebrations, these “weddeners” as they were called lead a procession of celebrators down a road that was lined with bonfires and torches. This was probably a relic of some old purification ceremony long forgotten, but it underscores the wider participation of the community in this wedding.
Strawboys were groups of lads that came and danced at weddings uninvited. Though always an outsider, they were very much expected to come to the wedding and dance with the bride and provide some entertainment for the night. More than one group would come within the night and they were always offered a drink or refreshments. To treat the strawboys wrongly was considered very unlucky in Ireland up to the mid 20th century, though the customs still persists in many parts of Ireland to day. Often, the players of a particular group were members of the town and very much known by Mary and John, though it was traditional to wear a straw kilt and mask to disguise them and to speak in reverse breathing so as not to identify who were the members of the strawboy troupe.
Though this custom was not confined to Roscommon, the picture above shows a more elaborate suite that has a plaited vest characteristic of Roscommon. In the following film by Grainne Quinlan he shows Patrick Murphy making the traditional suit and mask. Out thanks go out to Grainne for his recording this historic process and for the wonderful film he has created.
By Morgyn Owens-CelliTags: Straw Costumes, Strawboy, Strawboys