A Manx wedding is one of the traditional social occasions of which the memory has not been allowed to die on the Island. Life is not now always recognisably Manx, far from it, but from time to time there is an upsurge of insular sentiment and it is decided to hold some ‘Manx’ event: a Manx Tea, a Manx Evening, a Mheillea, which is a Manx Harvest Supper, or a Manx Wedding – the most popular of all because it is the most spectacular.
Let any village or parish announce a revival of the Manx Wedding, and people will flock there in hundreds. Its chief attraction is the wedding procession in which almost everyone can take part: headed by the bride riding on horseback with her father to the church, then the bridesmaids and groomsmen following two by two, and those not occupying the chief roles, joining in as wedding guests. Apart from the absence of horses and carriages and carts, of which at a real wedding there might once have been fifty of sixty, and the wedding finery which is mostly late Victorian, the scene is much as at an early 19th century wedding, a walking wedding perhaps, when anyone who was met by the wedding party on the way to church had to join in the procession and go along with it until the bridegroom gave them leave to go on their way. The fiddler is there to play for them as no wedding could be held without him; in the old days there would be two of them:
“I remember fiddlers going to weddings. I have been at a wedding myself and the fiddlers going with us to the church and back, and the young men and girls dancing at intervals along the road. There would be four or five dozen young people at the wedding when I was young, walking in pairs…It was custom for the young men to run a race when returning from the church, the first that reached the house broke the wedding cake into small pieces, and scattered them out of a plate over the head of the bride as she entered, which was thought to increase the dreaming charm.”
At an 18th century wedding the ‘bride-men’ carried osier (willow) wands in their hands ‘as a mark of their superiority’ and before entering the church the wedding procession walked three times round it. The feast provided after the ceremony was of the proportions of a medieval banquet, and in great contrast to the frugal fare of every day. ‘I have seen a dozen capons in one platter and six or eight fat geese in another, sheep and hogs roasted whole and oxen divided but into quarters.’
There are one or two old wedding customs that are kept up or occasionally revived today. As the bride and bridegroom come out of church, children will sometimes stretch a rope across the road and hold them up until they have paid their ‘footing’, which the bridegroom does by throwing them some money to be scrambled for.
Young men have been known to revive the old custom of blowing horns outside the home of a girl of their acquaintance the night before she is to be married. In the past this was done to frighten away evil spirits; what the intention is today is hard to say, merely perhaps as a reminder of old times and because it provides an excuse for making a hideous, but considering the occasion, a permissible din.
Guns are no longer fired on the wedding day to dispel malevolent spirits but a hundred years ago at some weddings ‘they would be firing them all the way to church.’
(source: ‘The Folklore of the Isle of Man’ by Margaret Killip; photo http://bit.ly/1hT2klP)