Weddings and Strawboys


By Donnchadh O’Luasaigh, Baile An Chollaigh




‘Time always brings change’ is true about most things - weddings being no exception. The standard procedure nowadays is that the marriage takes place in a church and the cóisire then heads towards a hotel where the wedding feast takes place. Then a number of entertaining speeches are made and the cake is cut. When everyone is well fed (I didn’t say well ‘fed up’) the band strikes up ( and I do mean ‘up’) and the assembled party ‘takes to the floor’ for ‘the afters’. The happy couple leaves for their honeymoon either on the wedding day itself or the day after.


But the routine wasn’t always like that. In the past I understand that the marriage could take place in the bride’s home. That, however, was before my time. In the middle of the twentieth century, which I do remember, a marriage took place in the bride’s church but a reception didn’t always take place in a hotel. In fact it wasn’t known as a reception then but as a ‘hauling home’. This took place in the home of one of the parties- no speeches but plenty rócáns and dances- ‘ithe agus ól agus rince le céol’ as they used to say. It was possible to be a best man at a marriage at a very young age. The only regulation to qualify for such a privilege at the time was that the person had received his Confirmation.




‘Come here to me now garsúinín- were there any strawboys at these old wedings?’ ‘Any what!? ’No craic unless there was a good meitheal of buachaillí tuí. I’ll tell you a little about them. I feel qualified to do as I did a small biteen of ‘strawing’ a few times myself, and they say that ‘practice makes perfect’-Ha, ha! Ha, hawdy!

Strawboys were uninvited guests who dressed up in suits made from straw and paid a visit to the wedding feast in the midst of the celebrations. The average number in the group was about a dozen and all the gang remained anonymous. Each had an identification number however that was known to the leader or captain. The dressing up took place in the vicinity of a neighbour’s rick of straw- a certain skill was needed to make the strawsuits as they had to withstand the vibrations and gyrations of the vigorous dancing and the tricky tugs of roaming fingers from some of the more curious guests. The face especially had to be well covered in straw to nullify identification.


At eleven o’clock or thereabouts the straw boys headed towards ’tigh na bainise’. The leader knocked on the door and asked permission for the group to enter. This being granted, all went in. The leader then requested the acquaintance of the newly weds:’ Will the happy couple please come forward?’


When they did, he wished them well with the following words: "May your path be filled with roses and your hearts be filled with joy. And the first to fill your cradle be a curly-headed boy."


The leader would possibly announce "Number Three will now sing a song". Songs would follow this from the other members of the strawboys group. Some dancing would be interspersed with the singing.


After a little while, the hosts would sometimes invite the strawboys to shed their strawsuits and remain with the invited guests. This would always be accepted with great enthusiasm. So this would conclude the frolics of the strawboys until the next wedding.


Perhaps some fun-loving energetic garsoons would be ‘strawing’ again when Paddy Dhónail and Hanna John Rua would be tying the old knot! But they would need to ‘know their onions’ and be ‘dingers’ at making sugawns!