• The Festival Celebrant

The Quaich Ceremony; supping from Gaelic tradition.

Updated: Mar 4

The first thing I want to say is don't worry too much about the pronunciation! With apologies to my Scottish friends, you'll probably be forgiven for pronouncing it 'quake'. It's Gaelic, originally quaigh or quoich, and ultimately derived from from cuach meaning cup.

So, the quaich is a venerable form of drinking bowl and it's still principally associated with Scotland. It was most commonly made of wood and might be stave-built (like a barrel) or turned. It could also be found in stone, brass, pewter, horn or, if you were really flush, silver. It might be plain or engraved, and the wooden ones often had a decorative metal rim. But the feature common to every quaich is its pair of flat, horizontal handles. Because the quaich is specifically designed as a drinking vessel for sharing.

It's now thought of, and used, primarily as a 'loving cup', a job it performs beautifully. But its historical uses went much further than that. Chieftains would share a quaich to seal alliances between their clans: a two handled cup left no hand free to wield a treacherous blade. And because both men were drinking the same liquor it was unlikely to be poisoned!

No less a person than King James VI of Scotland is said to have presented a quaich to his bride, Anne of Denmark, possibly one of the earliest recorded uses in the context of a wedding. The symbolism, then as now, was the blending of two separate lives to create a new shared life. We don't know what they drank (whisky maybe?!) but whisky was traditional and is still a popular choice for the ceremony. Another option is for the two parties to each chose a special tipple and blend them in the quaich. If alcohol isn't appropriate you can use non-alcoholic alternatives or fruit juice, cordials etc.

When it comes to actually passing the quaich around, there's a range of options. One method is for the couple to hold one handle each and manoeuvre the bowl between their respective lips (cue lots of hilarity over dribbles and spills!). Another way would be for one to pass the bowl to the other using both hands (much like those Highland chieftains of old). You might want to extend the symbolism of blending and sharing by bringing others into the ceremony. Ideal for a wedding, a member of the groom's family could pass the quaich to the bride who would then pass it to the groom. He in turn would pass it to a member of the bride's family, thus completing a circle. I'm sure you can think of lots of other permutations.

However you decide to do it, here's a nice little toast you might want to recite while the quaich's making its rounds:

"Strike hands with me,  the glasses brim,  the dew is on the heather,  for love is good and life is long,  and two are best together. Bless the union of these two,  eager for marriage, eager for love. May they begin life together,  live that life together,  and come to the end together"

But why restrict the use of the quaich to a wedding ceremony? As I described above, it was used in the distant past as a gesture of trust to seal truces and alliances between Highland clans. I think any group of people coming together to celebrate a common purpose could adapt the quaich ceremony to seal their commitment. You might need a bigger quaich though (perhaps you could make your own?). Or you could use a 'Porringer' (basically a big quaich). Which sort of makes me think I could give a shout-out for the Wassail Bowl, a very distant cousin that might also have two handles. Or no handles. Or lots of handles! But that's really another story for another time so I won't. Sorry Wassail Bowl!

3 views0 comments