Former electrician Cormac Lally turned his passion for poetry into a business where he writes wedding speeches in verse, says Marjorie Brennan.
He has travelled the world plying his trade as an electrician but it is Cormac Lally’s creative spark that is now earning him a crust.
Lally’s poetic talents are in huge demand with people looking to sprinkle a little magic dust on their wedding celebrations.
The Tullamore native, now based in Skibbereen, Co Cork, with his family, runs a bespoke wedding speech service which has helped hundreds of clients from all over the world make their big day extra special.
It was a family wedding of his own that inspired Lally to set up his business.
“I qualified as an electrician and I travelled a lot, working in Holland and Australia for a few years.
"I came back in the end of 2007 and the crash was just happening, so I was getting a couple days a week here and there.
“My baby brother was getting married on the August bank holiday of 2012 and my middle brother was the best man.
"He was very nervous about it and he came up to me and said ‘Listen, you’re the writer in the family, can you help me with this?’.
“I said ‘Would you do a poem?’. And he said he would do anything just to be up and down in as short a length of time as possible.
"So we wrote the poem, I coached him on how to do it, he got up and did it on the day in front of 350 people and he got a standing ovation.
"And a guy booked me about an hour after that at the bar.”
While Lally will do a speech in any format, verse has proved to be the most popular choice when it comes to adding a special touch to the day.
“As I tell them, there are people there to do your cake, your flowers, your photos, your invitations — all the money that gets spent on a wedding, people don’t often think of doing something different for the speeches.”
Lally also performs as a spoken word poet, so is well-versed in all aspects of delivering a memorable speech.
Prices start at €300, and he takes a ‘three-step’ approach to helping his clients.
“The steps are connecting, creating and coaching. I chat to them over Skype or WhatsApp, they might come to visit me or I will go to see them.
"The initial consultation is for an hour or 90 minutes, sometimes a little longer. Then I sit down and write a draft.
“Once they are happy with the draft, we move on to the coaching.
"We go through it a line at a time, I listen for their natural cadence and we work on punctuation and rhythm, where to breathe and all of that.
"Then I will record myself doing it for them, and over the next weeks or months they just need to pop in their earphones and they can listen to it and by the end, they are doing it in their sleep.”
Lally’s talent for writing verse and rhyme was evident from an early age.
“I probably wrote my first poem when I was five or six — my mam still has them all.
"We were encouraged to write in school and every Wednesday night, the whole class had to write an original poem and read it in class the next morning.
"It was the one element of school I loved, I couldn’t wait for Wednesdays to arrive.
"It was fantastic to see a class of kids get up and read their poems — it is the getting up that is the hard part.”
Lally is very much inspired by the Irish bardic tradition of poetry as performance and entertainment.
In his own spoken word performance, he covers topics from fatherhood to politics.
“I write about anything — dreams, 9/11, food, changing dirty nappies or babies that have colic.
"In Ireland, we are a nation of poets, and we shouldn’t forget that.
"You can head down to your open mic, and you can get off whatever’s on your chest. It is a beautiful healthy art.”
His own experience performing helps greatly in reassuring people who can suffer debilitating nerves when it comes to public speaking.
“Irish people may have the gift of the gab but they’re not all comfortable in front of crowds. For most of my clients, especially those who are nervous, the wedding poem is way easier to do.
"Once you can learn something by heart and get into the habits and ritual I set out, it will all be good.
"Most people don’t expect anything so if you go to any effort at all, you will have the crowd behind you.
"I have people who are so nervous, they don’t remember doing the speech.
"They just remember standing up and the next minute, the place is going crazy.”
Humour is a key element in relating to any audience, says Lally. “People love to laugh, more than anything else in the world — the energy of laughter is so important.
I set the poems in a certain way that you get your first laugh after the first two lines. You absolutely own the room then after that.”
While traditionally, wedding speeches were very much the preserve of men, that has changed a lot in recent years.
Lally works with all members of the wedding party, including brides, bridesmaids, and mothers of the bride or groom.
He says when it comes to preparing speeches, women are way ahead.
“You can really see the difference. The fellas’ memories are terrible when it comes to anything romantic… ask them where they met the missus, and they’ll be going ‘Well, eh, let me think now…’
"The women remember everything — the fellas he was with, what he was drinking, the songs they were dancing to. It is so easy to write for the girls because they give you so much information.”
Lally has also worked on speeches for many same-sex weddings.
“They are amazing to do,” he says. “I had a chap there who got married a few years ago and he asked me to do the entire wedding speech using Cher song titles.
"It was so beautiful. He said the place went bananas.”
Lally says not everyone likes to mention they had some help with their speech but for him, nothing makes him happier than seeing the result for himself.
“It is a strictly confidential service — some people do mention it, some people don’t.
"Some people will go on their Facebook page about it but for others it is a very private thing, and that’s fine.
“Just to see them on the videos they send on to me, or to get that text at the end of the night letting me know how they got on — I feel such pride to see these people who were shaking holding the sheet of paper, get up and deliver a speech with such confidence.
"To see people’s reactions, all the standing ovations that they get.
"It is the greatest job satisfaction I have ever had.”
“... By midnight, I was truly, under this girl’s spell
No trickery, or magic, nor voodoo, hocus pocus
But sparks flew, when we shifted,
in her old, Ford Focus
"Sinead, since that day, it’s been the thunderbolt
Your heart is mine, you’ve truly cooled, the gallop of this colt
You always, think of others, putting them, before yourself
And you’re only, just a call away, when people need your help
"The clients, that you care for, have told me this is true
Though, I dont get much sympathy, when I come down with, man flu.”
“... So my brother Brian, Paul and I, would hang out in our room
Flat out on the Sega Mega Drive, for hours, all afternoon
Kicking football for the parish, at right back, he’d be starting
Refusing studded football boots, instead he’d wear, Doc Martens
Our hormonal teen excursions, to Skib, were loud and vocal
And sure if he didn’t get the shift, he could always, fight the locals
Black eyes and bloody noses, were a staple for us kids
But we grew up, as tight knit family, with Schull’s other saucepan lids.”