The growing popularity of Humanist weddings

ON Jul 26, Paul Murray and Catherine McGeehan married in Harvey’s Point Hotel in Donegal. Catherine walked up the pier to the shores of Lough Eske, while the guests sat on either side.

The growing popularity of Humanist weddings

The setting, with graceful swans, and the backdrop of the Bluestack Mountains, could not have been more romantic. And there was no registrar.

“We took advantage of the new Civil Registration Act,” says Paul. “It means that in approved venues, you can have a legal, Humanist wedding. Our ceremony was led by the solemniser Billy Hutchinson, and it was the most touching, personal and special service. It was perfect.”

When the couple had started planning their wedding a year earlier, Humanist ceremonies were not legal. Hutchinson could have blessed the couple, but they would first have had to attend a registry office. “We would have been less happy with that,” says Paul.

In other respects, the wedding was traditional. Catherine looked stunning in a white dress with a veil; Paul in a black suit with a white shirt and black tie. The teenage bridesmaids wore royal blue dresses. So why not marry in a church? “Roman Catholicism doesn’t sit well with me,” says Paul. “My parents are Catholic, but I haven’t believed from a young age. It would have been hypocritical to marry in a church. Catherine felt the same. She’s not atheist, like me; she’s more agnostic; she thinks there might be something, but she’s not a Catholic, either.”

Were they worried they would upset their families? Catherine’s from a Gaeltacht area in Donegal. “We were concerned, at first,” says Paul. “But the minute we met Billy Hutchinson, we felt reassured. He guided us through our options, and helped us devise a service that was exactly right for us. We knew all our guests would appreciate the spiritual element. And they did. They loved it.

“The service was completely personal. Obviously, the legal section has to be there, but otherwise, the service was up to us. A friend of Catherine’s wrote two poems; one in Irish, one in English, and the readings were just right.”

The couple, both 33, met at college in Limerick, and live in Blackrock, Co Dublin. They have returned from a month-long honeymoon. How is married life? “It’s wonderful. We’ve grown closer. I’ve definitely married the right woman.”

Tara Fay of Xena Productions, says Humanist ceremonies are popular. “But before the Act came in, couples had to have a registry office wedding first,” she says. “They would then have a Humanist blessing at home. Appointing a Humanist solemniser makes the service much more rounded for people who don’t have religious affiliations.

“They give structure to the service. And they work with the bride and groom and make the service special, and personal to them. I always recommend it. Without it, couples tend to fall back on part of the religious ceremony, and that’s what they were trying to get away from in the first place.”

Joe Armstrong, a former Catholic priest, is one of the newest Humanist solemnisers. He joined the Humanist Association of Ireland three years ago.

“As a Maoist priest, I loved the element of being with people at key points in their lives,” he says. “I lost my faith and left the order after nine years. As a Humanist, I can be with people again. At Humanist weddings, naming ceremonies and funerals, I can facilitate a moment for people that is meaningful and touching.”

In the first two weeks as a solemniser, Armstrong performed two funerals and was preparing for two naming ceremonies. He’s had 18 enquiries for weddings.

Lindsey Anderson and her husband, Justin, planned to have a church wedding, followed by a marquee reception at Lindsey’s parents’ house, but, after a marriage preparation course, they realised the religious element was not for them.

“We looked at other options, and a friend recommended a Humanist service. She said it was so personal. When the wedding planner, Tara Fay, came on board, she encouraged us. Billy Hutchinson was our solemniser. And, from our first meeting with him, we felt cherished. Everyone loved the service. They were interested in every word. I would recommend it to anyone.”

Kim Ross and Edwin MacPartling married at Dublin Zoo in September 2010.

“We wanted a short, sweet ceremony, and nothing religious at all,” says Kim. “Guests enjoy the party afterwards, more than anything, and my daughter, Mia, at three, would have never lasted through a traditional ceremony.”

The zoo appealed to Kim, because she was working there, as a photographer on contract, when she and Edwin met.

“I went into labour there, too. At seven days overdue, we walked there to pass the time, and after a lap of the lower end of the zoo, I was in full labour.”

Kim wanted a 1950s theme. She went with a retro dress with a pink underskirt, and Edwin wore a grey suit with a trilby hat. Everything was relaxed.

“So many people said it was the best wedding they had ever been to,” says Kim. “We told people to wear what they wanted and turn up when they liked. Some walked round the zoo first.

“After the service and drinks reception, we went to Dandelion, in St Stephen’s Green, for a three-course dinner. They had cordoned off the back bar for us. It was perfect. I didn’t feel stressed at any point, and that, to me, meant everything.

“I’m not religious; neither is Edwin, but being married has made a huge difference to us both. We now have a son, Jake, who is 20 months old. It’s important for him and Mia to grow up with married patents.”


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