Our day, our way: Tearing up the wedding rule book

Irish couples are getting married, on average, a decade later than their peers in 1977. And they’re choosing less traditional ways to celebrate their big day. Just ask Ciara McDonnell.

IN MAY, my partner Mark and I will be married in front of a group of our closest family and friends.

After almost a decade together, and as parents to two children — Matthew, 6, and Michael, 4 — the decision to become wed was an easy one. 

Mark will be 37 and I, 35 when we get married — over ten years older than our parents and in vastly different circumstances.

To us, our wedding day offers an opportunity to gather those people we hold dear and make a public declaration of our love for each other… and celebrate with a massive hooley afterwards.

Why now? Simply, our relationship has never been in better shape. We may have done things back-to-front in terms of what is ‘traditional’ but it has worked a treat for us. 

We grew up together during the years when our children were babies and barely slept, and met challenges that forced us to examine the parts of us that made us squirm.

Ciara McDonnell and Mark Mulligan to marry in May.

With the boys, Matthew, 6, and Michael, 4, getting older, at this stage in our relationship we are mature enough to enter into a marriage together with no blinkers on, and with the confidence that, no matter what we may face, as a team we can overcome anything.

As the big day looms, I am ever more conscious that lots of the traditional ‘bride’ traditions don’t apply to me, and I wonder if I am alone in the Irish wedding world of today. 

Despite joking with my friends that I will be a geriatric bride, it seems I am actually just off my bridal peak. 

According to the latest CSO figures, the average woman gets married at 33 and for Irish men, it’s 35. 

In 1977, the corresponding ages were 24 and 26.2, respectively.

What does this mean for the concept of marriage? 

There is no doubt the landscape of Irish weddings has changed dramatically over the last 10 years, driven by the introduction of new rules in 2007, allowing public buildings to be used as wedding venues.

Kate O’Dowd is well-placed to consider said changes. 

For the last four years, she has occupied the editor’s desk at BASH (now IMAGE Bride) magazine, and has recently launched, with wedding planner Jen Power Love & (lovnd.com), a creative consultancy with a focus on realising bespoke wedding ideas for couples who don’t want the usual prescription.

SPECIAL DAY: Kate O’Dowd with her husband Brian Price and son Teddy at their wedding ceremony.

“There are lots of reasons why Irish couples are increasingly thinking outside the box, when it comes to their wedding,” says O’Dowd. 

“Certainly, it’s down in part to being that much older than our parents were when they got married; living together or having kids before marriage has a massive impact, too.”

She points to the generation currently in their 30s as the first to enjoy certain social freedoms from convention. 

“While the majority of Irish couples still do stick with tradition, a good many others find themselves really thinking about what a wedding actually means to them. 

"For most of the couples we’re working with, their wedding is about celebrating a commitment to someone who’s already their partner and having a brilliant party with their friends and family — they’re paying for the wedding themselves, so they want to enjoy it.”

These days, couples are choosing a more casual approach to weddings — less pomp and ceremony, and more celebration. 

The national average spend on a wedding, according to wedding maestro Peter Kelly aka Franc, is around €27,000. 

He adds that the market is too widely spread to get a real sense of what people are budgeting for.

“The statistics for wedding spends are gathered from a specific demographic,” he says. 

“We only really hear about what’s in the middle.”

Franc says that these days, his couples are focused on achieving their goals for their weddings, rather than what their parents might want — regardless of who is footing the bill. 

“We’ve had a lot of weddings where the parents have paid for the wedding and the bride and groom didn’t do something more old-fashioned because their parents were paying.”

Franc says people aren’t necessarily saving money by opting for a more casual wedding, rather they are re-appropriating funds to areas that the bride and groom regard as more important than what might be considered traditional. 

This could be allowing for more wine at the meal, or hiring a wood-fired pizza van for a late-night snack.

The idea of celebrating their union in their own inimitable way was something that took precedence for Emma Sutton, an art director from Dublin who married Anthony at the restaurant of Dublin’s Fallon & Byrne in December. 

TYING THE KNOT: Emma and Anthony Sutton with their children and family members at Fallon & Byrne, Dublin.

For Emma, 43, and Anthony, 40, having complete autonomy over the day was essential. They are parents to Althea, 9, Riley, 6, and Jared, 3, and as such, it was important to include the children in their day.

“We had the kids there for the ceremony, not the afters. The ceremony was very special because Althea walked down the aisle first with my bridesmaid and gave her daddy a kiss when she got to the top,” says Emma.

“I was calm and collected walking down the aisle until I saw my two little boys smiling at me and then I was a blubbering mess. Riley

brought the rings up and Althea cried when we said our vows. We’ll remember it forever.”

She is refreshingly honest about why the couple waited until now to tie the knot: “We were busy having babies for the last ten years. We were always going to marry, it was just a matter of timing.”

RTÉ DJ Ruth Scott will be marrying Rob Morgan (son of the late Dermot Morgan) in Bunratty Castle this July. 

For them, getting married a little later means they can focus on what they truly want. That, for this couple, is celebrating their union with a big party. 

Ruth will not be donning a princess dress for her wedding, and this has been one of the points of resistance she has come up against in the planning stages.

Ruth Scott and Rob Morgan planning a Humanist wedding.

“I think that certain family members and friends are having a small stroke because they think I’m going to turn up in a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a pair of runners,” she says, laughing. 

“I am not wearing a wedding dress because it does not suit me. I am your typical Irish woman with dark hair and pale skin and there is no shade of white that suits me. 

"I find when some people hear that I’m not wearing a wedding dress it’s like I’ve mortally offended them, because I’m disagreeing with what they believe a wedding should be.“

When Kate O’Dowd, 33, planned her 2013 nuptials to Brian Price, 37, at Drury Building in Dublin, she knew the traditional route was not for them. 

“For starters, we’re not religious, so the church was out. 

"Secondly, we have a big extended family, and with a limited budget, we had the choice to either do an event that was mostly family, with a few friends, or vice versa.”

“And because we already had one of our two boys (Teddy), we certainly felt that the traditional route wasn’t for us.”

The resulting day was a huge success, she says. 

“We had a very heartfelt, bespoke ceremony — which even my aunt, who is a Catholic nun, felt was spiritual — followed by lunch, with an open mic on speeches and songs, and then a cocktail-heavy party, with music by one of our favourite club DJs.”

O’Dowd acknowledges that planning her wedding was made easier by her industry insight, but says that anything is possible for the brides and grooms of today. 

“I totally understand how that can feel out of reach for many couples — they know they want something different, but they don’t necessarily know what that is, or how to achieve it. 

"Ireland’s wedding industry is thriving at the moment and there really is a pick ’n’ mix option for everyone, it’s just about knowing how to tap into it.”

Franc (above), based in Fermoy, says all of his couples are looking for a bespoke wedding experience these days, and that non-changeable wedding packages are out.

“Utilising a package is almost like a bad word because it means that someone else has already had it,” he says. 

“People want a bespoke event, no matter the budget. I’ve always said that if you are paying a venue for something, you don’t want to become a part of a formula that they find works. 

"There are so many elements that you can change to make it a unique day. Do you have to have a cake, for example? Do you have to have a car?

“You don’t have to have anything — your wedding is about a celebration between family and friends, and people are moving away from this formula and weddings are getting a lot more interesting as a result.”

Franc says Irish weddings are pushing the boundaries of what is considered traditional. 

“I think perhaps because people are a little older, they are more confident when it comes to vocalising what they want,” he says.

“Many of our clients are looking for venues that the whole family can have a lot of fun in for a few days in multiple ways. 

"A key thing is finding a venue that has a number of different price points so that everyone can afford to stay. They are looking for a place that has really great food and lots of possibilities for different kinds of entertaining.”

Couples, says Franc, are committed to making their wedding a full-circle experience for guests, and that’s down to their stage of life. 

“At the end of the day, a wedding is a big, huge party, and couples who are focused on the day flowing in a way that will allow for everyone to have a great time — whether because of their age or their attitude — are the ones who will succeed in having the dream wedding.”

It can be easy to forget about the wedding ceremony in the middle of wedding planning, but it is something to which Ruth Scott and Rob have given great thought. 

The couple joined the Humanist Association last year and their wedding will be officiated by a Humanist celebrant.

“I like the Humanist ethos,” she says. 

“It’s not a religion but it’s about living a good life without any fear of the afterlife. Rob and I don’t see our marriage as being welcomed into God’s family. 

"We see our marriage as a legal commitment and our way to show the world that we have decided to be together.”

Geraldine O’Neill, a Humanist celebrant based in Cork, says the couples she marries might have two to three children, could have been married before, or be of the same gender.

“They are looking for a ceremony which best reflects their shared belief system. They want to feel that the ceremony is personal and about declaring their belief in each other in front of their community of family and friends. 

"What they don’t want is for people to turn off and zone out during this, one of the most important occasions in their lives.”

With a ceremony that may be seen as non-traditional come certain questions, like who will be walking Ruth up the aisle? 

“Rob and I are walking up the aisle together because, for us, that represents who we are and what we are,” she says.

“I jokingly say that nobody is going to give me away because I don’t belong to anyone. I say it as a joke, but I mean it because I don’t belong to anyone. We are an adult couple and we are doing this together.”

Marriage venues and styles may have changed in Ireland over the last number of years, and virginal brides may be thin on the ground in 2017, but the emphasis on the relationship behind the marriage has never been stronger.

Couples who are marrying in their 30s and beyond have life experience and often a long period of togetherness behind them. 

With less social pressure on couples to marry for religious or other reasons, the decision to enter matrimony becomes not a ‘logical step’ for a couple, but one that has been weighed and measured in respect of the relationship in its entirety.

The key to a successful wedding, say the experts, remains a relaxed bride and groom. 

“If the bride and groom are enjoying themselves, everybody does,” says Franc.

Kate O’Dowd agrees: “As fun as it is to be involved in the process, from the moment you wake up on your wedding day, you should be off duty. Delegate venue set-up to a trusted friend or supplier… put someone else’s number on the contact sheet. Enjoy the pleasure of being a guest at your own wedding, come what may. Otherwise, it could pass you by.”

This sentiment is one that Mark and I will champion. We are getting married in the garden of a pub just down the road from where we live, with our two sons by our sides.

Throughout the entire day, from the first welcome glass of fizz to the last flicker of a candle, we want our guests to feel embraced by our family so that they can walk away from our wedding with a sense of what our purpose is for the coming years.

We see our wedding day as a chance to set the standard for our lives out loud and at full volume.

This day, that has been so long coming, will be a culmination of our lives together so far, and a celebration of the life to come.

Tips

Take the stage: Consider booking the Everyman Theatre in Cork — it was was the country’s first civil marriage to be held in a theatre since new rules allowing public buildings to be used as wedding venues were introduced in 2007.

Pick a landmark: As long as your venue is open to the public, you can get married almost anywhere in Ireland.

Home from home: One of the biggest trends planners are seeing is couples choosing to have part of their wedding at home or in their parent’s home.

Party central: Have an evening wedding as the sun goes down, hire a food truck to cater and hook up some lights for a Mediterranean wedding — weather allowing.

Glamp your heart out: Most glamping sites now offer party hire, so why not consider turning your wedding into the most exclusive ticket this year?



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