The landscape of weddings has been turned on its head since the arrival of Covid-19. At the beginning of 2020, three-day celebrations spread across multiple venues were the norm, with guest lists of over 150 people considered the gold standard. In less than twelve months, the world became accustomed to attending ceremonies via Zoom and guest numbers fluctuated from between 25 and six people, depending on levels of Government restrictions.
Out of the pandemic, a surprisingly gorgeous trend has grown: the micro-wedding. Not seen since the 1940s when wartimes dictated quick and super simple nuptials, couples all over the world are proving that small soirées can be just as fantastical as large-scale events. Pared-back weddings allow couples to focus on the importance of the day, and themselves.
Event stylist Amy Daunt says that she prefers the term intimate than micro. “I really feel that your wedding day shouldn't feel like a micro version of a wedding day because it is one of the most important days in your life,” she says. “Intimate weddings have always been here in Ireland and will probably become more popular now as couples realise you can still have a beautiful wedding day but on a smaller scale when considering your guest numbers.”
Emma and John Mulligan tested Daunt’s theory when they shaved a cool 120 people off their wedding guest list and were married with 25 of their nearest and dearest during October’s Level 5 restrictions in Dublin. The pared-back day ended up delivering a wedding that was beyond their wildest dreams, says Emma. “There was no small talk, which I loved. I feel like on your wedding day when there are lots of people there, more than half the day is spent in small talk.”
The bride spent the morning in her parent’s house, preparing with her sisters, mother and best friend, Heather. “At one point during the morning, my sister Michelle turned to me and said, ‘this is exactly what it was like on my wedding morning.’ And that was the whole thing. We were surrounded by the people that we love the most, all day long.” Having rescheduled the day twice, the couple was determined to get down the aisle, and it paid off. “We were so grateful that we were able to get married - that's all we wanted at that stage. It still felt like a 'proper' wedding. We had some major sacrifices, of course, our two brothers and their families couldn't make it but overall I don't feel like we missed out on anything,” says Emma.
Amy Daunt says that half of her couples are still holding out for a big wedding, but lots are using it as an opportunity to reimagine their day. “Some of our Irish couples are taking full advantage of having smaller guest numbers at their wedding. Some of our couples have done a complete u-turn on what we had originally planned and designed for them last year and they are embracing the freedom they now have with planning a wedding with smaller guest numbers.” When Kela and Stephen Hodgins bought Dunowen House in West Cork seven years ago, micro weddings were a relatively new concept. The couple has been hosting intimate weddings for five years and the venue is licensed to host wedding ceremonies on site. The largest wedding the couple has hosted has been thirty people, but smaller is always better. "Interest in small weddings has really shot up in the last year, for obvious reasons," says Kela. "Normally we might do two or three weddings a year. I'd say we'll do about six this year. I think the realisation with couples that you don't have to have the two hundred people, that we all might have been used to."
Choosing to have a smaller wedding really opens up your options in terms of venues, says Amy. “When planning a smaller wedding you have a lot more options when it comes to how you would like the day to flow and feel,” she explains. “A lot of couples are now having their wedding celebrations at home which is fantastic as you can throw the rule book out the window and design a day that is very intimate, romantic and personal to you both. One of the most beautiful weddings we worked on had only 10 guests at their home and it was so romantic. The couple put huge thought into the whole experience for themselves and their guests from choosing the perfect scent of candles to the amazing catering, it was exceptional.”
Kela Hodgkins agrees. “We had a wedding of six people plus the couple two weeks ago and I was talking to my husband afterwards about the difference between it and a big country wedding where there might be two hundred people,” she says. “I often think that the focus is off the couple at big weddings - they are going around trying to meet everybody. When the group is smaller, in many ways the focus is on the couple and who they are on the day. The thing with a micro wedding is that you can personalise every small detail of the day.”
If Emma and John Mulligan had a chance to do it all over again, would they go for a big hooly? “If there was no Covid and there was a choice to get married the way it was before - with our 140 original guests - we wouldn't do it that way,” she says. “The day we had was much more intimate than it would have been having it been on a bigger scale. Our guests were relaxed, there was no pressure on anyone and it was perfect.”
The first inkling that Cork couple Sue and Steve Treacy had that their 4th of July 2020 wedding might not go ahead as planned, was when their stag and hen parties were cancelled. “I was supposed to be going to Lithuania for my stag on St Patrick’s Day,” says Steve. “We changed it to Galway at the last minute and then literally, the day of my stag was when the pubs closed.” Pragmatic, the couple got to work rescheduling their day for the following October, giving themselves enough time (they thought) to ensure it going ahead. Then, the week before their wedding, the country went to Level 5 restrictions. “That meant that our hotel closed, hairdressers were cancelled, the band cancelled, reception music cancelled, all in the space of a few hours,” says Steve.
Determined to go ahead, Steve and Sue began to ring venues, asking them to accommodate them the following week. Fate intervened, and Vienna Woods in Glanmire – which had hosted Steve sister Maria’s wedding a number of years earlier - stepped in, offering to host their intimate wedding, now limited to 25 people plus the couple.
“Oh we had great fun with lists,” laughs Sue. “We were 180 originally and then we went down to 100. We had a list of 25, a list of 50 and a list of 100.” With a venue booked, it was time to make the day as memorable as possible. “We put the thinking caps on,” says Steve. “We reached out to the band and asked if they would play the song for our first dance and video it and we played it on a big screen. It was a virtual first dance - very cool. For music, we used a Spotify playlist.” A smaller guest list meant that the couple had quality time with each of their guests. It was harder for some than others, says Steve. “I actually think that the people a small wedding affects your family more than you. My mother missed having the craic with her own sisters at our wedding.”
They settled on making sure that the day was a treat for everyone involved. “We went for the best that we could for the wedding that we had,” says Steve. “We went for the fillet steak, we had an open bar. We wanted to make it as fantastic as possible for our guests. We wanted to give every guest who was with us a night to remember, and it was lovely for us to be able to treat our families.” Steve and Sue even managed to squeeze in a cheeky pint on their own. “We had seen that Bodega had a hatch bar so we took a gamble and went in and got two takeaway drinks,” says Steve. “It was a lovely thing to do on our own rather than going straight back to the hotel.”
Finding unique ways to celebrate these smaller celebrations is the biggest challenge and greatest honour for wedding professionals at the moment, says Colette Walsh, Head of Sales at The Dean Cork. “We are receiving lots of enquiries from couples who are choosing to celebrate in a different way than they had perhaps originally intended.” Using Cork city as a backdrop, Walsh and her team are focused on showing couples the beauty and versatility of their venue and the hotel. “The most important thing for us is that couples feel as though we care – because we really do! We want to offer them the day of their dreams, no matter how many people are able to attend.”
“Every couple I have ever worked with tells me that they want their wedding to be different,” says Amy Daunt. “This is your chance to have that different wedding day, own it and make it your own. Just because you are having smaller guest numbers don't ever feel like you are compromising. A smaller wedding allows you to be more creative with your planning and designing. Think of your wedding day as a reflection of you as a couple and create a day that your guests would love to experience with you.
At Dunowen House, they specialise in making sure that the couple and their family enjoy a day that they will remember forever. “A small wedding is ideal for couples who don't like big crowds, who are maybe a little bit shy or prefer smaller groups,” says Kela Hodgins. “The last micro wedding we hosted was so chilled out and welcoming. For the ceremony, the couple are musical and they each played instruments, and the family was spread across our drawing room in their little bubbles and it was really laid back and relaxed. There was no walking down the aisle - it was intimate and personal to the couple.”
With Peter ‘Franc’ Kelly predicting that we won’t see weddings at the size we had pre-Covid returning until at least 2022, it looks like smaller celebrations are here to stay – for now. “I feel so sorry for the couples,” he says, phoning from the former convent he is renovating in Roscarberry. “All they want to know is, ‘when will it be over? When will we be able to have our big day?’ And of course, I can’t tell them, because I don’t know!” Franc says that his colleagues in the industry in Australia are starting to see a return of pre-Covid wedding normality, but it will be a while until we see that here in Ireland.
And vendors are taking note. Pivoting at lightening speed, venues across Munster now offer intimate wedding packages at multiple guest numbers, in keeping with potential Government guidelines. Once upon a time, fairytale venues like Ballincurra House in Kinsale were offering three-day extravaganzas with four different bands and an entire country house to roam. Now, they are following the roadmap laid out by venues like Dunowen House, offering five-star luxury on a small scale.
Some couples are finding that a small wedding is all they ever really wanted. “We definitely felt like that,” says Emma Mulligan. “On the day, I wasn't nervous because I was with people who we feel the closest to. We were both were so relaxed and I think that's why we both remember it so clearly. Walking down the aisle and seeing the most familiar faces made it for me.”
Steve and Sue Treacy got married in the same hotel as his sister, and when it came to the honeymoon they continued to follow in their family’s footsteps. “My parents are married forty years and they had their honeymoon out in West Cork,” says Steve. “We ended up doing the same thing. Gone was the Maldives in was Inchydoney. And do you know what? It was absolutely perfect."