The new wedding rules: What it's like to get married now

It should be peak wedding season - instead, Irish couples are choosing to quietly elope in Irish hotels, writes Eve Kelliher
The new wedding rules: What it's like to get married now
Margherita Frezza and Fechin Heery. PICTURES: EMILY DORAN

THIS should have been peak wedding season. But the clinking glasses and tinkling laughter no longer echo from packed drinks receptions as brides, grooms, photographers, florists, cake makers and all involved in this previously booming industry have been forced to take stock.

Even with the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, there has been a trend towards micro-weddings. For many, it has meant eloping is now more popular — and desirable — than ever before. “Gretna Green” — the Scottish destination synonymous with the phenomenon — has become one of the most popular search terms online in recent weeks. 

But it was to Kerry that Margherita Frezza and Fechin Heery eloped to say "I do" on Tuesday, in a non-religious ceremony in Muckross Abbey, in Killarney National Park. 

Margherita Frezza and Fechin Heery. PICTURES: EMILY DORAN
Margherita Frezza and Fechin Heery. PICTURES: EMILY DORAN

There was no fear of overcrowding as all that was present was the couple, their celebrant Garrett Ledwith, their photographer Emily Doran and their friends Lavanya Gowda and Kevin Brody who were maid of honour and best man.

Margherita, originally from Tuscany, Italy, and Fechin, from Ballinacree, Co Meath, said elopement was always part of their wedding plan. “We wanted a very intimate ceremony. The ideal would have been an elopement abroad, to have wedding and honeymoon in one go. But in these times, Kerry is a good alternative,” said the bride.

We just had ourselves and our two best friends at the ceremony. Their plus ones were waiting for us for a small celebration at the Muckross Park Hotel after the wedding, but for the ceremony itself, we wanted to keep it as small as it can be. 

The current climate made it easier to hold an intimate wedding. “People just understand and don’t question our choice. It was actually a blessing,” said Margherita.

“Our first idea was to go to Seychelles, Mauritius or somewhere tropical and getting married barefoot on a beach. When we realised we wouldn't be able to travel for a long time, we changed our plans. Luckily we didn't book anything abroad.” The newlyweds, who will reside in Ashford, Co Meath, first met on Tinder, less than two years ago.

Margherita, who works in IT, and Fechin, a physics teacher, got engaged in March, the day before Covid-19 restrictions commenced. “Fechin had got the ring on the last day the stores were open. He was planning to go to the mountains during the weekend and propose there, but on Thursday we went for a walk on the Vartry reserve in Wicklow and we stopped looking at the lake. It was such a romantic moment he proposed there, kneeling in the mud,” said Margherita.

Opting for a wedding planning service from Eloping in Ireland made organising the celebration easier. “Because of all the uncertainty, we decided it was the smart thing to do,” said the bride. “In normal times, we would have planned it all, but now we saved ourselves a lot of stress.” Weddings are likely to look quite different to what we’re used to for some time to come.

Margherita Frezza and Fechin Heery. PICTURES: EMILY DORAN
Margherita Frezza and Fechin Heery. PICTURES: EMILY DORAN

If your nuptials are taking place within the next 12-18 months be aware there could still be restrictions in place, advises longtime wedding planner Tara Fay. 

“At the moment, the Irish Hotels Federation are working towards getting the maximum number for weddings increased; however, it currently stands at 100 people including staff. If this does not work for you, consider some creative ways to include your guest numbers, for example, can you host your wedding over two days? Could you have a small intimate wedding this year and a larger wedding celebration party next year?” 

And the current climate can, for many, ease the pressure to please. “Some couples are saying the numbers are giving them more freedom to do exactly what they want,” said Tara. I even had one person say to me they are having the wedding of their dreams now, with only the people that they want at it.” A bride and groom-to-be who were completely unfazed by the sweeping change in circumstances were Naas-based Cathy Mooney and Ash McCrave.

Cathy, an office manager, and Ash, a security engineer, say they now have an extra year to save up for their dream home.

Cathy Mooney and Ash McCrave. Picture: Stephen O'Sullivan
Cathy Mooney and Ash McCrave. Picture: Stephen O'Sullivan

They were to tie the knot on June 25, 2020, but had to reschedule to May 20, 2021. “To be honest we had planned all of our wedding before Covid-19 hit,” said Cathy. “We are getting married in the beautiful Tankardstown House, in Slane, Co Meath.

“We both wanted our wedding to include all our family and friends (approximately 130 guests) so we both knew we had to change the date. Of course, this was after a lot of buts and what-ifs. My brother Andy who is also Ash’s best friend and best man and my niece Sorcha (flower girl) are both living in Perth Australia, so when their flight was cancelled we knew the only option was to reschedule the big day.

“The swap-over was very smooth, thank God. All our original suppliers were all free on our new date so this was a straight swap and completely stress-free for us.

“We have now, of course, come to terms with it all and are both very happy with our new date. It actually worked out better for us as it gives us another year of saving for our dream home. It also means I can have another hen party next year and Ash can finally have the stag party he missed out on.” Meanwhile, the drive towards smaller weddings has also seen people witnessing and celebrating marriages via livestream on Zoom or FaceTime.

Photographer Emily Doran and her husband, videographer Aodhagán O’Riordan (onelove.ie) say live-streaming is a good way for people to be present in the moment. “I’ve been working with couples to put together this new service. An unlimited number of guests will be able to follow the day on their phone from the comfort of home,” she said.

Like many wedding suppliers, Emily and Aodhagán watched what would have been their busy season “evaporate” in the last few months. “The predominant concern from our clients was the feeling of uncertainty. How could they look forward to their wedding day when it could be swept away in a wave of regulations?” said Emily.

Most couples had planned for a wedding with over a hundred people. Of course, the bigger picture is that the health and wellbeing of everyone should be protected. Couples want to celebrate the occasion with all their friends and family but they don’t want to put them at risk either.

Long-time wedding photographer Evelyn Woodard also watched with dismay as weddings as we knew them underwent a dramatic change. “To watch an industry you are so connected to, get wiped out overnight was very upsetting. This is on top of wondering how to stay safe from this unknown virus,” she said.

“It has been very straightforward for me with rearranging weddings because I have scaled back weddings over the past few years and unlike other wedding photographers, I would not have had many dates already booked for 2021 so I was able to accommodate my existing clients. For me, this was the priority and not new bookings.” 

Phase 4 of Ireland's Roadmap for reopening society and business is due to commence on 10 August 10, subject to government approval. This could see gatherings of up to 100 people indoors being permissible.

Galway-based bride and groom-to-be Deirdre Kelly and Liam Heverin have their fingers crossed this will work in their favour when they exchange vows on Friday, August 14, in the Prince of Peace Church in Fossa, Killarney – but if it doesn’t they are still looking forward to welcoming 50 guests to their wedding, complete with reception in the Killarney Great Southern.

Deirdre Kelly and Liam Heverin. Picture: Evelyn Woodard
Deirdre Kelly and Liam Heverin. Picture: Evelyn Woodard

Deirdre, an accountant, and Liam, a civil engineer, were originally due to be married on Friday, July 10, but were able to change their plans.

“Our wedding will be very similar to what we had originally planned, only a lot smaller.

The main change we had to make is surrounding the number of guests. We originally had a guest list of about 270-280 and this has now dropped to adhere to the new government guidelines. 

Dublin-based wedding photographer Stephen O’Sullivan said looking for the positives is key in these pandemic times. “Planning a wedding is stressful, re-planning (or re-re-planning!) a wedding takes it to another level,” he said. “At the start of the lockdown there was a lack of information so I made a video and a cheat-sheet on wedding postponement. One of the most popular tips was to use the postponement to revise the invitation list — your circle of friends might well have changed in the meantime. Look for the positives.”

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