Two couples talk about their humanist wedding ceremonies

Just because someone is non-religious doesn't mean they don't want a sense of occasion to surround the many milestones of their life. Kelly O'Brien talks to two couples who tied the knot in humanist wedding ceremonies.

Two couples talk about their humanist wedding ceremonies


This article has been subject to clarification.

On February 16 we published the interview below with Carole and Anthony O'Reilly following their humanist wedding ceremony. We wish to clarify that no inference was intended in that article that either Carole or Anthony held any antagonism towards other religions or their school policies, and that the ring-warming ceremony conducted at their humanist ceremony was to acknowledge and respect that guests might have other beliefs and religions. We are happy to clarify this matter, and apologise to Mr and Mrs O'Reilly for any upset that the article, or any reference in the article to their children, may have caused them or their family.


Rosie and Tommy: ‘It would have been hypocritical of us to wed in a church’

Over the years, both Rosie and Tommy McAuliffe found themselves gradually drifting away from religion.

Despite traditional Catholic upbringings — the couple first met each other at mass as an altar boy and a reader — the pair decided not to get married in a church, opting for a humanist ceremony instead.

“As I got older, when I didn’t have to go to Mass anymore, I just stopped. I just didn’t believe in it,” says Rosie.

“My family are Catholic but it just kind of faded out of me really. I still go to mass at Christmas, but only because my family goes.”

Tommy expresses similar feelings, saying he felt dishonest standing for his nephew when he had lost his faith.

“I really drifted away from religion,” he says. “I didn’t believe in God but I’d go to weddings and funerals and just go along with it. I thought it would have been hypocritical of us to marry in a church when we didn’t believe.”

The couple, who live in Blackrock, Cork, found they were at the age where all their friends were getting married.

Attending a couple of Catholic weddings only solidified their resolve — they found each ceremony the same as the last one.

Their mind made up, Rosie and Tommy decided to have a humanist wedding, with celebrant Norma McElligott conducting the ceremony at Ballymaloe House.

“A lot of people have a hippy kind of view about it but it’s not like that at all,” says Rosie, who is from Tipperary.

“The whole thing was really tailored to what we wanted. People were looking up at us and were interested throughout the whole ceremony and really engaged. It was great and it wasn’t boring at all. It only took around a half hour.”

During the ceremony, the couple took part in a handfasting ritual and a lighting of the candles.

“People really enjoyed the novelty of it,” says Tommy. “It was totally new to them. Lots of people can be put off by the thought of something a bit different but everyone loved it.

“We had a ritual with candles too. We each lit a candle at the start before we got married, and then after we got married we used our two candles to light a central one to symbolise a new beginning.”

Rosie and Tommy saytheir wedding was a stress-free positive experience.

Though they’ve no plans for children yet, the couple wouldn’t rule out a humanist naming ceremony if they did have a baby provided they could find a non-denominational school for the child since a baptism certificate is required for church-run schools.

“If there was no issue with finding a school then yes, I’d definitely give my child a humanist naming ceremony instead of a baptism,” says Rosie.

“The church runs the schools so they call the shots, that’s just the way it is,” adds Tommy. “But we’ll just cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Carole and Anthony: A family that foregoes the easy choices

Anthony and Carole O’Reilly, of Clonakilty ,Co Cork, with their son Colin. They married in a humanist ceremony, and chose not to baptise  their children, instead preferring for them to make up their own minds when they are older. Picture: Des Barry

Choosing not to baptise your child is a hard decision for Catholic-raised parents to make but, for West Cork’s Carole and Anthony O’Reilly, it was the only decision they felt made sense.

Anthony, who describes himself as agnostic, said he’s far more comfortable with the idea of his children Abigail, 5, and Colin, 3, choosing their religion, or lack of religion, for themselves.

Luckily, they don’t live very far from the Gaelscoil in Clonakilty which is non-denominational — children who are not baptised can be turned away from Church-run schools so it can be hard for non-religious parents to find suitable education for their kids.

“It would be a problem if we didn’t live in Clonakilty, I think, and I probably would have been a bit bitter about that,” says Anthony.

“At the end of the day, the Church runs the schools so they decide what happens. But then again, they do get funding from the Government so maybe they should think about letting children from other faiths in. I don’t think anyone should have to be excluded.”

His wife Carole agrees, adding that the “forward-thinking” Gaelscoil even runs religion classes after school is over.

“My daughter comes home at around 1.30pm from school and the kids that do religion stay an extra 20 minutes three days a week to study it,” says Carole. “So Abigail doesn’t feel left out at all. I don’t think she even notices.

“We did get people who weren’t too impressed that we didn’t baptise our kids. But if they want to get baptised when they’re older then that’s their decision.”

Carole, who is originally from France, said she lost her faith “very early on”. Since neither Carole nor Anthony is religious, they said getting married in a church wouldn’t have felt right.

“I was brought up a Catholic but I stopped believing when I was still a child,” says Carole. “Now I don’t follow any religion so to have gotten married in a church would have been very hypocritical.”

“I know a lot of people who have gotten married in a Catholic church but they’ve no religion in them,” says Anthony. “But they do it anyway because it’s the done thing. It takes a bit of courage to step away from that, and to say you don’t believe.”

After ruling out a traditional wedding, the couple began to explore other options.

“We didn’t want to get married in a civil ceremony because we wanted something a bit more spiritual, more personal. A civil ceremony just seemed a little cold,” says Carole.

The couple were introduced to humanism by a friend of Anthony’s whose father is a humanist celebrant — they ended up getting married in an outdoors ceremony near a beautiful rectory in Glandore which overlooked the sea.

“I don’t think any of our guests knew what to expect,” says Anthony. “It was a surreal experience but everyone really loved it. It was very personalised, with the readings and the vows and the handfasting, it was great. You could tell people were really listening and enjoying the occasion. It made us fall in love with each other all over again.”

“It was similar to a traditional wedding in that it had readings and vows, but we picked everything ourselves,” ads Carole.

During the ceremony, the couple conducted a ring- warming ritual. The wedding rings were passed around to all the guests who were asked to ‘warm’ them with positive thoughts and wishes.

Since a lot of Carole’s guests were coming over from France to attend, the celebrant suggested conducting half the ceremony in English, and the other half in French.

“My family were thrilled with it because some of them don’t speak a lot of English and this really made them feel included,” says Carole. “They’re all Catholic but they loved it and they all said how intimate it was.

“It was a truly positive experience. There was a lot of life in the aisles and it wasn’t staged. I’d encourage anyone who’s non-religious to look into it as an option.”

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