Stars flock to Mayo village for Rory McIlroy and Erica Stoll's wedding day
A 13TH Century Irish castle estate will go into full security lock-down today in preparation for the lavish wedding tomorrow of golf superstar Rory McIlroy (27) and his US fiancee Erica Stoll (29).
The last of the non-wedding guests will leave Ashford Castle this morning - and special security wristbands have been issued to allow access to the 350 acre estate from today until Monday morning.
Staff at Ashford Castle have been issued with green wristbands while other colours will designate wedding organising staff, security and entertainers.
A special marquee was erected outside the castle yesterday though the majority of the wedding ceremonies will happen inside the luxury hotel.
The golfer and his bride-to-be will have the Presidential suite once occupied by US President Ronald Reagan when he stayed at Ashford during his 1984 Irish visit.
The lavish four day wedding ceremony is understood to cost is excess of €500,000 - with Ashford Castle and virtually all hotels and guest houses in nearby Cong block booked for the wedding.
Private security officials are stationed at all entrances to the sprawling estate outside Cong village and access beyond the outer limits was strictly by special security wrist band only.
Roving security patrols are also in place around the sprawling estate to deal with photographers who may want to try and get a snap of the celebrity couple and their VIP guests.
Wedding guests arriving early at the main Ashford Castle entrance are greeted by a staff member in formal attire including butler's hat.
Most guests, however, are expected to arrive by air to the castle's own heli-pad.
A special no fly zone has been declared around the rest of the Ashford Castle estate.
A small army of caterers and wedding planners - most of whom are staying at Ryan's Hotel in Cong village - were hard at work for Saturday's ceremony.
Even teams of street cleaners were working to have all approach routes to Ashford Castle spotless.
The wedding party travelled to Cong village on Wednesday.
One local was adamant he spotted the golfer driving through the village on Wednesday afternoon in a Porsche.
Locals also said the golfer and his friends - who held his stag party earlier this month in the US - relaxed yesterday with some clay pigeon shooting in the Ashford Castle grounds.
Throughout the day fleets of jeeps and limousines, all with blackened security glass, swept into the luxury castle estate.
US pop star, Stevie Wonder, was scheduled to fly into Ireland last night to perform at the wedding.
The star was secured at the personal request of the golfer because his New York born wife-to-be is a huge fan of the soul and pop star.
The wedding is expected to prove a who's who of not just the Irish celebrity scene but the international sporting world.
Rumoured guests are expected to include pop star Niall Horan, a good friend of Mr McIlroy, as well as Chris Martin from Coldplay.
Ed Sheeran is also a good friend of the golfer but any visit to the Mayo wedding will be limited by the fact the singer-songwriter has scheduled concerts in Manchester this weekend for his new 'Divide' tour.
The golfer has said his favourite music includes work by both Coldplay and Ed Sheeran.
The sporting world is expected to be represented by golfers Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington and other Irish members of the Ryder Cup team.
Martial arts star Conor McGregor is also expected to attend having joined the golfer on his Miami stag party.
Irish businessmen including JP McManus, a major supporter of Mr McIlroy's charities, is also expected to attend.
In Cong village, locals said they hadn't recalled such excitement since the 1951 filming of 'The Quiet Man' and the 1984 visit by US President Ronald Reagan.
Gerry Collins, founder of 'The Quiet Man Museum' and film location walking tours, said the wedding will be "a tourism bonanza for Cong."
"I think this is going to give Cong and the whole area an enormous boost," he said.
"There is already a great atmosphere around the village and even the tourists, who are here for the local beauty and 'The Quiet Man' sites, are asking about the big wedding."
"Of course Pierce Brosnan got married here in Cong as well so this is a special place for celebrity weddings."
Singer Shane Filan of Westlife also got married in Cong.
"Hopefully, Rory McIlroy's decision to get married in Ashford Castle will persuade a few more A-listers to walk down the aisle here, Mr Collins said.
For some, Rory McIlroy wasn't the main attraction. Aoife Ferry (12) from Strabane, Co Tyrone was on holidays in Cong with
her mother, Ann-Marie, and was on the look-out for wedding guest Niall Horan.
"I'm a big One Direction fan," she said.
Even American tourists were getting in on the act.
"I'm a serious golf fan so it'd be great to catch a glimpse of Rory," Dave Blackman from New Jersey said.
"I'm a fan of Phil Mickelson and the US Ryder Cup team but it'd be nice to wish Rory well for his wedding even if he plays for Europe."
The decision to select Ashford Castle for their wedding was an easy one for Rory McIlroy and Erica Stoll to make.
The couple - who have been dating for over four years - have brought in the New Year at the lavish estate for the past two years.
Cong's impressive list of celebrity guests over the years also includes Prince Edward, Princess Grace, Prince Rainier, Eric Clapton and Jack Charlton.