With the recent CSO reports that the traditional family is in decline -- only one in five households in Dublin now consists of a husband, wife and children -- one might be forgiven for thinking marriage in Ireland was a quaint little tradition no one really bothered with any more. Throw in the huge rise in the numbers of cohabiting couples, from 77,600 in 2002 to 121,000 in 2006, and signing on the dotted line seems as passe a trend as shoulder pads and line dancing.
But that's not true, apparently. While the family unit might be changing shape, the Irish are still getting married in their droves, an estimated 21,000 plus signed up last year.
They are, however, stretching themselves and their creativity when it comes to tying the knot, and a large percentage are eschewing church weddings for a registry office followed by a ceremony or party with a twist. CSO statistics from 2005 show that of the 20,723 marriages that took place, almost a quarter, 4762, were civil marriages.
That's a trend Brian Whiteside, a humanist minister, can relate to. Whiteside describes his organisation as an "ethical life stance which places human values at the centre of its philosophy".
"We feel that without religion we can still lead a very good life. We're not anti-religion. It's just that we don't get that.,The four humanist ministers in Ireland -- three in Dublin and one in Cork -- will perform 60 weddings this year; almost double the 35 held last year.
"I don't think it's surprising," says Whiteside. "The latest census showed that 186,000 people ticked the 'no religion' box which was a huge growth from the one before.
"We design an individual ceremony for the couple. The typical enquiry we'd get by email is 'we're planning to get married in October but neither of us is religious'. Sometimes one party might be divorced and can't get married in the church." As the ceremony isn't legally binding, couples will generally have gone to a registry office beforehand.
"Most people in Ireland were brought up Roman Catholic and when they break from that, they don't necessarily want to join anything else, but people do want to mark important events in their lives," says Whiteside.
"Last week alone I'd a baby naming ceremony on Saturday, a funeral on Monday and a wedding in Tuscany on Tuesday.
"We're having a wedding in a youth hostel in Mountjoy Square soon because that's where the couple met, but generally venues tend to read like the blue book of Ireland.,Sometimes, despite the couple's best intentions to have a ceremony they really want, there is conflict from more traditional guests.
"I often have a bride say 'my mother has a problem with it' but then the mother will come up and say 'that was the nicest ceremony I was ever at'.
"There was a stage where people thought a humanist wedding might be a nice idea, 'but not while your grandmother is alive'. But that has changed too. The Irish are more confident now and true to themselves and their beliefs.,
Wedding bells in bella Italia
Heading away to get married has become something of a trend for Irish couples.
Janice O'Rourke and Dermot Flynn (right) married in a 13th century town hall high in the Tuscan hills in Italy last October. They then had a more traditional church ceremony the following day.
"We decided to do one straight after the other," says Janice.
"We were married by the mayor of the town in the town hall and it was all through Italian and it was really nice and quite emotional.,Though they'd no objections from friends about having a different sort of wedding, Janice admits there were raised eyebrows from some quarters.
"There was a little bit of concern among some relatives, but more concerns of logistics of getting there than anything else. Also there's nothing really that friends and family can do to help or get involved if your wedding is far away and people like to help out.,For the reception after the church ceremony the couple had hired a 17th century villa once owned by Italian director Federico Fellini that also accommodated 40 of their 100 guests.
"It was probably the most fun day of our lives and we've absolutely no regrets about doing it that way at all.,
The best of both worlds
Primary school teacher Ruth Foy and her husband Jimmy Eadie from Dublin decided to do things their way when they married last September.
"We wanted something different so we chose to get married in a registry office with just 12 close family present and then we went for a meal in Club Odessa. This gave both our families a chance to get to know each other and made the wedding a really intimate affair.,Two days later, the couple hired the James Joyce house and had a Joyce-themed party for 200.
"At first my parents were not impressed that we weren't getting married in the traditional way and horrified that all the aunties and uncles weren't going to be invited, but they came round to the fact that it was our day.
"My dad now says that it was the best wedding that he was ever at!
"The compromise we reached was that we would invite our aunties and uncles to a meal in the James Joyce house before the evening party started.
We hired in caterers and they recreated the dinner described in Joyce's story 'The Dead'.
"That was followed by a 7pm party with bar, DJ, traditional band, and finger food over the four floors of the house.,
Michael and Annah Knight opted for a truly traditional Irish wedding, if you go back a few thousand years.
They married in a pagan hand-fasting ceremony, following a registry office wedding in Barberstown Castle in 2002.
"Our reason initially was that we'd wanted to marry on a particular date but we couldn't get the church.
A friend told me about a hand-fasting ceremony and we decided on that instead.
It's a traditional pagan wedding, like the one in the film 'Braveheart' where the bride and grooms hands are bound with ribbons rather than rings.
The idea was that you married for a year and a day and if after that time you wanted to stay married you were." Michael and Annah have been married for five happy years.
"We had the registry office on the Friday of the August bank holiday weekend and the pagan ceremony on the Sunday. It was one of the hottest days of the year. We had it outdoors with our two boys who were pageboys.,
Short but very sweet
Martin and Anita Holohan were married in a civil ceremony at Dublin's registry office in October 2003. "It was a fabulous experience for us. The build-up was the same as for any wedding. We'd both done the big white wedding before, and this felt more like an adult decision," said Martin.
"The ceremony itself was very quick. You're allotted a half-hour slot at the Dublin registry office and it's also very cheap. You just pay for the marriage certificate at the end of it. We wanted the whole thing to be about us making a commitment to each other and this was a really good way of doing it.
"It was traditional in the sense that Anita wore an ivory coloured dress and I had a suit and we went to a hotel and had a party afterwards like any wedding."
The music was a little less traditional.
"The register told us that they had had people who chose Megadeth. We had Queen's 'Another One Bites the Dust' as we walked out.,