A 'TWINNING' with a difference was celebrated in Cork yesterday as nine Chinese couples shared a special wedding blessing at City Hall thanks to a popular dating show on Shanghai TV.
The ceremony -- dubbed the 'Rose Wedding Blessing' -- was held to mark to deepening links between Cork and its official Chinese 'twin', Shanghai.
The nine couples -- all of whom hail from Shanghai and who were married over the past month in the giant Chinese port city -- enjoyed the blessing as part of a special Irish honeymoon.
This was organised as part of the top-rated Chinese TV dating show, 'Dating On Saturday', which boasts audiences in China of more than 1.6 million.
It was organised to co-ordinate with Shanghai's famous 'Rose Wedding Festival' which each October sees thousands of weddings and related street entertainments.
After the City Hall ceremony, the nine couples were taken on an impromptu tour of Cork city centre.
They will now enjoy a six-day tour around Ireland including stopovers in Limerick, Clare, Waterford and Dublin.
The event arose after Tourism Ireland invited Shanghai's Rose Wedding Committee to Ireland for an information visit last November.
The success of that visit resulted in Ireland being chosen for the 'Rose Wedding Honeymoon' which is organised each autumn by the Chinese dating show.
Failte Ireland general manager, Fiona Buckley, admitted that the event offered Ireland an incredible chance to access the vast Chinese tourism market.
"This unique event provides a wonderful opportunity to showcase Ireland as a holiday destination," she said. "Throughout their stay, this group will be visiting various regions around the country and we hope that they bring many happy memories of their visit back to China," she added.
The initiative came as China's growing economic power has helped transform its tourism industry.
Whereas China had virtually no overseas tourism trade just 20 years ago, a staggering 34 million people travelled abroad from China last year. It is expected that, by 2020, more than 100 million Chinese tourists will travel overseas each year.
Tourism Ireland marketing chief Jim Paul stressed that hosting the event was a tremendous achievement for Ireland.
"It helps to raise awareness of the island of Ireland as a premier holiday destination and will ensure that the island gets its fair share of this lucrative business," he said.