Wednesday 21 February 2018

McIlroy's lavish wedding goes with a swing as stars descend on Mayo castle

Golfer and his US bride serenaded by Stevie Wonder before four-day celebration rounded off with €50,000 fireworks display

Erica Stoll and Rory McIlroy Photo: PA News
Erica Stoll and Rory McIlroy Photo: PA News
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

Golf star Rory McIlroy wed his American girlfriend Erica Stoll in a sumptuous ceremony at Ashford Castle, in Mayo, yesterday, with the couple serenaded by pop legend Stevie Wonder.

And last night the couple and their guests were expected to be dazzled by a €50,000 fireworks spectacular.

The wedding of the decade also proved a who's who of the Irish and international celebrity circuit, with the guests including One Direction's Niall Horan and Irish golfers Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry.

Another noted guest was newly crowned US Masters champion Sergio Garcia.

Rory's Ryder Cup buddy Martin Kaymer, and Paul McGinley, who was Europe's Ryder Cup hero back in 2002, were also seen entering the estate.

The business world was represented by Limerick billionaire JP McManus, who is a major supporter of McIlroy's charities.

Pop star Ed Sheeran is rumoured to be flying into Mayo today to join the post-wedding celebrations after his Manchester Arena concerts.

It is estimated that the lavish four-day wedding - which led to most accommodation in Cong being block-booked - will cost the golfer in excess of €500,000.

In a romantic nod, the newly-weds took to the dance floor serenaded by soul legend Stevie Wonder.

It is understood that his 1976 hit Isn't She Lovely was due to be the couple's first dance as a married couple.

McIlroy had insisted that the 66-year old pop and soul star be booked for the wedding because his New York-born wife is a huge fan of the 25-time Grammy Award winner.

Wonder flew into Shannon Airport last Thursday and has been in residence at Ashford Castle since - though he did make a whistle-stop visit to Galway last Friday.

Down-born McIlroy was adamant that the no-expense-spared celebration should offer his new wife, their families and guests the weekend of a lifetime.

Ashford Castle executive chef Philippe Farineau was asked to create a lavish "taste of Ireland" menu for the 200-plus guests, with teams of catering and culinary staff drawn from all over the west of Ireland for the occasion.

Guests were dazzled with a 20-course tasting menu ranging from seven different starters to 13 main courses and desserts.

The menu was designed to showcase the best in Mayo and Irish produce, with many of the ingredients drawn from around the 360-acre Ashford Castle estate.

Dining options ranged from wild Irish salmon and trout to organic beef, venison and lamb.

However, in a gesture to the large American contingent who flew in from New York and Florida for the celebrations, the castle's famous wine cellars offered a selection of vintage US wines.

The newly-weds have opted to stay in the Ashford Presidential suite famously occupied by US president Ronald Reagan in 1984.

So sumptuous are its fittings and decor, it costs €4,000 per night

The couple had spent the last two New Year's Eves in Ashford Castle, with McIlroy so impressed by the January 1 fireworks display against the backdrop of the lake and Cong countryside that he requested a similar spectacular as part of his wedding programme, weather permitting.

He also ensured that a small army of beauticians and fashion staff attended the castle for the bride and her bridesmaids.

Stoll - a former executive with the US PGA tour - famously got the Irish golfer to the course on time during a critical Ryder Cup match after he had overslept following a glitch with his alarm clock.

The newly-wed couple had been dating for more than four years.

Stoll spent last week ­showing off the Mayo and Galway countryside to her US relatives who had travelled to celebrate her big day.

In the build-up to the big day, McIlroy went clay pigeon shooting on the Ashford estate with friends.

He then took his wife-to-be to a specially arranged falconry display.

Sources said Stoll was astonished by the display.

McIlroy's management team worked overtime to ensure that the wedding details remained top secret from the large media entourage that descended on Cong.

Ashford Castle staff, famed for their discretion given the hotel's celebrity clientele, refused to make any comment on the wedding celebrations.

Staff had also surrendered all mobile phones at the start of the week.

Guests were assured that they could celebrate the wedding in absolute privacy, with security around the sprawling castle and estate described as being as tight as when Reagan visited 33 years ago.

The castle went into full security lockdown last Friday morning as the last of the non-wedding guests left.

Special security wristbands were issued to allow access to the 350-acre estate until tomorrow morning, when the wedding programme formally ends.

Three separate layers of security were in place around the estate including perimeter patrols.

McIlroy's personal security chief Brian Murphy, who also works with U2, was supervising arrangements at the castle perimeter.

Staff at Ashford Castle were issued with green wristbands - while other colours designated wedding organising staff, security and entertainers.

Roving security patrols were also in place around the estate to deal with photographers who might try to get a snap of the celebrity couple and their VIP guests.

Even delivery vehicles arriving at the castle were inspected before being allowed to enter.

Guests started arriving last Thursday in a fleet of helicopters, limousines and Jeeps - all equipped with security glass.

A large marquee was put up outside the castle, though most of the celebrations took place inside the luxury hotel.

In Cong village, locals hailed the celebrity wedding as a tourism godsend and the greatest promotional event since the 1951 filming of John Ford's The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara.

Gerry Collins, who founded The Quiet Man Museum and film heritage walks, predicted that Cong would benefit massively from the wedding.

"In terms of Northern Ireland tourism alone, it is a winner," he said.

"We have coaches of people coming to Cong because of The Quiet Man. I hope that we now have coaches coming here to see the beautiful place where Rory McIlroy got married."

Aisling Butler and Jonathan Byrne, who run the Hungry Monk cafe, said everyone locally enjoyed the build-up to the wedding.

"There is a great buzz around the place," Byrne said. "It is going to be great for business so everyone here is very grateful to Rory McIlroy for choosing Ashford Castle for his wedding. If they decide to come into the cafe, coffee is on the house."

Teresa Horan-Lawless, who sang for Maureen O'Hara at Ashford Castle and is a relative of the late Monsignor James Horan who founded Knock Airport, said she delivered a special wedding card to the happy couple.

"It is a special place and I just wanted to wish them a special day," she said.

She added that it was fitting that a lot of the guests arrived at Knock Airport for onward transfer to Ashford Castle.

It's not that the charms of Cong are a particularly well- kept secret - celebrities who like to regularly savour the local hospitality and scenic beauty include U2's The Edge, Daniel O'Donnell, Jack Charlton, Pippa O'Connor, Mundy and actors from the TV series Hardy Bucks.

As a "thank you" to the golfer for selecting Cong for his special day, the village arranged for teams of street cleaners and gardeners to ensure the hamlet and its surroundings were in pristine condition for this weekend's celebrations.

Sunday Independent

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