Hens hatch a new plan
As Meghan Markle does away with the idea of a traditional bachelorette, Tanya Sweeney looks at the rise of low-key, co-ed celebrations for modern brides-to-be
It goes without saying that once bride-to-be Meghan Markle sparks a trend, the world is sure to follow in hot pursuit. Everyone is waiting with whitened knuckle and bated breath to see the dress, hear the speech and ogle the bridesmaids. But in the meantime, plans for her 'low-key' hen party have given many food for thought.
On a visit to Edinburgh with her fiancé Prince Harry this week, Meghan was asked about her hen do arrangements and told well-wishers "it's sorted" and "will be fun".
As tradition dictates, Meghan will bid adieu to single life (and life without a battery of royal engagements), but not in the way one might think. For a start, Meghan is reportedly ditching the women-only tradition in favour of a co-ed shindig, with her best friends Markus Anderson, Lindsay Jill Roth and Jessica Mulroney mooted to attend.
"Meghan will be having a party but won't be calling it her 'bachelorette'," a source revealed last weekend. "Think low-key, think somewhere out of London, good food and drink, a little music. It won't be wild. (She) wants her bachelorette party to be a celebration of friendship and love."
Once upon a time, hens travelled in a cloud of fluff, glitter and girl power. L-plates, sashes, phallic straws, cowboy hats, marabou, pound shop veils - it was pretty hard to ignore a hen party winding its way through the streets of Temple Bar, Kilkenny or Carrick-on-Shannon. But not anymore, it would seem.
According to Kate Hyde of Henparty.ie, the traditional hen party, while still hugely popular, has undergone a bit of a transformation of late.
"The market has changed a lot even just in the last year," she observes. "We noticed the advent of afternoon tea a while ago, and a move on from cocktail and dance classes. Irish brides want something a little classier and a lot more low-key. There is still a huge market for the hooley in Temple Bar, but what we do see is people who want self-catering and marking the occasion with cocktails at home and telling stories about the brides.
"They're moving away from the big mad craic night and having their fun more internally."
As is often the way with Irish weddings, the plan is to be as unique and individualistic as possible. And Irish bridesmaids tend to want to organise something special and memorable, with the bride's stamp all over it.
"Often, a bridesmaid will say, 'what can I do that's different?'," explains Darragh Kirby, MD of The Foxy Hen (thefoxyhen.com). "Stress-free is a big criteria."
Kirby has noticed an upswing in nude drawing classes with a male model, an alternative to the traditional male stripper. Others, he notes, want to get out into the great outdoors with role-playing events like treasure hunts, murder mysteries or CSI games. Over at Adventure.ie in Glendalough in Wicklow, Ronan Mullen has noticed an upswing in enquiries from hens for more unconventional and outdoorsy events, like Crystal Maze, orienteering, 'paparazzi' challenges, rock climbing and abseiling.
"Just last weekend we had a group of hens break out of jail in our Jailbreak event, which is set in a real, 250-year-old jail," he reveals.
"With the CSI event, the groom has been 'kidnapped', or the money for the wedding will have been stolen," Kirby says. "The groom will get involved and make a 'kidnapping' video ahead of the event, which makes it even more fun."
Adds Hyde of Henparty.ie: "There are girls that don't want a big girly event with afternoon tea, and would rather go to an adventure centre or resort and do something a bit more Bear Grylls. We've also seen a massive surge of women heading for the Aran Islands.
"Ultimately, I hear women say, 'I don't like them so I'm not having a hen party - I'm having a get together'. They want to send the bride off before she gets married, but that is essentially a hen party."
Thus far, Irish brides have yet to get on board with the co-ed trend in any significant way.
"I think we still recognise that, for a lot of ladies, they will want to meet with their friends from college and reminisce about past boyfriends. They don't necessarily want their husband to be there for all of that."
Kirby adds: "We might notice maybe one co-ed event (where hens and stags have a joint bash) once a month," says Kirby.
"Stags are less inclined to want to go along with it as there's a sense of 'what happens on the stag stays on the stag', and a joint event would rule out any strippergrams or nude drawing classes.
"That said, we often get a male gay best friend organising a hen party, and he and his partner will often attend the party."
Over at the Elbowroom Escape (the-elbowroomescape.com), a boutique holiday resort in Donard, Wicklow, General Manager Amanda Marren has noticed that, as with Meghan Markle, a celebration of friendship and love often trumps cutting loose and hard partying. Meghan's posse, in other words, can expect candlelit yoga sessions and fine wines, as opposed to vodka shots and karaoke.
"When hens contact us, they all want the same thing," she says. "They say, 'we want to get together for a really chilled night and just be together'. We get people in for catering and there are no willy straws, veils or blow-up things. They might have games planned for the Friday night, but they might go for a hike (in the mountains next to the centre), come back, crack open the Prosecco, use the hot tubs, then sit down for a three-course dinner.
"One party made chicken wings, while another wanted to do something more arty as the bride herself was really into art," she adds. "Others went to the nearby Blessington Lakes, while others visited some alpacas down the road. It's definitely turned into a situation where the bridesmaids want to centre the event around what the bride likes. Recently, we had a 'festival' themed hen, where they put up a big festival tent in the middle of the hall and they had posters printed up for the hen's own 'festival'.
"It was so much more meaningful for the bride, and it's something that everyone else will enjoy and remember too. It's so much better than having your head down the toilet for much of the next day."