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Bride and Zoom: Why we've fallen for tiny weddings

With restrictions in place, many couples were forced to rapidly downsize their plans for the Big Day. But those who pressed ahead were rewarded with a memorably intimate celebration

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Sarah and Matthew Billingham with their two children, Logan and Darcie, on their wedding day last month. Photo: Emma May Loughran

Sarah and Matthew Billingham with their two children, Logan and Darcie, on their wedding day last month. Photo: Emma May Loughran

Sarah and Matthew Billingham with their two children, Logan and Darcie, on their wedding day last month. Photo: Emma May Loughran

Before coronavirus struck, Irish weddings tended to follow a certain template. A couple would typically get married in front of over 150 of their closest friends and family and have their party in a hotel or country house. The shindig would go on into the wee hours with day two celebrations all but a certainty.

Now that has all changed. The arrival of Covid-19 has forced many couples to reconfigure their wedding plans. They now have to take things like social distancing and vulnerable relatives into account. Not wanting to take their chances, many have postponed their weddings until next year or 2022. But other couples are scaling back and opting for a smaller celebration - and finding, to their surprise, that they love it.

Collette O'Leary is a wedding planner based in Dublin. She says that many of her clients are increasingly considering "micro weddings" with guest lists of between five and 30 people. Indeed, many are foregoing the traditional evening meal and knees-up in favour of a lunch.

"That's certainly a trend I've seen which I haven't seen before," she says. "The old-style weddings where you get married in the morning at 11am, everyone goes for lunch and everyone goes home. You have to think about social distancing on a dance floor. How is that going to look? Who is going to be responsible for it?

"There has to be a happy medium and I think that's where the micro weddings are coming in. Then you can have the party when it's safe."

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Cara Groome and Conor Berkeley tied the knot in March

Cara Groome and Conor Berkeley tied the knot in March

Cara Groome and Conor Berkeley tied the knot in March

But that's not to say a small wedding can't be as memorable as a large one.

"When it's small with close friends and family, I find those to be much more fun and much more personal," says Pat Clarke Browne, a humanist celebrant. "That's one of the advantages of the numbers going down. It focuses more on the couple and it's less about the production of the day."

Indeed, many couples who have tied the knot in recent months say that they have found that size doesn't matter when it comes to weddings.

Cara Groome and Conor Berkeley were originally due to get married back in March. The Naas couple had planned on getting married in a registry office surrounded by family and close friends. A non-legal ceremony and wedding party for 100 guests was scheduled for the following day. But when suppliers started cancelling, they decided to postpone the wedding party until further down the line. All going well, it will take place next May. However, they still had a slot in the registry office to get married on March 27. They were reluctant to give up the date as it was their 10th anniversary.

"So it was literally the night before and we said, 'Look will we do it? It's just going to be two of us," recalls Cara.

They enlisted two friends who lived together to serve as their witnesses and got married the next day. No family, no friends, no hair stylist, no make-up artist. Just the two of them and their witnesses.

"It kind of did away with things we had spent months planning," says Cara of the ceremony. "You get very bogged down in all of the wedding stuff. It kind of takes over your life. You hear a lot of, 'You have to do this, you have to do that.' This kind of proved to us that we didn't really have to do anything bar have our license and show up because that's all we did."

Going into the day, the couple feared that they would miss out on having their own "special memorable moments". But the day turned out to be memorable in its own right.

After the ceremony, the couple and their two friends headed to the Phoenix Park to take photographs. There, a couple they didn't know approached them and gave them a bottle of wine.

"They said it was their 40th wedding anniversary that weekend and they were supposed to have a big party but obviously they weren't," says Cara.

"They were out for a walk and a friend had given them the wine and they said, 'Look they deserve it' and gave it to us. Isn't that lovely?"

Afterwards, they hosted a virtual party on Zoom. At around half past eight, everyone decided to take a break and planned to reconvene on Zoom after getting something to eat.

Then Leo Varadkar announced in a televised address that the country was going into lockdown. "Everyone was like, 'We might be a bit late coming back on the Zoom. We're just taking all of this in here,'" laughs Cara.

While it was tough to not have their families present, Cara says she appreciates the fact that she and her husband got to spend so much quality time together.

"I don't think that would have happened on the day the way we had it planned," she says. "I don't think we ever would have had a minute just the two of us. That ended up being really important. All the other things just fell away."

Sarah and Matthew Billingham from Waterford found themselves in a similar boat. The couple were originally due to have a small wedding in April. When that was cancelled, Sarah quickly decided to get in touch with Spiritual Ceremonies Ireland to enquire about having a marriage ceremony.

Once it was confirmed that Spiritual Ceremonies Ireland could recommence the solemnisation of marriages on June 10, Sarah and Matt's wedding was back on. "I just said, 'Book me in for the first day if possible, please,'" says Sarah.

After receiving Garda clearance to travel, the couple drove from Waterford to Clondalkin with their two young children - son Logan and daughter Darcie - to get married. "The fact the two kids could go was brilliant," says Sarah. "I never thought they were going to be able to go in the current situation but they said we were a family unit and it made no difference. That was the best thing ever."

The couple's "two Mammies" served as their witnesses while other family and friends tuned in via Zoom. Sarah says the registrar, Miriam Fitzgerald, was "just amazing".

"Obviously we couldn't meet her during the restrictions but she wrote a fabulous service and made it very intimate," she says. "Matt's dad had only passed away and she wrote a lovely piece for him and lit a candle."

Afterwards, the party of six headed to Marlay Park for a family picnic. "The people in Marlay Park, oh my goodness," she says. "They were amazing. The amount of well wishes and people shouting over to us. It was so lovely."

Her advice for any couple thinking about having a smaller ceremony? "Go ahead with the smaller one.

"I think you get more out of a more intimate group than running around for a whole night trying to run around and speak to everyone," she says.

Wedding planner Collette O'Leary agrees and says that the lockdown has given couples perspective on what really matters. That means celebrating with loved ones and not dwelling on "add-ons" like chocolate fountains or silent discos.

"What we have to remember is that a wedding is about two people who fall in love and it's about celebrating that."

Irish Independent