Wednesday 22 November 2017

Not going to the Chapel? You can have your wedding by the sea, or in Croke Park

Wedding ceremonies are becoming more personalised
Wedding ceremonies are becoming more personalised

For a country characterised by its conservatism, Ireland has done a good job of shedding its cloak in the last few years. Nowhere is this more conspicuous than in Ireland's wedding market. The deregulation of weddings in 2011 to include civil partnerships was a major step towards self-expression, and by the end of 2012, civil partnerships had taken place in every county in Ireland. Just three years later the same-sex marriage referendum was not only well received, but turned the very notion of Ireland's old conservative stereotype on its head.

The wedding with a twist is having a moment and tradition, it seems, is no longer, with people getting married at any stage, at any age, and in any way they choose - good news for brides who take umbrage to being 'given away', guests for whom throwing confetti goes against their environmental principles, and men who engage in bouquet-throwing for that non-gender-specific scrum.

The millennial generation has fueled the proliferation of choice, wanting to do it their way, and this has begun to infiltrate the once-rigidly conventional bridal market. Another factor instigating change is the age of brides and grooms, which has been steadily increasing. According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO) 2015 marriage research, the average age of the groom in civil ceremonies was 38, and brides 34. Couples, it seems, are putting career first, perhaps leaving themselves in a better financial position to carry the cost of a wedding, thus empowering themselves to spend their money as they wish.

"We've helped about 400 couples with their ceremonies in the last year," says Jennifer Tobin of Marry Me Ireland, the country's only professionally accredited celebrant organisation which specialises in civil ceremonies. "There's a growing popularity among couples who want more input and control over their celebration. They don't want the focus to be about God necessarily. We are non-agenda, so we guide couples towards a more personalised ceremony - whether that's religious, non-religious, spiritual - we match them to a celebrant, help them with readings, vows and music and generally create the ceremony they want."

Religious ceremonies still account for the majority of ceremonies (66.3pc) according to CSO figures. Civil marriages were the most popular non-religious marriage ceremonies in 2015, accounting for 28pc and particularly for men and women aged 45 and over. The Humanist Association of Ireland reported 5.7pc of marriages, and The Spiritualist Union of Ireland performed 3.7pc.

Traditionally, weddings in Ireland were in a church on Saturday, and while times have changed and there are lots of options available to couples choosing to get married outside of a church, there is still plenty of proverbial hoop-jumping to be done. No matter how you choose to get married, it is advised to register your intent to marry with the registrar at least three months prior to the wedding date. You are issued with a Marriage Registration Form which gives you authorisation to marry, and must be given to whomever will be conducting your ceremony.

There are two types of non-church ceremonies: a ceremony with a solemniser or that with a celebrant. A solemniser oversees a humanist, spiritual or inter-faith ceremony, can legally marry a couple in a venue that has been approved and usually costs between €450-€650. A celebrant, who costs on average €450, oversees a civil ceremony but cannot provide legal paperwork, this must be done in a HSE registry office prior or following the civil ceremony and costs approximately €200.

Is it legal? Yes

Is it religious? No

Where can I do it? The registry office followed by an indoor or outdoor HSE-licenced venue

When can I do it? Registrar Monday-Friday, solemniser any day

Civil ceremony

If you're willing to do the legal paperwork at the registry office itself, you can then choose any venue as long as it is licenced. The first step is to register your intent to marry with the registry office local to the place you are having your ceremony at least three to six months in advance of your wedding. Venues need to meet a fairly strict legal criteria: they must be fixed structures so that means the beach, forest or cliff edge is a non-runner unless it's a piece of ground open to the public and adjacent to a fixed building open to the public. "I recently met a couple that were unable to marry in the venue of their choice because it had failed the HSE civil ceremony criteria due to no landline," notes Jennifer Tobin, who also urges people to be aware of the Monday-Friday limitation with the civil registrars of the HSE. The solemniser must be on the registered list of solemnisers and must be furnished with the legal papers given to a couple at the initial declaration of intent to marry. Amy Phelan and her husband Mark chose a quick 'signing' in a registry office so they could put all their efforts into a more aesthetic and fun celebration at a separate venue. "We just had two witnesses and the whole thing lasted about 10 minutes. It was pretty stress-free," says Amy. "We went for drinks in the pub after and then two months later had a lovely ceremony and a big bash in a beautiful Georgian manor in the country."

Spiritualist wedding

Unlike humanism, spiritualism is a religion but doesn't share any particular God with that of other religions. Spiritualists believe that when the body passes, the spirit body lives on with a strong connection to the earth, which, they believe, is the provider of life. When it comes to getting married, a spiritualist wedding allows the freedom to choose the words, vows and music you would like. The Spiritualist Union of Ireland's premise is to create a ceremony 'with you, for you and about you'. There are only two components of the services that must be legally fulfilled and these are the 'I do' vows and 'any lawful impediment to the marriage', otherwise couples are free to include whatever they wish. Spiritualist ceremonies are proving popular among couples that want the option of marrying outdoors at the weekend. When Anna O'Connor married her husband, Ben, she chose a spiritualist wedding over a religious or civil ceremony because it ticked all the right boxes.

"My husband is agnostic and I was born Catholic and while I'm not renouncing my faith, I don't attend church and felt it would be hypocritical of me to marry in one," says Anna.

"A spiritualist wedding worked for us as it allowed us to design the ceremony we wanted. My mom is quite religious and so we were able to include some religious elements for her. We also got to marry in a marquee on a Saturday instead of a registry office mid-week. That was a huge bonus for us, especially with friends and family travelling from overseas." Traditionally, spiritualist weddings often include an invitation to members of the family who have 'passed' to the spirit world to share the moment. "We had a picture of my dad with us, who died a few years ago. We lit a candle next to his picture and the solemniser made references to him. It wasn't hokey just a really nice way of including him in the whole ceremony," says Anna.

Is it legal? Yes, with a registered solemniser

Is it religious? Yes

Where can I do it? An indoor or outdoor HSE-licenced venue

When can I do it? Any day

Humanist ceremony

Humanist wedding ceremonies are a popular choice with those seeking a secular celebration where the focus is on appreciation of the world around us as opposed to religion. "We base our understanding of the world on reason rather than religious or supernatural beliefs," says Tilda Taylor of the Humanist Association of Ireland. "We do get couples approaching us who don't really understand what humanism means, so it's important that they know that there is no religious context in a humanist wedding ceremony - we are here for people who don't find themselves at home with religious ceremonies and want an alternative."

But, it's important to note that ceremonies are not anti-religious; religious readings can be included provided they are read by a member of the family or a friend and not the solemniser. Taylor goes further to explain that ceremonies are very much led by couples. There is no rigid format but affirmations of the love between the couple. Solemnisers, who typically cost approximately €470, would meet a couple once or twice before the wedding day to guide them through writing personalised scripts and choosing readings.

Last year the Humanist Association of Ireland carried out 1,452 weddings compared to 1,280 in 2015. "It's growing year by year. In fact, we cannot really keep up with demand," says Taylor. New Year's Eve is the most popular date for a humanist wedding; the society is currently training more celebrants in the hope of fulfilling the growing interest.

"The decline of the Catholic Church has evidently spurred change in growth in non-religious ceremonies but also, on a practical level, couples are simply looking for alternative venue options other than a church or registry office. Like civil ceremonies, humanists can marry couples in a location that has been legally approved. However it must be accessible to the public and have a postal address, which means your parents' garden or the top of a mountain isn't a viable option. There have been some interesting and wild location requests, and thanks to the growing demand alternative locations such as Dublin's Maritime Museum and The National Gallery are opening their doors.

"One couple recently rang the Society asking could we facilitate their wedding. When it was revealed that we didn't have a solemniser available on the date they had chosen, their response was 'ah it doesn't matter, we'll try the Spiritualist Union'," laughs Taylor. As the notion of non-religious ceremonies is still in their infancy, it's somewhat of a grey area with many couples still understanding humanism to be a type of religion.

"We try to make that very clear from the outset; we're atheists with values based on compassion, equality and evidence of the natural world."

Is it legal? Yes, with a registered solemniser

Is it religious? No

Where can I do it? An indoor or outdoor HSE-licenced venue

When can I do it? Any day

5 unusual wedding venues


This one's for the GAA fans: what could be better than marrying the love of your life overlooking Croke Park? Tie the knot in the Player's Lounge (120 people) or the Hogan Suite for larger parties. Caters: 100-400.


Couples looking for a nautical nod to their big day will love the Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire for its seaside location, history and collection of maritime art and paraphernalia. Caters: 100.


Originally a hunting lodge, Fota House proves the perfect regency venue with elegant drawing rooms, glorious gardens and history to boot, plus it's on its own private island. Caters: 100.


If it's refined style and elegant surroundings you're after, the National Gallery of Ireland's beautifully restored Georgian House hosts civil ceremonies from Monday to Friday, and the adjacent Winter Garden seats up to 300 for a reception. The option of a private gallery tour will appeal to your art-loving guests. Caters: 40 in the Lavery room and 20 in the Purser room, 300 in the Winter Garden.


With stunning views over Cork harbour, this medieval castle just 15 minutes from Cork city, has been lovingly restored to house a space centre but maintains its historical setting for boutique weddings. Caters: 100 in the Forum and Long Room and 25 in the Fireplace Lobby.

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