Thursday 26 April 2018

Out with the old, in with the new

In one generation, weddings have changed utterly. We take a look at the traditions we lost - and the ones we kept

Worlds apart: Andrea and Aaron on their wedding day
Worlds apart: Andrea and Aaron on their wedding day

Chrissie Russell

The bride wore red, the service was on a boat, the congregation sang Beatles hits and then everyone moved on to an organic barbecue and cider reception.

As Andrea Carroll's big day perfectly illustrates, there is no such thing as a typical wedding in Ireland these days - the world is your oyster.

The Dublin management consultant was 31 when she tied the knot with husband Aaron Cassidy in April 2012. Some 80 friends and family boarded the Jeanie Johnston in Dublin Bay, a venue secured by Andrea after spotting a discount Groupon voucher online.

"Aaron loves sailing and his dad was in the navy so it wasn't totally random having it on a boat," she laughs. "We were legally married three days before but didn't do anything around it. Our wedding day was on the boat - we wrote it ourselves, people close to us did poems and readings and at the end everyone sang I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends.

"It was really personal to us. Beforehand some people had been sceptical but afterwards so many people said they thought it was amazing and very emotional."

It was, as her mum says herself, "a world away" from her wedding day in 1975.

Christine Carroll was 24 when she married John in her Catholic church before going on to a turkey-and-ham dinner in a nearby hotel.

"We had to save up ourselves for it but then we were told who to invite," she says smiling. "It was all about family, even if it was aunties and uncles you'd not seen for years.

"And then we had to leave in the middle of it! Instead of enjoying the party, I'd to go up and get changed into my going away outfit and get waved off."

In the course of just a generation, weddings have undergone a total transformation. The big day is pricier, averaging out at a whopping €21,219 (3000pc higher than it was in the 1950s) and we're getting married older, with the average first-time bride now 33, compared to 24 in 1977.

Dresses can be any colour, vows can be self-composed and if you want to ride in on an elephant - you can. But perhaps the biggest change in Ireland has been the growing demand for civil rather than religious ceremonies.

Until the 1970s, civil marriages accounted for less than 1pc of all nuptials. Now, according to the Registrar General's report released last week, just under a third of all Irish unions are civil.

But the change isn't necessarily down to a clear-cut case of us losing our religion.

"Yes there are a growing number of people who identify as non-believers, but there are also those who've become disillusioned with the church for a whole raft of reasons or those who are getting married for the second time and aren't welcome in church," explains Geraldine Bown (

Geraldine is one of 14 interfaith ministers in Ireland, each performing more than 20 weddings a year. She's an appealing option to couples wanting an alternative venue for their ceremony since she can legally marry people outside and has performed services on the Cliffs of Moher, Inishbofin Island and castles around the country. But she's also popular as a celebrant among couples who want some mention of the sacred or spiritual, just not within the context of the church.

"Some couples just want to talk about love, some want something spiritual and some want God and bible readings, and that's all fine. It's about what's personal to the couple," she says.

Andrea's service, which was led by her best friend, included some church blessings. "But I'm not particularly religious," she explains. "I felt it would have been hypocritical for me to get married in a church."

"I didn't mind at all, I think things have changed," says Christine. "The whole day went off beautifully."

After the ceremony, the couple travelled in Andrea's red Mini to a reception at Malahide Rugby Club, where caterers ( laid on an organic spread including bespoke ice cream flavours, a cider menu and a pig on a spit. The groom's mother made a cake in the shape of suitcases and a travel book and there were video messages recorded by guests.

Wedding planner Linda McAllorum ( helped plan the big day. She reckons there are two big influences changing the tone of weddings today. One is that slipping the bonds of religion has opened up a world of choice, enabling couples to celebrate their relationship in their own unique and personal way. The other is the influence of other cultures and social media.

"Every bride has a Pinterest board," she says. "There's also a lot of influence from the States where the emphasis is often on fun and a celebration of the couple's love rather than religion."

Sociologist Pat O'Connor, professor at the University of Limerick, describes this as our growing sense of 'individualisation', and that culturally today, huge value is put on having one's own sense of style and this manifests itself in wedding stationary, seat covers and table decorations.

There's also a thriving wedding industry that didn't exist 20 years ago fuelled by celebrity influence and social media.

"For the want of a better word, I see a lot of 'one-upmanship' going on," says wedding planner Blaithin O'Reilly Murphy. "Some couples will contact me saying, 'we've most of the organising done but we need your help with some wow details, we've been to five weddings this year and want ours to be better'."

Facebook means brides can see everyone else's big day - who had a magician, who had a photobooth, who had a troop of Irish dancers - while viral videos of singing bridesmaids and celeb-packed bestman video speeches are ever upping the ante.

And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The basic components of weddings haven't altered: ceremony, outfit, meal, cake, entertainment. We still want to celebrate love and do it in the presence of those we love.

Ideologically, there's a cultural premium on romance, which accounts for the lingering attachment to some wedding traditions that have outlasted their original purpose.

"I think some brides would be horrified if they realised that the rings were originally about ownership. That in the past the bride was literally being 'given away' by her father or sold as a commodity," says Linda.

"Most people today see the rings as a sign of eternity and love a lot of wedding traditions because they've romanticised them."

In the future we're likely to see more non-traditional weddings as we continue to fall away from the church. With a high level of young emigration the age of those marrying looks likely to stay high while the rising level of divorce might precipitate a wave of future second-time-arounders.

But sociologist Dr Carmel Hannan, from the University of Limerick, believes we'll always have a need for weddings.

"From a sociological point of view, we're still very community-focused and want friends and family to celebrate with us," she says. "So much is made of the notion that we're becoming more isolated but actually the evidence to support that is very limited. We've always loved a big party at a wedding."

For Andrea, one of the best parts of the day was seeing everything she'd planned being enjoyed by the people she loved.

"Aaron and I wanted it to be fun," she says.

Her mum agrees: "I think it's much nicer now. You get the enjoyment of the whole day and you've the freedom to invite who you want. That's so much nicer, we missed out hugely!"

How they compare


Ceremony: Andrea Carroll married Aaron Cassidy in a civil ceremony

Venue: The Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship in Dublin Bay and a reception in Malahide Rugby Club

Dress: A €500 red, off-the-shoulder 'Spanish style' dress from Coast

Number of guests: 80 at the ceremony, 120 at the reception

Food and drink: Organic cider, punch, elderflower wine and locally made Burkes ice cream at reception. Homemade chutneys and bread with chicken wings during speeches. A barbecue with roast organic pig on a spit, salads and vegetarian parmigianas, wedding cake and pizza later in the evening

Honeymoon: Two months backpacking around South America and a 10-day cruise in the Galapagos Islands

Cost: €10,000


Ceremony: Andrea's mum Christine married John in a religious ceremony

Venue: Maples House Hotel, Glasnevin

Dress: White, shop-bought, dance dress with a nipped-in waist and small train

Number of guests: 60

Food and drink: Turkey-and-ham dinner with sandwiches and tea later

Honeymoon: One week in a B&B on the Isle of Man

Cost: €1,500

Irish Independent

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