Monday 23 April 2018

Joe O'Shea's groom's guide to weddings

While there's not much expected of grooms-to-be Joe and Holly are still doing this together

Holly Ni Chairda and Joe O'Shea are getting married in Joe's hometown of Cork.
Holly Ni Chairda and Joe O'Shea are getting married in Joe's hometown of Cork.
Wedding planner Claire Barry offers the couple some tips on how to save.

Joe O'Shea

Devote enough time to observing Irish grooms involved in wedding planning and you will soon learn to spot the classic "Bored 10-Year-Old In An Art Gallery" look.

Every weekend in the run-up to the summer wedding season, you will see them dragging their feet through hotel function rooms or being led around wedding fairs (that's if they can be bullied into going at all) as the bride rabbits on about stationery, chair-seat covers and floral arrangements.

And while they mostly suffer in silence – you will occasionally hear them mutter the ageless mantra of the Irish groom; "Hold on a second – how much is THAT going to cost?"

As the budget soars like a flock of hired doves and the bride spends every waking hour obsessing about table centre-pieces, their men will retreat into a fug of cussed crankiness.

It may sound like stereotyping. And not all grooms are allergic to wedding plans just as very few fiancées actually go the Full-Bridezilla.

But while the lines between gender roles have become increasingly blurred in daily life, the Irish Wedding and the expectations placed on those involved have proved stubbornly resistant to change.

For us grooms-to-be, it is supposed to be the Biggest Day of our lives. But it often feels like nobody really expects (or trusts) us to do much more than turn up at the church on time.

And while the wedding industry here is worth at least €500m a year, how those euros are spent is very much in the hands of the brides and their mothers.

'With Irish couples, 95pc of my contact is with the bride, I rarely hear from the groom," says wedding planner Claire Barry of Limerick-based events company White Sage.

"Irish brides definitely want to be in charge, they do most of the work and make most of the choices. I can spend maybe 10 minutes with the groom before his eyes start to glaze over, while the bride is still there talking a mile a minute. When I do hear from the groom, it's usually just to let me know that a decision has been made."

Claire, who organises all sorts of weddings big and small across Ireland, says she sometimes "feels sorry" for the Irish grooms she comes across.

"I do sometimes feel sorry for them because I think they know less about their own weddings than I do.

"But what's really important to Irish guys is that the bride is happy. They don't want her stressed, they don't want her to be disappointed, they want her to have everything she wants, as long as the budget doesn't go completely crazy.

"What you get from a lot of Irish grooms is fantastic support. They may not know what is going on all of the time but they will do everything they can to keep the bride, mothers-in-law, everybody, happy. They see their job as to be there for her and smooth out any bumps in the road".

The idea that the wedding is really for the bride and the groom should just show up in a pressed-suit and try not to grievously insult the in-laws is one that has endured, despite the dramatic changes in gender expectations.

And it's one that I recognise myself, as our own Big Day looms large on the horizon. On some days, like an incredibly expensive migraine.

Time and again, male friends who have been that soldier advise: "Just keep her happy, let her make the big decisions. And if in doubt, keep your mouth shut."

There is not much expected from us grooms, beyond nodding politely and keeping a box of hankies handy, right next to the cheque book.

When we started looking at venues, the wedding co-ordinators would invariably direct themselves to my fiancée, only occasionally looking in my direction to ensure I wasn't knocking anything over.

Any complicated issues, such as sitting down or seafood, would be painstakingly explained for my benefit, in the manner of a school teacher talking to a not-too-bright five-year-old.

However, as a couple, we decided to do this together. The wedding would be in my home town (Cork) and at Christmas so that distant friends and family would be home from Kentucky, Sweden, China and Australia.

The venue we have chosen, the Imperial Hotel in Cork, is a fine, family-run hotel right in the city centre and five minutes from where I grew up (it's a mixed marriage, the bride is from Kildare).

And the bride's dress is being made by a young, local designer, Caroline Matthews, who is based right across the road from the hotel on Cork's South Mall.

The actual ceremony will be in the Long Room of the Crawford Art Gallery, a short walk across Patrick Street and again, one of the gems of my home town.

We wanted a traditional city wedding in a small, friendly venue. But almost by accident, we have found ourselves to be right on-trend as far as the current fashion for weddings goes.

"Trends have changed dramatically over the past three years or so," says Claire of Limerick-based White Sage event planners.

"Small urban weddings are very big now. And we are starting to do a lot more winter weddings, I have three booked myself this year.

"We are seeing a lot of ex-pats these days who want to come home and do it at Christmas when everybody will be there.

"There's a huge draw from Sydney in particular, London and parts of the US and Europe as well, with the way that emigration has been in the past few years. It's really hard to organise a wedding from out there, so we do everything with the couples by email and Skype, it works well."

Claire says the split between traditional church weddings and Humanist ceremonies is also changing, with about half of her couples now favouring a registry office or Humanist minister.

Another big change is the craze for outdoor weddings.

"I'm finding this year that Irish couples are really going for the great outdoors. Which means we always have to have a Plan B. There has to be somewhere indoors we can move the ceremony to at the last minute if the weather won't co-operate.

"But I have also held back the actual ceremony for 20 minutes to let a shower pass. And I have seen some of my brides walk up the aisle in wellies, they are so determined to do it outdoors."

With our own wedding, my fiancée and I have tried as far as possible to keep the costs down, following another big trend. And Claire offers a very handy tip on last minute budget trimming.

"Most couples now are working to a fairly strict budget, the days of the showy, throw money at it and keep up with the neighbours events are long gone.

"And as the date gets closer, they often find the fastest way to save money is to cut the guest list. Cut a table of eight and you could be saving yourselves a thousand euro.

"So you have to decide if you want to spend that money on feeding that table or getting the venue you really want."

Cutting eight guests at the last minute (or at least before the invites go out) may sound like a cold-hearted thing to do.

But as the day gets closer and you realise the cash left over to pay for the music may only stretch to two guys with a banjo and a bodhrán, chances are you will be reaching for that red marker-pen.

Irish Independent

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