Eoin Butler: Has social media killed the stag party?
With a new study finding many men now dread getting the invite, Eoin Butler considers how the macho rite of passage has evolved post-internet
It’s a near miss that still makes me shudder. On a boozy stag weekend away, some years back, I shot a camera phone video of a mate awkwardly dad-dancing outside a pub.
My friends had been posting embarrassing photos and videos to Facebook all evening — and these had proven a big hit with wives and partners back home.
So I very nearly shared this one. But, for whatever reason, I didn’t. And thank God for that.
In the din of a night out, the background noise on the video was inaudible. But when I replayed it next morning, the audio was crystal clear. Turned out I’d inadvertently recorded a member of our group, standing nearby, drunkenly detailing his partner’s talent and enthusiasm for performing a certain, ahem, intimate act.
Anyone who knew this normally reserved character or his partner would have recognised his voice immediately. My blood ran cold. I could only imagine the havoc sharing that video could so easily have unleashed.
Ever since then, I’ve been very wary in situations like that one. And it seems I’m not alone in this. According to a recent report, the very tradition of having boozy stag parties is now under threat in Britain, as men increasingly recognise the personal and professional repercussions of having their drunken high jinks shared on social media.
A survey commissioned by UK property rental company The Big Domain suggests that as many as 60pc of men would prefer not to be invited to stag parties, with 40pc of them routinely turning down such invitations, and 33pc wishing the entire tradition would now die off. And the most common reason cited? Potential reputational damage on social media.
So is our love affair with the stag party over? My inquiries in Ireland would suggest that, in this country at least, the answer is a very resounding no. But it’s clear the stag party as a ritual is evolving with the times and has long since moved away from some of its more boorish previous associations.
“People still associate stag parties with strippers and strip clubs for some reason,” admits Kate Hyde, managing director of StagParty.ie. “But we looked after over 40,000 customers last year and the truth is we very rarely get inquiries about anything like that.
“From our perspective, the market is very straightforward. Lads go in for an activity during the day. They want a bit of grub. They go to the pub. They go to a club. They stay overnight.”
As the economy has improved, three-course meals and four-star hotels are increasingly back in vogue. Regarding social media, she believes that Irish men are much more risk-aware when it comes social media than was once the case.
“When Facebook came along first, I think we were all kind of tag-happy,” Hyde says. “But nowadays, lads tend only to post the ‘before shot.’ They’ve just arrived at their destination. They’re having a quiet pint. That’s the photo they bring home and show to their girlfriends. But from that point on, it’s radio silence.”
In Ireland, the biggest driver of change in stag party culture seems not to be social media, but rather our changing lifestyles. Some 20 years ago, the average groom was in his mid-twenties. Today, he’s in his mid-thirties and — dare I say it — a little more mature…
I ask Hyde if pranks on the groom are still popular. “Not really,” she says.
“They were big in the 1980s and ‘90s. But lads these days don’t really go in for that sort of thing. Today it’s much more about doing paintball or clay pigeon shooting. That’s the fun part of the day.
“And I mean, what groom in this day and age is going to show up to his wedding with one eyebrow missing? And what best man is going to run the risk that would entail? Times have changed a lot.”
Stephen Burke, a 35-year- old soccer fan from Meath, is marrying Mairead in October this year.
He was initially going to keep his stag low-key, attending a League of Ireland match and having a drink with his friends afterwards. But that plan evolved.
“I came under a lot of pressure from friends of mine who are settled, and have kids, to do something bigger. From their perspective, maybe they don’t get the chance to get away as much. So now we’re going to Eindhoven for the weekend to catch a PSV (football club) game. We’re not the type that would be up to anything dodgy though. Drink too much beer, maybe, that’d be height of it.” No high jinks at all then?
“Some of my friends who got married when they were younger might have dressed up in daft costumes and so on. But that’s not for me. I’ve never seen the point.”
Some weeks before Patrick Keane (39), from Mayo, married Cora last December, he jetted off to a hotel in Spain with 12 of his closest friends. “Listen,” he says. “We had a good time from the minute we arrived in Dublin airport to when we got home. But there wasn’t anything scandalous going on besides that.
“We stayed in a nice hotel and we went out at night. There were no photos shared on social media and we deleted all of the WhatsApp groups when we got home. I wasn’t tied to a lamppost over there or anything like that. In fact, I got home relatively unscathed.
“Well,” he adds with a laugh. “Besides being hungover for about a week.”
David Mitchell, from Antrim (36), is marrying Fiona this October. But before that, he’ll be having a non-traditional stag. “I’ve got a groomswoman instead of a best man. We’re going to rent out a cabin in the Scottish highlands with a mixed group of friends. We’ll do some outdoorsy stuff and play some board games. But there’s not going to be loads of drinking.
“One friend of mine was advocating we hire a stripper. A married man, I should add. But that wasn’t what I wanted and it wasn’t what the groomswoman wanted either. And it was also bonkers, because no stripper in her right mind is going to come out to a secluded cabin in the Scottish highlands, is she?
“We’d be up getting up first thing next morning to go hill-walking anyway. So it just wouldn’t suit.”