Rory McIlroy’s wedding to Erica Stoll has Cong abuzz
Exclusive: Irish golfer looks relaxed as he has breakfast at Ashford Castle in Co Mayo
Erica Stoll and Rory McIlroy will marry in a sleepy Mayo village on the banks of Lough Corrib. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty Images
Not since the Quiet Man got married here has a Cong wedding caused such a stir. However, the likelihood that Rory McIlroy and Erica Stoll’s wedding at Ashford Castle this weekend will end with the groom dragging the bride off a train and then up a long country road and through the village before getting into a fist fight with her brother over a dowry – as John Wayne did to prove his love for Maureen O’Hara in the John Ford film – seems remote.
The chances anyone outside the castle walls which tower over the sleepy little Mayo village on the banks of Lough Corrib will see anything of note over the course of the weekend seem remote too.
Security was almost comically tight at the main gate to the castle ahead of the couple’s big day out, with five mean-looking men with clipboards eyeballing everyone who passed. Every now and then a car pulled up and was let in but more frequently they were sent packing.
It wasn’t just at the main gate where security was heightened. All the gates around the perimeter were patrolled by teams of men in high-vis jackets, while two other “rings of steel” were said to be just beyond the castle’s outer walls.
It would be best to be wary of the phrase “said to be” mind you or any other similarly speculative words. They have been flying around like confetti for days.
The couple are “said to have” booked the whole of Ashford Castle for a week and are “said to be” spending in excess of half a million euro on the bash.
They are “said to be” flying Ed Sheeran in from Manchester tomorrow night, and “said to be” looking forward to Stevie Wonder jumping out of their wedding cake at the wedding’s climax. Or something like that.
But said to be by whom? And to whom? No one knows.
One thing is certain. Everyone who might possibly know anything about anything that is happening over on the castle on the hill, or at least by the lake, has been sworn to secrecy.
All we know for sure is that the 27-year-old Holywood native is marrying Stoll, the manager of Championship Volunteer operations for the PGA of America. They met on the golfing circuit, and an array of celebrities will flock to one of Ireland’s most famous hotels for the most high-profile wedding of the year anywhere in the world.
Security has been tight all week around the 350-acre estate. The couple are said to be – there it is again – staying in the Regan suite, a room which costs almost €5,000 a night.
As security staff kept a close eye on a small press pack assembled outside the castle walls by lunchtime on Friday, an occasionally blacked-out people carrier came through the imposing gates and headed in the direction of Headford, some 9km away.
Other than that there was precious little to occupy the minds or the lenses of the handful of mournful-looking cameramen and photographers standing around in the vain hope of catching a glimpse of somebody famous doing something interesting.
Early in the day, a rumour spread that Ryan Giggs was in the village, but other than that there was nothing, at least until The Irish Times broke through the ring of steel. Sort of.
We can exclusively reveal that McIlroy had breakfast in the company of three male friends on Friday morning and seemed relaxed as he ate.
We know this because we met an American couple who stayed in the hotel on Thursday night. “The hotel was great and did a great job looking after all the guests,” said Pauline Baker from New Jersey. “We would not have known there was a wedding on if it had not been for the security. To be honest even when we heard Rory McIlroy was getting married we didn’t know who he was. We had to google him. Then we saw him at breakfast. To be honest he looked just like any other young guy sitting there having breakfast with his friends. He seemed really relaxed.”
While celebrities were thin on the ground outside the grounds, their absence did not dampen the enthusiasm of local folk. “Ah, there is great excitement in the town really,” said Jonathan Byrne of the Hungry Monk Cafe.
“All the locals have been coming into town in the hope of seeing a celebrity. I’ve heard no reports of any sightings and none of them have come in to me. I’ve just had reporters coming in annoying me,” he said with a laugh.
Paddy Rock of the Cong Festival Committee was standing with purpose beside a bronze statue of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.
“You see that tree over there,” he said pointing a few feet to his left. “We are collecting handprints of celebrities and casting them in bronze for the tree.”
So far, Rock has the hands of Ryan Tubridy, Daniel O’Donnell, Big Tom and former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh. “We have a gap,” he said nodding in the direction of Big Tom’s hands. “That’s the space I am leaving for Rory.”
Hands apart, Rock was relaxed. “We’re well used to celebrities round this way. We’ve had John Wayne and Ronald Reagan and Bing Crosby and Bertie Ahern, ” he said. “They all loved it here. The locals might give them a nod now and them but they all come here for their privacy – and we respect that.”
Seán O’Dwyer, an artist based in Galway, decided to take his canvas to Cong on a whim after hearing about the wedding on the radio hours earlier. “I thought I’d come round to see if there was any craic. Apart from the security up at the gate, I’ve not seen anything interesting.”
Neither has anyone else.