The emotional texture of an Irish wedding: Nerves, giddiness, joy, banality

TV review: RTÉ’s The Irish Wedding is about the event itself, and says little about marriage

The documentarian Alex Fegan specialises in low-key celebrations of Irish life. And The Irish Wedding (RTÉ One 9.35pm, Monday) echoes the tone and also the slightly meandering quality of his previous films, The Confessors (a profile of priests in modern Ireland) and the Irish Pub (a celebration of the village boozer).

As before, the directorial hand rests ever softly on the tiller and there isn’t really much in the way of a message. Instead, Fegan lets events unfold and quietly documents them. His super-power is his unobtrusiveness.

There are lots of tears, laughter, joking and sincerity in The Irish Wedding. And because this is Ireland there is also a scene in which a bride and groom walk beneath an honour-guard of club men with hurleys held aloft. Through it all Fegan's faith in humanity shines, giving the documentary its gentle zing.

We are introduced to a number of couples. They are not named and it can be difficult to tell them apart. At least two are from Cork, another from Galway and one possibly from Clare (or Limerick). There are a number of same-sex marriages, and brides from around the world, including from Australia and the United States. Several of Ireland's minority communities are represented, and Fegan has included newlyweds from across a range of ages.


He shapes the 50-minute doc as a chronological profile of a typical Irish wedding. It opens with brides and grooms steeling themselves for the day ahead and sweating over their prepared remarks. Then it’s a cut to the churches and registry offices, which are framed from dead centre in a sort of Wes Anderson-style flat composition. Next, the vows and then the speeches.

It’s very sweet, and there is some droll comedy as best men of all ages, colours and creeds are shown rehashing the same hokey jokes. The parents join in, too. “That little wretch was not a good baby,” quips one mother of the son she is about to marry off. “My wooden spoon was famous and not for cooking.”

Heartache is sprinkled in among the joy. One groom expresses sadness over the fact that his mother has passed away and so could not see him marry. “If I can be half as strong as she was then I have nothing to worry about life,” he says.

Fegan’s documentaries are their own thing and not for everyone. The rowdy side of Irish nuptials is glossed over – the director clocks off long before the wedding bands and DJs spinning Rock the Boat.

And The Irish Wedding might have benefitted from a deeper dive into the lives of some of the couples. How did they meet? What challenges have they overcome? Have they been affected by the housing crisis?

But perhaps that is to ask too much. The Irish Wedding is not about taking the temperature of marriage in modern Ireland. Fegan is interested in the emotional textures of an Irish wedding: the nerves, the giddiness, the joy, the banality. These he conveys, without ever making himself or his film the centre of attention.