Heavenly dresses for Holy Communion

‘It is probably the only time a little girl will get dressed in a white dress and veil’

When it comes to Holy Communion in Ireland, commerce and the church go hand in hand, the secular meeting the sacred in one of the most celebrated annual rituals in the country. Many complain about the cost and pressure of the event on families, but according to Fr Niall Coghlan of St Catherine’s Church in Meath Street in the heart of Dublin’s south inner city, those who complain may need to suspend certain value systems.

“It is probably the only time a little girl will get dressed in a white dress and veil because marriage is not the huge institution it was anymore – people live together – and there are few opportunities for families to celebrate with their daughter or son. So they push the boat out and want look good and if it’s fake tan, so be it,” he says. His parish is now, he says, a multi-cultural community with mixed religions and nationalities from Poland, Romania, Brazil and Africa. “Locals put such value on this [Holy Communion] and it keeps the economy buoyant too,” he adds.

For Emma Bolger, whose daughter Lily is making her first communion with 60 others in a north city school, the excitement has been building since last year when her expectations would have been triggered seeing the preparations of the pupils in the class ahead. Bolger reckons that parents will be forking out upwards of €500-€1,000 and says that there is massive pressure for the event after the church ceremony.

In this parish families really try to make a big effort – I think it is part of our culture

“There is also pressure on girls not to be dressed the same, so many parents hunt for dresses in bridal boutiques as well as Dunnes Stores,” she says. In her case she got a bargain buy in Arnotts summer sale last year, a ballet-length dress in white satin with pearl detail reduced from €500 to €80 “and once you have the dress, the pressure is off. Little girls can be strong-willed and know what they want”.


Veils, tiaras

One of the best Holy Communion collections is that of Paul Costelloe in Dunnes Stores whose simple and stylish dresses (€80-€100) in satin, appliqué and lace come with good accessories – veils, tiaras, headpieces shoes, faux fur boleros and shoes. John Rocha still designs communion dresses for Debenhams at €100-€120 and at Arnotts, prices start at €125 up to €345.

At the other end of the spectrum, Marian Gale in her shop in Donnybrook, Dublin 4 sells nearly 300 Communion dresses every year. She imports a range of dresses from Spain and firmly maintains that “longer lengths are definitely in at the moment in ice white”. She keeps a record of schools and sizes and says that many customers who bought their wedding dresses from her come back to get their daughter’s Communion dresses.

“My crunchy silk dresses that are totally classic start at €399 up to €599 and sometimes double as flower girls at weddings – we would simply change the colour of the sash for the wedding.” Veils are handmade by her bridal suppliers from leftover vintage lace, making them particularly special.

Whatever about the dressing up, “it a milestone in a child’s life,” says Fr Coghlan. “In this parish families really try to make a big effort – I think it is part of our culture and if we lost it, we might lose something unique to us.”

For Emma, the bottom line is that the day is a happy one for Lily and a modest family celebration – “and Lily will also be wearing a Carrickmacross lace veil with swan detils that my grandmother made for me and which I kept. And the dress will be worn again to a family wedding later in the year”.