Ten tips for planning an Irish wedding from overseas
Most of the work can be done by bride and groom online anywhere in the world
Claire and John Coldrick flew in from London for a cake tasting months before their wedding at Breaffy House Hotel in Castlebar.
As if getting married were not nerve-wracking enough, trying to do it from overseas can add to the complication, stress and expense. Where are your friends and family when you need them? Across the sea and possibly in another time zone.
Given that the average wedding in Ireland in 2016 cost about €25,000, according to Weddingsonline.ie’s survey of 2,000 participants last January, you will want to have as little to worry about as possible. With that in mind, we have rounded up some advice from wedding planners, co-ordinators, venues and recent brides to help you plan your wedding from overseas with ease.
Here are their top tips starting with the most important one:
1. Jump into the paperwork
With all the excitement of getting engaged, many people forget about the boring administration, but it has to be done or there will be no wedding. You need to give notification of your wish to marry with the registrar at least three months before the wedding, but it can be hard to get an appointment so get in touch as soon as possible to make one and see what documents you need. Check out the notification requirements on the Citizens Information website, so that you can start to take action at least six months before you plan to tie the knot.
Wedding planner Rosemarie Meleady, who has been organising weddings in Ireland and abroad for 16 years, says paperwork often gets forgotten. “Start early as you may need to get a birth certificate or other paperwork,” she says. That can take a week or two to get and costs €20.
Stephanie Williams, who lives in Dubai, is getting married in April. She flew home from the UAE with her husband-to-be to meet the registrar. “We found the centres outside Dublin to be much quieter and willing to help. We registered in Roscommon. We had everything approved by email in advance and the meeting was very straightforward.”
Kevina Aherne, who is in the UK and is planning to get married in Armagh, adds, “If at all possible, ask a friend or family member to pick up the marriage registration form from your local town hall in Ireland. It saves so much time having it ready. Also you will need your passport and long form birth certificate to compete registration.”
Couples living abroad can request permission to make the three-month notification by post. If granted, the registrar will send you a form which you must complete and return. You will still have to make arrangements to meet the registrar at least five days before you get married in order to make the declaration (this is required before a Marriage Registration form can be issued), but at least you will be saved the extra trip back months before the wedding.
Catholic couples must do a pre-marital course too, which covers such topics as communication, conflict management, fertility, sexuality and parenting. Meleady, who has worked with clients living in Australia, the US, Malaysia and Sri Lanka, says sometimes Catholic couples can do a pre-marital course where they live. That’s what Nicky Cunningham, who got engaged last April, did. She and her fiancé are based in Aberdeen in Scotland and are attending a course at home in Ireland wasn’t an option, she says.
“The course was run in the function room of the city cathedral. The course is based on Christian principles and is designed for couples of all backgrounds Christian or otherwise. It was £100 (€117) per couple and we were offered a candlelit dinner every Wednesday after work before the course, which ran from 7.30pm until 9.45pm. The certificate awarded sufficed for our paperwork at home in Ireland.”
2. Set a budget and stick to it
If you want to know how much brides on average are spending now, check out the prices on Weddings Online, which lists everything from the cost of the average meal (€66) for guests to the amount spent on a honeymoon (€5,000).
Costs have gone up about 8 per cent in the past year, but there are ways to make savings. Dresses may be cheaper where you live abroad, for example. Ashley Sabourin-Burke bought her dress in Canada where she lives for her wedding to Kieran at the Ballyroe Heights Hotel in Tralee, Co Kerry. “My mom and dad brought it over to Ireland for me. They were asked at customs if the dress was going back – if not they would have had to pay duty. It was indeed going back, but I’m pretty sure they would not have tracked me down if it wasn’t.”
Keyna O’Dwyer McNamara, who lives in Adelaide in South Australia, is getting married next Christmas. She says, “It’s all about doing a budget and the main things to book and working away on it slowly. . . And yes the exchange rate is the thing to keep an eye on because everything costs more in the Aussie dollar.” That holds particularly true for those in Britain and the US too.
Lauren Bradley and her fiancé Patrick used to keep an eye on exchange rates while living in Perth, Australia. “When the exchange rates were good, we would send money home,” she says. Having an Irish bank account, or credit union account as Bradley did, into which you can transfer savings is the best plan.
If accepting cash gifts, consider setting up an account with Buy-our-honeymoon.com or other gift registers.
3. Decide on a venue
A venue that does not offer a wedding package will mean a lot more organisation on your part. If you hire an empty castle, you will have to think of everything down to what spoons you want. “Finding the right venue takes time,” says Meleady. “You really have to narrow it down and then visit. Or get a wedding planner or family or friends to do it.”
Saturdays and Fridays are the favourite days for weddings in Ireland, so you may need to book a year in advance or more if you have your heart set on a particular day at a popular property such as Ballymagarvey Village in Co Meath. Having a Humanist ceremony outside is increasingly popular, so outdoor venues are getting booked up at least a year in advance too. Just don’t expect the weather to conform, no matter how far in advance you reserve.
4. Keep a paper trail
Lauren Bradley says she organised every aspect of her wedding last December at St Mary’s Church, Clonmany in Donegal, followed by the reception at the Inishowen Gateway Hotel in Buncrana, while living in Perth. She did it over 22 months without a single trip home. “It can be done,” she says. “Organise everything via email. That way you have a record of everything.”
Bradley had separate folders in her inbox for the venue, photographer, videographer, online purchases, flights, invitations, RSVPs, money transfers and hen party. “That way it’s much easier to find specific emails. And keeping all emails – even if you don’t think you need them any more – is handy.This is a good reference to have if things don’t go according to plan.”
Sabourin-Burke agrees. She conducted all her correspondence through email and Facebook Messenger. “Any phone conversations should be followed up with a confirmation email too. I replied to emails with an email too. We had zero problems with vendors.”
5. Take advantage of help
Let your friends and family at home take part. Cunningham says, “The folks back home have been amazing but it is an emotional roller-coaster at times and financially straining too.”
Gráinne Smith, who got engaged 18 months ago while living in the UK, enlisted her mother to help with decisions as she now is in China. “We’re getting married in June. We got some things planned from the UK but for the past six months, I’ve been trying to plan our wedding in Ireland from China. Without my mam, there would be no wedding.”
Lisa Ní Bhroin, who is based in Melbourne is getting married in July at Ballybeg House in Co Wicklow. She says, “If you can go home to see, plan and book everything, then do. Sadly for us it’s not an option with lack of funds. But good support at home is the backbone of the operation. My mother and sister have been my eyes and ears on the ground and I couldn’t trust another human to lead us in the right direction. In saying that, I hate not being able to see things and meet people face to face. We have a wedding co-ordinator which I think is a must as we basically have to turn up on the day and do nothing.”
Ní Broin’s mother Rose Byrne says, “Myself and her father both looked at venues she was interested in and we also had to take into account the guests as well as the bride and groom . . . as so many Australian guest are coming we want them to enjoy the day hopefully our choices are what she herself would have chosen given if she could see the venue in reality but we we’re blown away with it.”
6. Be aware of cultural differences
Aislinn Barrett of Airfield House in Dundrum in Co Dublin says it’s best to let people know what is expected. “If the best man is from overseas, perhaps an American, make sure he is aware of his responsibilities for the day,” she says. “American weddings are quite different from Irish weddings in that the band leader in the US might well MC the wedding, introducing the couple and speakers, acting as go-to contact for the venue and even giving a speech.”
Also, at American weddings, guests will usually get up in between courses to dance, whereas here the band won’t usually be set up at that time.
7. Do your research
But don’t get lost in Google. The internet can be invaluable. Bradley used Forherandforhim.com to get her bridesmaid dresses custom made. She had one bridesmaid in Australia, one in Ireland and one in the UK. “All the girls had to do was go to a seamstress and get measured. I entered their measurements into the website and the dresses arrived labelled with each of the girls names on it. The fit and quality was amazing. And for a fraction of the price that you’d paid in a boutique.”
Don’t be wooed completely by pictures seen online however. Joan Costello Burke, an award-winning baker at Ivory Wedding Cakes in Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, warns that some wedding suppliers use pictures that are not of their own goods. It can happen with dresses, cakes, jewellery or shoes. Costello Burke, who has made cakes for customers living in Australia, the UK and New Zealand, advises booking a cake-tasting online for when you are home on a visit.
“If they can’t come, we advise them to send their mum or bridesmaids,” she says. “Ask around. Taste matters so a personal recommendation is the best.” Her next available group tasting session is in August. Claire and John Coldrick, for example, flew in from London for a cake tasting four months before their wedding at Breaffy House Hotel in Castlebar.
You can try to schedule a cake tasting to coincide with a wedding fair. Michelle Kelly in Perth, Australia, is getting married in June. “Do a trip home, if funds allow, ideally six months before the wedding to finalise everything. I feel so more prepared and calm now that I have talked to suppliers face to face, viewed the venue and had cake tasting. It’s hard to do but it can be done. You just have to be prepared and organised. Organisation is key.”
8. Join a group
Get into a closed Facebook group such as Help I’m Getting Married, which is free and has about 20,000 members. Most are brides-to-be in a similar situation and others are recently married, so it is a great place to crowdsource up-to-date information. Questions on everything to do with weddings will be answered promptly, ranging from how much to spend on a wedding ring, to where to find shoes that look just like a certain pair from Jimmy Choo.
9. Leave the inessentials to last
Flowers and other decorations can be organised easily, says Meleady. “Fashions and trends change so leave it to the end. You can gather ideas in the meantime. Pinterest is very handy for working out your style.” Just remember that the type of flowers you can have at your wedding may be affected by the time of year or the weather. Florists such as Adonis Flower Designers on Patrick Street in Dublin city centre put photographs up on their Facebook page regularly showing what they have done for other customers, and can recreate for you.
10. Expect the unexpected
No matter how efficient you are, something will probably go wrong. Sabourin-Burke says, “Our first priest and cake baker got very sick. So we had another priest, who was excellent, and my sister in law stepped in with the cake. It worked out in the end. She was so nervous, but it looked perfect and fit our individual cake toppers.”
The key is to do as much as you can as early as you can.
Bradley adds, “The day itself goes so fast, so all brides and grooms just need to ensure they take the time to enjoy it.”