Planning that big day from far away


It is important for me to know that there is someone on the other side taking care of our wedding, writes CIARA KENNY

CRICKETS ARE heralding the night outside. In Sydney, Cora Mason and John Keane settle down on the sofa with a cup of tea after a long day at work. The familiar blips and bleeps of Skype ring out from the computer, and up pops Carly Kennedy on screen, the woman who is helping the couple to organise a very Irish wedding from the other side of the world.

Kennedy works as a wedding coordinator for the Limerick Strand Hotel, and the first time the couple “met” her on Skype, she used a web-cam to give them an interactive tour, which was decorated for another wedding. She answered their queries as she walked through the lobby and reception rooms, demonstrated different lighting schemes, and showed them around the honeymoon suite where they would spend their first night as husband and wife.

Mason wanted to marry in her hometown of Foynes in Co Limerick, but as she hasn’t lived there for seven years, deciding on a hotel was a challenge. “We had to narrow them down by looking through their websites, but it was very difficult as pictures can be deceiving,” she says. “Seeing it on screen and being able to talk things through was fantastic and gave us reassurance that email and phone contact could never have.”

Keane, a 29-year-old carpenter, left Gorey in Co Wexford in February last year in search of work, and Mason, 28, took a career break for a year from her teaching job to join him in August. Although they are enjoying their time in Australia, Ireland is where they see their future, and they couldn’t imagine getting married anywhere else.

Approximately 5 per cent of respondents to last week’s Ipsos MRBI/Irish Times survey of Irish people who have emigrated in the past four years have married since they left Ireland, and anecdotes suggest that many are coming home to tie the knot. Hotels, wedding planners and suppliers are responding to the emigration trend by offering innovative and interactive services to help emigrants to organise their ideal Irish weddings from afar.

Emigrant couples such as Mason and Keane make up almost a quarter of the total weddings booked for the Strand Hotel this year, a significant increase on previous years, according to the general manager Seán Lally. “Skype enables us to communicate with the couples on a more personal level, and allows them to build a rapport with their coordinator prior to their big day,” he says. Demand for the service so far has been high, and Lally believes it is a service that all hotels will introduce in time.

Thys Vogels of, an online wedding directory, says enquiries from Irish couples who have recently moved overseas have increased by 15 per cent in the past two years. The group expect the figure to double in the next 18 to 24 months as the cohort of young people who are currently adjusting to their new lives abroad take the next life step.

According to Karen Birney, editor of, family, friends and familiarity are the main factors luring emigrants back for this important day in their lives. “A lot of people who have to leave the country still see their home in Ireland and will hopefully still want to return when the country gets back on ts feet,” she says. “If they see themselves returning to bring up kids or to settle down, they may want to be married here too before they get a chance to do that.”

Organising a wedding from another country is going to be stressful, but according to Birney, couples who give themselves plenty of time, do their research, ask around for recommendations, and trust others at home to help them out, can organise a very successful celebration without having to make the trip back to Ireland before the big day.

Skype, email and interactive websites have made it easier than ever to make arrangements and to envisage what places and services are like without experiencing them in person in advance.

Back in Sydney, Mason and Keane have spoken to Kennedy several times since their first hotel tour, chosen the colour scheme for the reception room based on what they saw on screen, and booked a videographer and a band.

Next time they speak to her, they will discuss the menu and a timetable for the big day.

“It is important for me to know that there is someone on the other side taking care of our wedding who I can trust to give us the best day,” says Mason.

Mexico: Sarah Hilliard and Hugo Vera Ugalde

SARAH HILLIARD AND Hugo Vera Ugalde have lived together in Querétaro in Mexico for three years, where she works as an English language coordinator in a private bilingual school, and he runs a transport business. Hilliard was visiting her family in Killarney for Christmas when Ugalde flew over to surprise her.

“I got such a shock when he walked in. We went for a walk near Muckross Lake on New Year’s Day and he went down on one knee in the mud and proposed. I said yes and then things got a bit crazy,” she says.

In the three days they had left in Ireland before returning to Mexico, the couple managed to organise the church service, book a photographer, choose a hotel for the reception, and buy Hilliard’s wedding dress. Since then they have finalised the invitations and arranged the cake.

“We decided to have a small wedding as there won’t be a big crowd from Mexico and we want to try to have equal numbers on both sides,” Hilliard says. “We will have to have a civil wedding in Mexico as well so those who can’t make the trip will still get to celebrate with us.”

The couple are confident that everything will be well organised in advance of their Irish wedding in July, but arrangements for the Mexican civil ceremony in two weeks’ time are much more last-minute.

“We had to pay an official court translator to translate my birth certificate, and we’ll also have to do blood tests in order to get permission to marry,” she says. “The earliest we can submit all the papers is two weeks before the date of the wedding, which cuts things very fine if anything goes wrong. Nothing is straightforward here.”

New York: Susie and Paudie Hanley

Susie Donnelly and Paudie Hanley both grew up in Kenmare, but it wasn’t until Donnelly moved to New York three years ago that she met Paudie, who had been living there for 18 years, for the first time. They fell in love, and after getting engaged while on holiday on the Virgin Islands in 2010, the first big decision they had to make as a couple was where to hold the wedding.

“I love New York and I did consider getting married over here, but Paudie was definite that he wanted to go back to Ireland,” says Donnelly. “Our families really wanted us to have the wedding in Kenmare, and because we are both from the same town, it was easy to pick the location.”

Donnelly flew over and back to Ireland four times in the 12 months before the wedding last December to make arrangements. “I was very lucky to be in a position where I was able to do that,” she says. “It would be very difficult to try to arrange everything over email or the phone from the other side of the world.”

The pair married in the church where they had both gone to Mass growing up, and the reception was held with 250 guests in the Kenmare Bay Hotel, where several of Donnelly’s friends had hosted their weddings.

“Some of our friends from New York don’t have their papers, so they couldn’t travel, which was a shame,” she says. “If we had had it in the US, we would have had all our New York friends there, but many of our Irish friends and family wouldn’t have been able to come, given the circumstances with the economy.”

Those who couldn’t make it to Ireland sent messages by email and text throughout the day, and the newlyweds spoke to some over Face Time, an internet video link similar to Skype. “They were able to see me with my dress on,” she says. “It was great they could share in the excitement of the day.”