Getting hitched with music, poetry, jigs and craic in Cork's register office

 

The groom was nervous. That was obvious. When it came to the point where he had to intone the line: "I take thee to be my lawful wife", he said instead: "I take thee to be my awful wife." Not an auspicious start.

"We'll have to do this again," said the registrar, Mr Bill Ramsell. There were uneasy giggles, but it all worked out well in the end. Mr Ramsell oversees civil marriages in Cork and Kerry.

"It's a happy job. You meet all kinds of interesting people, and the occasion is always a happy one. Why wouldn't it be? People are getting married. We've had wonderful occasions here, from hippies wearing wild flowers to poetry readings, songs, dancing and fiddle-playing. Recently we had a west Cork wedding. After the formal part of the ceremony, the men rolled up their trousers and danced a jig around the courtyard. It was a great experience," he said.

The arrival of divorce in Ireland has increased business for the Cork Register Office and the newly-appointed registrar. It is a sign of a more secular State. Last year there were 109 civil marriages in Cork and 36 in Kerry. The year before the comparable figures were 71 in Cork and 21 in Kerry. But for the first quarter of this year 33 civil marriages have already taken place. Mr Ramsell thinks that by the end of this year he will have married as many as 150 couples.

And how long does it take to get hitched in a civil ceremony? "Eight minutes," comes the reply, but that's not the whole story.

It is a requirement that everyone turns up on time, and there are strict procedures that must be followed before the big day gets under way. When it does, a genuine welcome is given to the couples and, despite the speed of the nuptials, there is no pressure on the newly-weds and their guests to move on. "We give every wedding a minimum of half an hour. That's our policy," says the registrar.

Do they feel just as married as if it happened in a church? "Of course they do," he replies.

It only costs, all told, £31 to get married in a register office, and afterwards the happy ones usually repair to a hostelry or hotel to wine and dine.

The registrar and his staff do everything in their power to make the occasion a special one. The welcome, the respect, the dignity of the occasion are paramount. And despite being a civil ceremony, the people involved often go to great lengths to make the day a memorable one. Sometimes they bring their own red carpet and arrive in limousines. Often the full regalia is worn to match the bride's white and full-flowing gown.

On other occasions the crowd scene might be different. The wedding room has 20 seats but has accommodated up to 50. During some weddings informality is the order of the day.

At other times the musicians hold sway and make a "session" of the event. There are times also when total privacy is what's wanted. Just the couple and the witnesses. The formalities, the oath on the Bible affirming that everything written in the forms is correct and in accordance with the law, then the quick civil ceremony and gone.

Summer is the busiest time of the year for the Register Office.

People are moving, and why wouldn't they, given the kind of weather to which we are subjected? There are honeymoons; birth certs needed for foreign travel. All human life comes through these doors. That's why Mr Ramsell likes his job so much.

But for those tying the knot, there are stringent moves to be gone through. Residency must be proven in the city, and there are checks and balances to ensure compliance with that requirement. If there is any suspicion to the contrary, the registrar and his staff will know.

What about bigamists arriving to add to their store of wives? "We have no record of that kind of thing," Mr Ramsell said.