Daragh Doyle, celebrant and wedding planner, had a quiet pandemic. But the lack of weddings during the Covid-19 pandemic is now driving a boom in bookings, as love seeks to make up for lost time.
“I already have 60 bookings for next year. It’s exceptionally busy. I’m out the door. In 2023, I’m getting a lot of bookings as well. And even this month, it’s been one of my busiest months ever.
“I’ve between one and three weddings per week,” he said, adding: “Obviously there’s a lot of backlog, then there’s the people who are going to get engaged over Christmas, that’s always a huge one.”
There is nervousness around the recent surge in cases and the transmissibility of the new Omicron variant, Mr Doyle acknowledged, with many couples wondering if their wedding will be able to proceed or if there will be capacity limits put in place again.
“People are just hoping it goes ahead. I’ve five weddings between now and the end of the year, and they’re happy to work with the midnight curfew. They just don’t want to postpone any more,” he said.
The demand for Mr Doyle's services is largely domestic, with many international couples who like the idea of getting married in Ireland not yet having the confidence to travel.
“There’s still a lot of uncertainty for the international wedding. The Americans and Europeans haven’t come back yet,” the Dublin-based wedding planner said.
But even without the international market, the increased demand is already forcing people into moving away from the more traditional wedding days late in the week.
“For 2022, there are weddings every day of the week. There are a lot of Sunday weddings, which you wouldn’t have seen before. There’s Monday weddings,” Mr Doyle said.
“Literally every day of the week, because they can’t get the venue so they have to go with an alternative date. The Fridays and Saturdays are effectively gone,” he said.
Previously, there had been a lull in wedding business in November and January, but that is not the case over the next two years at least. And this demand is being seen across the country.
Ruth Conlon, sales and marketing manager at Lough Rynn Castle in Co Leitrim, said the hotel had essentially been booked out for weddings next year, with its furthest reservation in 2024.
“Most venues have such a packed diary for 2022 with everyone who has already postponed, it leaves very little room for anybody who is newly engaged and looking to book a date. Capacity is definitely an issue. There are only so many dates in the year,” she said.
“In 2023, it’s probably ahead of where it would have been in previous years, but there are still some dates available.”
Ms Conlon added that some people had decided to hold out for a couple of years in the hope that things will “settle down”.
“The people who cancelled, that really came down to people from abroad who postponed three or four times and eventually because it’s still so uncertain, they decided to do something where they’re living,” she said.
“Others have decided to have a family first and then have a wedding in a couple of years’ time.”
Wedding planner Michelle McDermott, of Dream Irish Wedding in Co Limerick, said there were normally 20,000 weddings a year, and next year there was the potential to be 35,000, based on the numbers that had to postpone over the past year and a half.
And while demand has changed, so, too, has the way in which they are being carried out.
An increasing number of couples are opting for a “one-stop-shop” wedding, rather than a church and hotel wedding, which planners have attributed to the pandemic impact.
“There are also couples now who have seen and maybe even experienced the smaller, more intimate weddings maybe as a guest, and want that. People no longer have that hang-up that we need to have hundreds there to have a good party,” Ms McDermott said.
The public health restrictions that have kept friends and family apart for the most part of the past 18 months now means that they appreciate the opportunity to celebrate with loved ones even more.
“Also, what has come through is that people’s values of weddings is going slightly back to the core value in that it’s more about the couple and the special people they would like at the wedding,” she added.
However, Ms McDermott has also noticed a smaller number of couples who have felt that coming to the end of the pandemic, they want to have a big wedding next year to celebrate not only their marriage but also the return to life as we knew it.
“They’ve decided since they’ve been locked up for the past 18 months, they’re going to throw everything they have at the celebration. So there are two sides of the coin,” she added.
Deirdre Ryan, wedding co-ordinator at Markree Castle, has seen these trends emerging in the Co Sligo venue as well.
The castle’s minimum wedding number is 140 guests and while previously most weddings would have been closer to 200, bookings for next year are much closer to the minimum.
Ms Ryan has also noticed that couples are willing to spend a little bit more on the celebration, due, in part, to savings they may have acquired during the lockdown periods.
“For the next year or two, people have had their money already saved for the wedding. They’re upgrading to fireworks, upgrading to champagne instead of prosecco, or getting a nicer wine with dinner,” she said.
Even with the extra expense that some couples have decided on, she said the main focus of weddings in recent months had been about connecting with people more than anything else.
“It’s really about bringing people together now. It’s more about being thankful on the day about who is around you, rather than some of the frilly stuff that goes with it.”