Brexit means you could have the venue of your dreams sooner than you thought
What you should know before choosing your wedding venue for 2019
Happy Ring House: beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.
Saying “I do” is the easy part. For happy couples, choosing the venue is the real decision facing them. So what do you need to look for? Somewhere romantic for a start.
In the late 19th century Mount Falcon Estate in Ballina, Co Mayo, wasbuilt on a foundation of love.
It was the creation of a young man, Ultred Knox, who had asked his bride-to-be Nina Gore’s father for her hand in marriage. Prospective father-in-law said something to the effect of, if you love her that much, prove it. So he commissioned James Franklin Fuller – of Ashford Castle and Kylemore Abbey fame – to build him a house that looks like a castle, one fit for a queen.
It’s been reeling in loved-up couples ever since. Today, thanks to an estate spanning hundreds of acres, the property has all sorts of scenic locations perfect for a civil ceremony or a wedding, either in the woodlands or by the lakeside. If the weather is inclement, proceedings can be moved indoors to the hotel’s atmospheric lobby instead.
What makes a celebration here particularly special is guests can take over the entire 32-bedroom property, giving them the run of the house.
Irish weddings have changed enormously over the years and, just as the wedding breakfast was replaced by the wedding day with evening do, now couples are just as likely to lay on a three day event.
“Very often it’s close family on day one for a sit down dinner, the big day itself, and then on the third day, people stay on for activities on the estate. It’s a whole experience,” says marketing executive Clodagh Fleming. Couples are appointed a dedicated planner who works with them to ensure every detail is looked after, freeing them up to enjoy themselves.
Not every couple wants a long engagement and if that’s you, this could be a good year for short notice weddings. While very often hotels book up years in advance, the feeling among the industry is that, while 2018 was a great year for weddings, and bookings for 2020 are strong, 2019 is looking like being a little quieter. Call it a Brexit dividend: it means you could end up with the venue of your dreams sooner than you thought possible.
For those who want a civil ceremony but still want to walk down the aisle, it is possible to wed the two at Brooklodge Hotel and Macreddin Village in a lush corner of Wicklow. The hotel has its own private chapel on the grounds, by the brook that gives it its name.
Even though the chapel looks for all the world as if it’s been there for generations, it’s actually new, and very atmospheric. It seats around 150 people, and 80 per cent of the hotel’s weddings take place there. If the weather is good people can choose to marry in the garden area beside it.
Weddings receptions are held in a dedicated building, Brook Hall, which guests get entirely to themselves. It’s a fantastic space that holds not just a large function room but a pre-reception drinks space, guest bedrooms and its own swimming pool, entirely self contained, which makes for a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere.
Very few come for just one day now, weddings tend to be a three day event
Here too the big trend is towards three day events. “Very few come to us for just one day now,” says marketing executive Brid Murphy. “Weddings are huge affairs and people put an awful lot of work into them.”
In many cases it’s only the immediate family that will come before the big day, making the most of its Strawberry Tree and Italian restaurants, while the day after the wedding is given over to informal dining, such as a barbecue for guests.
With such expense involved, it’s nice to find ways to trim costs. One way can be to do away with the growing trend for “wedding favours”, little gifts the couple leaves at each place setting for guests. “Couples put a lot of thought into these but we often end up clearing them away when everyone’s gone,” says Murphy.
If doing away with them altogether to save money doesn’t suit you, some people simply leave a note to say they have donated a few euro to a local charity, such as Wicklow Hospice, as a wedding favour instead, which guests do appreciate.
For those who prefer a city wedding, nothing could be more central than Dublin’s swish Westin Hotel. The five star property offers a stunning function venue for civil ceremonies in its Banking Hall. “It’s our most unique selling point,” says marketing executive Ciara Brennan.
The hall is also entirely exclusive to wedding parties, with its own entrance and cloakroom, drinks reception area, bar and dining room. It only hosts one wedding a day too.
“The great thing about the Banking Hall is that it is such a beautiful room that guests don’t need to add very much to it,” says Brennan. With some venues, the bills for what can seem likehidden extras, such as pipe and drape wall dressings, can soon add up.
Choose a room that’s impressive as it is and you’ll save a small fortune
In most hotels, where wedding receptions are held in function rooms, that could just as easily be hosting the annual widget maker expo the following day, such extras are necessary. Choose a room that’s impressive as it is and you’ll save a small fortune. “Picking the right room will save you money in the long run,” she says.
If anyone should know, it is Brennan. Not only does she look after weddings at the Westin but she recently got engaged herself, so her antennae are up. “I’m busy working with guest weddings and robbing their ideas,” she says.
So what has she got? “I saw a lovely one recently where guests from the bride’s side were all given a key and guests from the groom’s side, a lock. You had to try and see if yours fit with theirs. If you found the right one, you got a free drink. It really got people who didn’t know each other talking.”
THE FOUR Cs: HOW TO CHOOSE AN ENGAGEMENT RING
For generations of Dubliners, and those from farther afield, McDowell’s Jewellers on O’Connell Street is the Happy Ring House. Like how Clerys’ clock was the place to meet, the Happy Ring House was the place to get your engagement ring.
The business is now in its third generation of the McDowell family, which means that the granddaughters of its original clients are coming in to follow on their own family tradition, and get their rings there too.
For those in search of an engagement ring today a little bit of knowledge can be helpful – but not so much that you get confused, says Nicola McDowell. “The important part is the four Cs: colour, carat, cut and clarity.”
Always go to a reputable jewellers because these will have their own “house grade” of diamond, and will not trade in stones that fall below this standard, she says. Other than that, don’t be blinded by science, go for what you like.
“It’s a bit like buying a car: what’s good for someone with a young child is Isofix, not the power of the engine.”
Apart from the four Cs, it might be the fluorescence of the stone, its polish or symmetry, that appeals to you, but beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.
It’s a brave man who chooses an engagement ring on his own
Wedding bands are simpler still, but here too there are certain facets to bear in mind. “When you’re choosing your engagement rings, be conscious of the fact that there is going to be a wedding ring beside it. Always ensure it is the exact same material, whether it’s gold or platinum, because one eats into the other,” she says.
Be careful about twisted bands in either ring, because if you have one, it is unlikely to sit flush with one another, she cautions. If these are to your taste, you may have to have them custom made, which can be costly.
For same sex couples wedding rings with stones encrusted in the band are popular. Where a traditional engagement ring is being given, for the most part both partners come to choose it.
“It’s a brave man who chooses an engagement ring on his own.” What McDowell does see a lot of people buying is “promise rings”, a cheaper ring – still pretty but more like costume jewellery – for around €150 with which to propose.
The couple can then return together to buy the ring proper and the shop will reimburse them the cost of the promise ring. “It also buys people a bit of time if they want to save up for the engagement ring,” she says.
Right now traditional yellow gold is coming back into fashion, with platinum and rose gold becoming less popular. Though having couples come in for an engagement or wedding ring is always a lovely occasion, for McDowell, it’s the return visit for the eternity ring she likes best. “I get more excited by that because of the huge variety of them people choose. Engagement rings and wedding bands are more standard.”
The old maxims about the value of ring having to be a multiple of a monthly salary are long gone too, but 60 per cent of engagement rings at the shop sell for about €3,000, with 25 per cent at €5,000. Many people set up an instalment plan, so never be afraid to ask, she says. One big question is enough to be worrying about.