Planning an Irish wedding from the US? consulted with Nataly Kelly, cultural communications strategist with Common Sense Advisory, a market research firm that specializes in multilingual and global business.

“We travelled to Ireland from the US for our wedding. I am American (originally from Illinois), and my husband is Irish, born and raised in Dublin, but we both live in Boston. Many of our friends and family in the US wanted to come over to Ireland anyway, and it was a simply amazing experience. We were married at St. Brendan’s Church in Birr (Co. Offaly), and the reception was held at Kinnitty Castle. The date of our wedding was June 30, 2004. We had about 90 guests and quite a large bridal party (6 bridesmaids and 6 groomsmen).

Did you organise everything yourself from overseas or hire a local wedding planner?

We organized most of the details ourselves, but Kinnitty had a wedding coordinator who was a tremendous help for the reception organizing – her services were included in the wedding package we purchased. It turned out to be more of a multi-day event because so many people were traveling from other countries. There was a lot to manage, especially because we had no relatives in the local area near Birr/Kinnitty who could help us vet the vendors.

How difficult was it sourcing wedding suppliers from afar (eg. Hotel, florist, cake, band etc.)?

I didn’t think it was difficult – I thought it was fun, and I loved the entire experience of planning the wedding! We first became aware of Kinnitty by doing online searches for potential venues – we relied a lot on the internet to find vendors. As for the florist and cake decorator, those were recommended by Kinnitty. However, all other vendors (bagpiper, horse and carriage, car hire for wedding party, after-hours musicians, Irish dancers) were ones that we found by doing online research.

For any customization or things that are not typical pieces of a typical wedding, I think website research is extremely important. For example, we wanted much of our ceremony to be in Irish, so I found a translator through the Irish Translators and Interpreters Association website – I am a translator and I work in the language field as an analyst at Common Sense Advisory, so this element was very important to me.

I also located a ceilidh band online as the main reception entertainment, and they sent me a sample CD so that I could hear their music. In fact, I found nearly all of the vendors by searching online and reading reviews, then calling them to talk with them myself and meeting them in person if  possible.

Did you travel over well in advance of the wedding for preparations on at least one occasion?

Yes, we were engaged in May 2003, and we started doing online research immediately. My husband had to go to Ireland for work, so he traveled with his parents to Kinnitty, where he took photos and videos, and they gave me their feedback on it as a potential venue. They fell in love with it. He put down a deposit to secure the date – I was confident enough to go with the venue based on their opinions. A couple of months later, we traveled over to meet with the staff at Kinnitty and the vendors. Within that time period, we set up appointments to meet with all of the vendors that we could not communicate with as easily virtually.

For example, we met with the florist to see some samples of the ideas she had for the bouquets, buttonholes and church decorations. We also met with the ceremony musicians to hear samples of songs they could sing for us. However,  nearly all of these could have been done without an in-person visit. We also met with the photographer in person, as he wanted to show us some ideas and samples of work he had done.

We did not meet with the cake decorator, because we had communicated via email about all the cake details, and I sent her photos of what we wanted. We did not do meet the reception musicians, because they had sent us the CD and we were happy with that. We did not meet with the videographer either. I think the most important thing to visit in person is the venue. It’s only when you walk into a place that you can confirm whether or not you can envision your wedding there. Also, it may be important to meet with the church staff in advance, especially if you are getting married in a small  local parish in the countryside, like we did. I also set up trials with the makeup artist and hairstylist – this was extremely important and is critical for most brides coming from overseas – you want to make sure you can trust the person who will define how you look in your wedding photos! That is another thing I would advise doing in person, and not leaving to chance.

How did you find the service of Irish wedding suppliers?

I found the Irish wedding suppliers we worked with to be absolutely excellent. Many of the Irish vendors seemed to be quite laid-back in their approach compared to vendors in the US. For example, I was worried because we had only booked the after-hours musician with a phone call, and we had nothing in writing, nor had we paid a deposit. I was concerned that we would have no way of proving that we had actually booked him for that date. However, he showed up true to his word and did an excellent job, even better than we could have expected.

While searching online what were the key factors in determining which supplier to use?

Reviews and being able to see samples of work were the most important factors when searching for suppliers online. The more detail I could obtain, the better. In the case of the makeup artist, Marie Joseph (Rathfarnham), she was very helpful and I was able to see photos of her work online before I met her in person, so I was confident in her skill. I also read dozens of great reviews of her work. With the videographer, I do regret not getting a sample prior to booking, because in the end, his style was not necessarily the same as ours, and the editing ended up being not so great. I had seen positive reviews, but those couples may have had different taste. But, he gave us the master files so we could edit again ourselves. In 2008, there is no reason why videographers can’t put up digital sample files on their websites – this would help give overseas brides greater confidence.

Our photographer had many online galleries available, so we were sure we wanted to book him, and he also showed us many testimonials that convinced us. Even if a supplier provides great samples of prior work, that is worth little if he/she shows up 2 hours late! So, the testimonials are what sealed the deal for us.

Assuming they had websites or website listings could suppliers have done more to get your business, such as having had more photos, videos, podcasts etc.?

Definitely. The more transparent a supplier can be, the better. Even if all a supplier has is a small web listing, it is a good idea for suppliers to have a list of references for prospective customers to call if they want more assurance. This is really helpful, because in talking with a real person, you can get a good sense of how well they liked the supplier, and you can ask many questions.

What advice would you have for anyone from North America planning a wedding overseas?

I have too much advice to list here, but here are a few things:

1. If you expect guests to travel from overseas, be prepared to help
them with travel arrangements – especially if they are older,
traveling with children, or have special needs. Type of a list of
common questions, with recommended airlines, hotels near the venue,
etc. In our case, we actually hired a bus from Dublin to take most
of our overseas guests to Kinnitty to prevent them all from having
to hire cars and make their way on their own. This turned out to be
one of the funnest parts of our wedding, as people were singing and
telling jokes on the bus all the way to Kinnitty. Even the bus
driver joined in! This is one of the things people still tell us
they loved about our wedding, even though it was the day before the
wedding. People really appreciate if you take the time to think
about their needs.

2. Give guests as much notice as possible. We gave them a year to
make plans, request vacation time, etc. Also, don’t be offended if
not everyone can travel over. It is a long journey and entails a lot
of extra expense. However, many people love Ireland and take
advantage to make an entire vacation out of the experience.

3. Understand that there are cultural differences. For example, in
Ireland, the bride pays for bridesmaid dresses and other expenses,
but in the U.S., the bride does not pay any of this. So, it is quite
common for U.S. brides to have many bridesmaids, as it does not add
much additional cost. Car hire and other suppliers in Ireland may
be surprised if you have a large number of bridesmaids, even though
it is not uncommon in the U.S. Also, in Ireland, many guests
expect/prefer fruitcake, which is the traditional wedding cake, but
this would be strange for most American guests as it is only a
tradition for some people at Christmas. In our case, we had multiple
tiers with the smallest tier of fruitcake so that guests who
preferred that could have their choice. Also, in Ireland, some women
may wear hats, so if you are having a formal wedding, it might be a
good idea to alert American guests of this, as it is not that
typical for American weddings. Several of our guests were excited to
have a chance to wear a hat to a wedding, so we let them know about
this in advance.

4. If getting married in a Catholic church in Ireland, you will need
to book with plenty of advance notice in many cases, and there may
be requirements if you have not been baptized or confirmed. In our
case, we had a local Irish Pastoral Center in Boston that helped us
meet the requirements.

5. In Ireland, weddings go on until the wee hours of the morning.
This is not as common in the U.S. You may want to prepare American
guests for the idea in advance, so they get plenty of sleep
beforehand! I would also recommend booking a trad band or musician
to lead a singsong in the after-hours.

6. For us, it was important to celebrate Ireland as well as our
marriage. We had our menus, ceremony programs, biblical readings,
and songs in Irish as well as English. We also spoke our vows to
each other in Irish, and many people gave toasts in Irish. This is
something our guests remark on to this day. They may never again
have the chance to hear this beautiful language, because it is so
rarely heard outside of Ireland. We wanted to give them this
experience. As a linguist, it was very important to me.

7. We also had Irish dancers and a ceilidh band, because we wanted
our overseas guests to have some exposure to Irish culture. This
way, the wedding was fun and entertaining for our guests who
travelled from so far away.

8. Don’t forget to thank your overseas guests at the wedding
reception for traveling such a long way! We calculated the distance
of the person who had traveled the farthest (from California) and
gave her special recognition in our toasts.

9. If you have children attending, be sure to remember them. We had
about 8 children, and we knew many of them would be weary from
travel, so we put a bag on each seat for them at the reception with
coloring books, crayons and inexpensive treats to keep them happy
and occupied.

Did you set a budget and if so did you stay under budget? (Don’t
need to know how much)

Yes, we did set a budget, and we were quite good in sticking to it.
In 2004, the price of holding a wedding at a castle in Ireland was
roughly half the cost of having it at a similar-quality hotel in a
major city such as Boston. We believe we saved a tremendous amount
of money by having our wedding in Ireland, but of course, the
exchange rate fluctuations may have changed this. One thing I highly
recommend is having vendors quote you a price in your local
currency – U.S. or Canadian dollars – and to get an agreement in
writing that this is the amount you will pay. Otherwise, you are
subject to currency fluctuations. Some vendors will not agree to
this, but it is worth asking.

Any other thoughts, stories, anecdotes and advice?

It is helpful to give people maps, not just of the church to the
reception venue, but of the local area. My maid of honor and her
husband stayed at a B&B on the castle grounds, and at the rehearsal
dinner, they did not show up. After a couple of hours, we learned
they had gotten lost and were walking around in the woods trying to
find their way out! In hindsight, it would have been a good idea to
ask people to bring walkie talkies. These days, there are more
global cell phones, so it is not as much of a problem. But, the key
is that people will be unfamiliar with the area, so anything that
can be done to help them get around is key.

One important piece of advice is to confirm, confirm, confirm
appointments with suppliers! I had a difficult experience in that I
did my hairstyle trial with a hairdresser who worked at the castle
spa. She was a local girl who invented a very creative style, with a
Celtic knot incorporated into the design. It was perfect for my
dress. When I called a couple of months before the wedding to
confirm the appointment, the spa said she was no longer working
there! So, I managed to track her down through the other
hairdressers and find out where she was working. I booked the
appointment at the other salon instead. But, had I waited until the
last minute, or not confirmed, I would not have had the same
hairstyle that I had planned.

An anecdote that I will also share is that the bus driver we hired
came to the castle the night of our reception with his wife, and he
bought my husband and myself a drink. That was so very kind of him –
I don’t know if this ever happens in America, but I was completely
taken aback. Also, the makeup artist bought us a wedding present, a
small but beautiful painting. It is not typical for vendors to give
presents, but we tried very hard to develop good relationships with
all our suppliers. They treated us so kindly as a result!

Another anecdote that is probably of less interest to readers is
that there is a story behind my dress. Brian and I were in a toy
store to buy a present for my nephew, and we saw a doll called
Princess of Ireland. The doll had red hair (like me) and was wearing
a beautiful green dress with Celtic embroidery and a green velvet
cape, and my boyfriend bought it for me and said he’d love to see me
in that dress someday. When we got engaged, I asked my mother if
she could make the dress (she has sewn all my life), and she did.
Green happens to be a color of luck and represents fortune, health,
and life, whereas white was not a traditional color in Celtic times
(nor is it a good color for me.) My mother made the dress, and it
was very unique but perfect for us as it represented something very
special to us.”

Nataly Kelly
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One Response to Planning an Irish wedding from the US?

  1. Paul Cawley. says:

    Hi I have just come across your write up and I found it interesting. I am in the process of building a website, which will target all IrIsh business.The idea is to have a major site where you can hopefully find every thing from long lost relations,to booking a castle in ireland. I would like to get some feed back from anyone that may find this website a benefit, to making contact with Ireland.

    Thank You

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