To get your dream wedding you need to start with a dream property. Securing a great hotel is a tried and tested formula, but for something extra special why not select a private castle that specialises in weddings?
They offer a number of advantages. For a start, theres no risk of bumping into another wedding party on what should be your big day alone. Theres also no risk of Joe Public popping in from the bar to have a gawp.
Ireland has a number of stunning options which you can book out in their entirety, including Luttrellstown Castle near Castleknock in Dublin, where Victoria and David Beckham famously celebrated their nuptials.
This beautiful, original 15th century castle has 20 bedrooms, sleeping 40, which wedding parties very often book out for two or three days at a time. This allows them time to have a social rehearsal dinner the night before and perhaps an informal barbecue the day after the wedding.
Its main ballroom holds 120 guests. For bigger affairs, its glass marquee, the Orangerie, is available during summer months and holds 350 of your nearest and dearest. You can opt to have both the wedding ceremony and the wedding reception on site, for added exclusivity.
The property was built and maintained as a private residence for centuries. Today it is co-owned by squillionaires JP McManus and John Magnier, so you know it is a very high-end venue, with original chandeliers and tapestries. Great for wedding photography, it has 226 hectares (560 acres) of parkland which Queen Victoria will have enjoyed when she stayed in the castle, twice.
Despite the unmitigated luxury, its much more accessible than you might think, with a B&B rate comparable to that of a five-star hotel.
Gorgeous Darver Castle, near Dundalk in Co Louth, is another 15th century property which, again, is not a hotel but a very special wedding venue option, which also offers accommodation on site.
It is still family run and hosts only one wedding per day, so you get complete exclusivity that allows you wander around in your temporary home from home, enjoying afternoon tea in the Castle kitchen, for example.
Darver Castle in Co Louth is still family run and hosts only one wedding per day
There are a total of 54 bedrooms on the estate, all decorated to a very high standard and catering for 120 guests in total. Here too you have a wedding co-ordinator on hand throughout the day to make sure everything runs on time and smoothly, with all sorts of little details included in your package such as personalised menus, seating plans and centrepieces.
It has a magnificent banqueting suite that caters for weddings from 50 to 280 guests, with one bar in the room. If youve ever been to a hotel wedding where half the guests decamp to the bar to watch an Ireland match, youll appreciate the benefits of that. It also offers a late bar with no added bar extension fee a bonus.
We always advise couples to book their band and church or ceremony right away and always keep in touch with your suppliers in the run-up to the wedding. Book vendors you connect with on a personal level as you will deal with these people on a regular basis so I feel its important that you click with them, says Anne Darcy, Darver Castles wedding specialist.
Couples are increasingly customising their big day with fresh ideas such as smoke bomb photographic opportunities or drumming tattoos in the evening, she says. Also popular are Darvers grazing tables, which allow guests to snack on a range of goodies as they please.
The right wedding venue is of course just one element. The right dress is, for some brides, an even bigger decision. As ever, the best advice is to take advice.
Make an appointment with a reputable shop, says Marian Gale, legendary owner of the eponymous boutique in Donnybrook. The problem is that a lot of bridal shops are closing down. Weve been here for 40 years were not going anywhere.
The reason you need to make an appointment is because with a wedding dress, you really need to get help. The idea of just picking a dress just like that wont work. This is the dress of your life, of your dreams. You need the help of someone experienced to pick it. What you want is people asking where did you get the dress not who let you out in it, she says.
Marian Gale sells a full range of off-the-peg dresses from sizes 6 to 18. Thats an important factor in its success. How can you judge a wedding dress if all you are seeing is a size 8 sample? You need to try it on. With us, what you see is what you get, because we do all our alterations in-house.
The boutique sells headpieces, veils and accessories too, including jewellery. Among her brides, by far the preferred colour is ivory white. Another big trend Gale is seeing is a move to a more pared back style, with less heavy beading or appliqué.
When you are making your choice, pay particular attention to the back. Back detailing is very important. Regardless of where you get married or what kind of ceremony you have, wedding guests will spend a large portion of it looking at your back, says Gale.
Dresses at the store cost between 1,100 and 1,900. I dont do 5,000 dresses because I think youre much better off spending that on your honeymoon. Youll get an absolutely beautiful dress from us for 1,300.
The best way to find suppliers is to attend a wedding fair, such as the Bride of the Year Show which takes place on January 25th and 26th in Dublins RDS. It has tonnes of exhibitors on hand as well as catwalk shows from top bridal boutiques, with discounts to show visitors offered by some suppliers.
Dresses at Marian Gale in Donnybrook cost between 1,100 and 1,900
Wedding expert Sara Kennedy hosts the events I Do School, a series of seminars and workshops covering all aspects of weddings and wedding etiquette. Kennedy is author of The Ultimate Wedding Planning Guide Ireland and one of the countrys top wedding bloggers.
Her advice when it comes to finding the ideal dress is to keep an open mind and talk to the experts. Go in with an open mind and put yourself in the hands of the owner of a boutique to find out what suits you best. They have a lot of expertise and will have received extensive training from their suppliers so they know what can and cant be altered, for example, says Kennedy.
She too has witnessed the trend towards pared back wedding gowns with clean lines but has also seen the emergence of a second trend of introducing touches of colour, including reds and gold.
Bridezilla is however totally passe at least, that is, the kind that insists her bridesmaids should look like meringues. The trend now is for all sorts of different dresses for bridesmaids, as well as trousers, simply unified by colour palette. They realise that bridesmaids come in all shapes and sizes and that the main thing is that everybody is happy and comfortable says Kennedy, in what is also a perfect manifesto for married life.
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Honeymoon destinations
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See for more.