Belfast Telegraph

How we made our Co Down rural retreat into a wedding venue - 'marrying in the woods is not for everyone - it is very bohemian'

After years working in the wedding industry, Rachael and Ed Lindsay have started a new venture on their family land at Finnebrogue Woods in Co Down, offering couples the chance to marry in a dream rural setting

By Karen Ireland

A Downpatrick couple are combining all their passions to create a new business making dreams come true for local couples planning to get married. Ed and Rachael Lindsay are bringing together the experience and knowledge they have gained from their respective careers in the wedding industry to join forces in a new venture, Finnebrogue Woods.

Though Ed (43) has been working in the wedding business for the past six years, he'd spent the earlier part of his career in the motor trade with family business, Lindsay Cars. But in 2009 he'd decided it was time for a change. "I handed in my company car, my phone and my comfortable pension and when everyone else was panicking about the recession I decided to have a complete career change and started to hire out Nordic Tipis as an alternative to the traditional white marquee," he explains.

Ed's commercial acumen and creativity paid off and his successful Magnakata business took off against all the odds. As well as offering unique tipi venues for weddings across Ireland, he catered for music festivals, including Electric Picnic and Oxegen, and the Dubai Irish Open. He also featured on an episode of television show, Don't Tell the Bride.

"Business has been good. I had great faith the tipis would take off and they did. We have worked in every county in Ireland as well as further afield," explains Ed, who studied agriculture at college in Gloucestershire.

Ed grew up on a beautiful farm near Downpatrick and, like so many others, met his future wife Rachael at a wedding.

"Our grandmothers lived next door to each other in Holywood, so we had met a few times when we were growing up and had been friends back then. I feel that we were destined to meet and met up properly years later at the wedding of a friend of our parents in Killyleagh."

Rachael takes up the story: "Ed had been living in Edinburgh and I had been living in London. We had both just returned home when we bumped into each other again. We didn't really have many friends at home and consequently spent a lot of time together.

"After 12 weeks, I said to Ed 'Well, we can either go to visit your friends in Edinburgh or we can go and see mine in London'. I was working for my stepfather at the time selling industrial tape, so I had plenty of airmiles.

"Ed decided we would go to Edinburgh. We got there and spent the whole day sitting in a cafe just chatting and getting to know each other better.

"At about 2am after a lot of drink had been consumed Ed asked me to marry him. I was shocked but I knew it was right. He was only 23 at the time but he had a mature head on his shoulders. My head knew before my heart that he was the one. He is a very good man, very kind, considerate and loving with a good sense for business. He is the sensible one and I am the one who is always coming up with off-the-wall ideas. We complement each other perfectly.

"My friends and family all thought we were mad getting engaged so soon, but I had no doubts whatsoever. Still, I wanted to give him time to back out, so we didn't get married until a year and a half later."

When the couple did tie the knot, it was a far cry from the experience they are offering now.

Rachael recalls: "My mum and stepdad were renovating an old farmhouse in Killyleagh and I was painting the kitchen the night before the wedding."

Ed, who is now an expert on wedding venues, says: "The marquee, such as it was, was an old mismatched green and white stripy thing attached to the side of the house. We had 300 people crammed into it and it could have collapsed at any time. If it had rained on us, it would have been a disaster."

Now, 18 years later and with three children, Christy (16), Daisy (14) and Paddy (11), the couple are still blissfully happy and living in Ed's grandfather's former house opposite Ed's mum Jill and dad Nick's house at Finnebrogue.

"After having the children I realised that I didn't want to be a stay-at-home mum. It would have driven me up the wall," Rachael reveals.

"I started sending my CV out everywhere but there just was nothing happening. At the same time a friend, Holly, and I started talking about decorating venues as we were both very artistic.

"We thought about just doing Christmas decorations but then decided if we took on weddings that would fill in all the seasons so Blue Moon was founded."

The duo quickly developed a name for themselves in events and interior design. "It was a busy time. Ed and I were both extremely busy in the summer season which meant the children were in childcare all summer and any money we made was going to pay childminders and nurseries.

"We were working at weddings. I was designing and decorating venues and Ed was travelling all over Ireland. It was crazy. About three years ago I got the seven-year itch and I decided to scale back the business. Holly and I parted company which was like a divorce and I spent more time at home with the children.

"I started to take them to Turkey every year on holiday and to our caravan in Donegal and up to the north coast. My son is nearly 17 now and will be leaving home soon and I didn't want to miss out."

However, her love for design and decorating never wavered and soon Rachael was back decorating some of the leading venues in the province including the luxurious Merchant Hotel, whose Christmas decorations she looks after.

"I found a good balance between home life and work and things got better."

Ed adds: "I was busy all summer and would meet up with Rachael for about a week in October before her busy Christmas season took off. I would reacquaint myself with the kids and the kitchen and become a dad again while she became busy decorating for Christmas."

But it seems for this pair home is definitely where the heart is. "We were walking around the lake one day which to my shame I would do about twice a year, when I said to Ed, 'Why don't we do something here? It is so beautiful?'" Rachael explains.

The concept of Finnebrogue Woods was developed during that walk when the couple decided to combine Ed's tipis, the venue they had surrounding them with its beautiful lake and woodland and Rachael's wealth of event experience to create the ultimate wedding experience for couples looking for something that little bit different.

"It is a very whimsical, romantic venue for those looking for something that is not a traditional hotel venue. Getting married in a woodland surrounding is not for everyone. It is very bohemian," explains Rachael.

The first to catch the vision was barrister Sarah Hansen and her husband Michael who fell in love with the idea Ed and Rachael had and decided to have their wedding in the woods.

"It was our first wedding and very beautiful," recalls Ed. "Everyone had a ball and it was something out of the ordinary.

"That was last summer and we had two weddings. We launched our website in November and things have taken off. We have six weddings booked already for the summer."

"We take care of everything," explains Rachael. "Couples come to us with list of questions such as what if it rains? Will we be able to wear high heels? Will it be warm enough in the tipis? We take care of all the small intimate details, so they can just relax and enjoy their big day."

With such a creative and artistic couple I imagine that their own home must be fabulous?

Rachael laughs: "No, not at all. I don't even have curtains on my windows or carpets in some of the rooms."

It seems she is so busy making other venues look fabulous, she jokes she hasn't time to concentrate on her own home.

"We are busy yes, but I want to wait until we can afford the very best and have fabulous curtains and furnishings," she adds.

"I am like that in life. I will wait until I can have the very best. I waited for Ed and I got him," she jokes.

The couple are looking forward to their new venture and to working more closely together after all these years of working side by side but not together.

"He did his thing and I did mine," says Rachael. "Now we will be working together to make dreams come true."

Ed explains: "As well as making dreams come true we wanted to look at how we could sustainably make use of all that is readily available here at Finnebrogue Woods.

"We had the lake and my father's Dexter herd and his firewood business and this all created the perfect backdrop for weddings and corporate events.

"It is important to preserve Finnebrogue Woods as a place of outstanding natural beauty. This is paramount to everything we do."

And it seems that it is not just local couples who will be saying 'I do' in the idyllic woods. The first wedding next season will welcome 30 guests from South America.

Ed adds: "We can cater for weddings for 300 people and at a cost of £8,950 - covering everything from the tipis to heating, catering and services on the day - we are competitively priced."

For further information visit www.finnebroguewoods.com or tel: 028 4410 3104

Belfast Telegraph