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What we did on our hen do

 

Five Northern Ireland brides whose weddings took place over the last 30 years tell Karen Ireland what they did to let their hair down before the big day.

‘I had a really good day and night ... it was quite relaxed’

Bryony Bradley (31), an engineering maths lecturer, lives in Lisburn and is married to Stephen. They have two daughters Eleanor (3) and Beatrice (2). She says:

I was married in 2011 and my sisters and my university friends planned my hen night as a surprise. They decided on a trashy wedding theme so everyone wore old shiny dresses.

I had a big puffball dress from a charity shop and we all had really bad make-up. My mum was dressed as the father-of-the-bride and my mum-in-law was mother of the bride.

We went out for afternoon tea and then we came back to the house and played games. In the evening we had booked the bottom part of Shu restaurant in Belfast for dinner and dancing.

It was a great day and night and the mums and aunts all stayed to the end, enjoying the occasion.

I wanted a one-day/evening thing so it wasn't too expensive for everyone as my friends were coming over from university and we had a lot of people who were staying in the Galgorm after the wedding, so I didn't want to add to the expense.

It was a great hen, I was treated really well and loved having everyone together.

It was also very relaxed and didn't cost loads of money.

‘Nowadays people go over the top and it’s all very expensive’

Christine Dougan (49) works in firefighter control and lives in Markethill with her husband Graham and their three children Hannah (22), Ben (18) and Sam (13). She says:

When I got married back in June 1994 there wasn't much in the way of hen nights. They weren't in vogue back then. I lived in Warrenpoint at the time and before my wedding I went out for a meal with my mum, my aunts and my sisters and that was it.

We certainly didn't do anything exotic like fly to Barcelona for a few days. It was unheard of then to get onto a plane and head away for the weekend for a hen party. And, looking back, I have to say that I was very happy with a night out with those closest to me at the local hotel. I think nowadays people go over the top and everything is very expensive and extreme. It costs a lot of money to have hen nights now. The way we marked the occasion back then was to have people around to the house. They started coming from about three weeks before the wedding. I remember my mum warned me not to make any plans and to be about the house as people would be calling.

There was no such thing as wedding gift lists in those days either. People picked a present for you and brought it to the house. It was much more personal and you were grateful for everything you got.

When they came to visit you'd show them all the presents and would give them some supper. It was lovely. We had our reception in the Burrendale Hotel in Newcastle and honeymooned in Barbados for a fortnight - that was certainly regarded as extravagant in 1994, but it was the holiday of a lifetime for us.

'In 1990, it was more personal and fun than it has become now'

Fiona Childs (60) lives in Dromore with her husband Alan. She has two grown-up sons, Gareth and Alan. She says:

I got married in 1990 and hen nights weren't a big thing back then at all. Ahead of my big day, I just went out for a meal with a group of friends.

About 20 of us - all friends and family - went out for dinner and they all clubbed together to pay for my meal.

I think I had a veil on my head and that was about the only indication it was a hen night. Afterwards, everyone came back to my house for a few drinks and that was the height of it.

Back then, everyone bought a present and brought it to the house. It was much more personal than it is now with all this online shopping and gift lists.

Everyone who bought a present would have been invited to the bride's house and she would have had several nights of parties, hosting people and showing off all the presents before she got married.

It was much simpler and more fun back then. My son's girlfriend recently went to a hen and it cost her £150 for lunch and a spa and dinner. That is very expensive and then you must buy an outfit for the wedding and a present after that. It all mounts up and can be very expensive today.

Our wedding was in the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle. We had about 150 guests which was considered a fairly big occasion in those days.

‘I met singer Nathan Carter and got my photograph with him’

Megan Dillon (27), an activities therapist, is married to Neil and lives in Banbridge with their two sons Danny (6) and Finn (7). She is expecting her third child in September. She says:

I got married last July and for my hen party we decided to go to the Hillgrove Hotel in Monaghan for the weekend. It was very eventful — to say the least.

A group of 12 of us stayed there from Saturday to Monday.

On the first night we arrived we were all dressed up in our matching T-shirts and sashes and went to a karaoke night which was brilliant craic.

One by one everyone left and went to bed until there were only me and three friends left, and we thought it would be a good idea to get a taxi into Monaghan town and go to a nightclub.

This finished off at 3am with pizza and kebabs, as you do, but it was a great night. Amazingly, the step counter on my phone showed I’d done 7,500 steps before breakfast the following morning, just from being in the nightclub!

The next day we were all dressed up with a cowgirl theme.

I had a white dress and a white cowboy hat and a veil. It turned out the singer Jimmy Buckley was in the hotel that day shooting a music video and he saw all us hens and decided he wanted us in his video.

So we all rushed up to the rooms to get ready and he phoned up to say they were waiting for us on the set.

We rushed down and we were all filmed for the music video which was great fun  — and a brilliant lasting memento of the night.

After we had finished I was in the foyer of the hotel and thought I spotted Nathan Carter.

When I went a bit closer it turned out it really was him, so I got my photograph taken with him which was amazing. We had the best time in Monaghan though the next day we all had big hangovers to match the big night out.

But it was great to spend the weekend with all my family and close friends before the wedding and to have such a memorable time before the wedding.

We had our reception in the Carrickdale Hotel in Dundalk and then we went to Portugal on honeymoon.

‘We went to Marbella...it was one of the best experiences of my life’

Kim McPolin (33), a beauty therapist, is married to Patrick and they live in Cabra, Co Down, with their two daughters Lainey (2) and Isla (1). She says:

I got married in August 2012 and I must admit I had an excellent bridesmaid in my sister-in-law Carleen. She started planning the hen weekend as soon as we announced the wedding.

A group of six of us went to Marbella for four days. We were able to book the trip so far in advance that we got a great deal; in fact I reckon that it worked out as about the same cost as a weekend down south. And it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life and my last girlie holiday. As a mum of young children, I don’t know when I will get to have a holiday like that again.

We got all dressed up in matching T-shirts and I had a veil and a sash for travelling on the plane. We flew from Belfast and were met at the airport by our own private bus which took us to our accommodation.

Marbella really is a millionaire’s playground and it was an amazing place just to people watch.

One night we had an amazing six-course dinner with champagne on tap.

Every night we went out we visited trendy bars and nightclubs and in each of them we had our own designated area with bottles of champagne.

Carleen had organised all this in advance and it was amazing. For a brief period we really received VIP treatment.

We spent the days outside in the sunshine lounging by the pool and relaxing and the nights out on the town.

I wore white a lot of the time while the rest of the girls wore pink. It was the sort of place you really had to make an effort to dress up for the evening.

Now, I love looking back at the photos and seeing us in our floppy hats and bikinis and thinking ‘Wow, we really got to experience that lifestyle for a few days’.

It was so much fun and, as I said, all the more enjoyable as we did it all as part of a package and it wasn’t that expensive.

It was also special because it was a very relaxing time amid the hectic run-up to our wedding, though obviously I’ve great memories of that too. We got married in Hilltown and had our reception in the Burrendale Hotel in Newcastle.

The Festival of Flight was taking place at the time and we could see the planes overhead while our photographs were being taken. We then went on a Mediterranean cruise for our honeymoon.

I loved my hen and it was a very special part of the wedding. After we came home we were entered in a Wedding of the Year competition and we were one of four finalists and got to go to a gala dinner in the City Hall which was amazing.

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