The Northern Ireland couples who said ‘I do’ to a big budget wedding
It’s meant to be the best day of your life, and with the price tag for the average wedding now at £30,000 it seems that the betrothed aren’t afraid to push the financial boat out. Linda Stewart talks to local people who did just that.
'We made boat tickets and had pyjamas for the night before for the bridesmaids'
Pulse PR owner Grainne McGarvey (38) married accountant Daniel Murray in May last year, and the couple now live in Belfast.
Their two-day celebration began with a ceremony at St Michael's Church in Enniskillen, followed by a reception at the Killyhevlin Hotel.
"I always go for tall people - he's six foot four and that helped," Grainne says.
"He's a lovely guy - tall and very humble. There aren't that many nice guys still left in the world.
"We met in the Errigle pub. He's from Co Down but moved to Belfast in March, and we met in August. We got engaged the following October, in 2017, and then got married in May 2018."
The couple were in New York for Grainne's birthday when they got engaged.
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"Then a slot came up for the Killyhevlin Hotel and we thought 'Why not?'" she says.
"I actually wanted to go away to get married, but Daniel has a very big family, so we decided it was better to do it here with friends and family.
"My mum is from Enniskillen and I was always in Enniskillen when I was younger.
"The Killyhevlin was the only place we thought of. We didn't look anywhere else. It was a lovely setting and lovely weather."
Grainne estimates that the bill for the wedding came to around £30,000, but the honeymoon brought it well over that.
"I work for myself and you're always trying to cut costs - it's natural to always try to get deals. But when it comes to the wedding, it all goes out the window. If you scrimp, it shows," she says.
"I decided to go for it - you only do it once. We wanted to put money into the venue, the food and the band, because those are the things that people remember."
The wedding was a two-day event. It took place over the May bank holiday weekend a year ago, with the ceremony conducted by Fr Brian D'Arcy at St Michael's Church in Enniskillen on the Friday.
Classical musicians played in the chapel while the couple were signing the registry, and they hired a harpist to play at the start of the reception in the Killyhevlin Hotel, followed by wedding band The Rockets later in the evening.
After the service, the newlyweds travelled by speedboat to the hotel for a prosecco reception on the lawn, followed by dinner and dancing.
The nautical theme continued the following day, with the couple hiring the Lady of the Lake tour boat for three slots so that their guests could go on an hour-long tour around Lough Erne.
"We made out little boat tickets and they were on the table coming into the reception," Grainne says.
"The boat could only take about 50 at a time. There were around 190 people at the wedding, so people picked their boat ticket and went down to the jetty the next day.
"About 40 people stayed on the Saturday night.
"People still talk about it - they say it was the best day."
One of the things that pushed up the price tag was customising all the extras.
"I'm in events, so people expect it to be all-singing, all-dancing, " Grainne says.
"We ordered Chiavari chairs for the reception - they are a natural wood and they made it look really romantic, instead of being the usual round hotel chairs. It was a blush and rose gold theme.
"You can just use the standard things that the hotel provides, but if you have a theme, that means branding on everything - your table places and table numbers and so on.
"We had a flower wall when you came in to the venue, and it was lovely in the photographs.
"We bought all the suits and the bridesmaid dresses and all the gifts and the wee bits and pieces.
"There were pyjamas for the night before for the bride and bridesmaids.
"The invitations were about £5 each, but I think that they were worth it."
Grainne tried on only one dress, falling for it right away.
"It has a Spanish veil and came to around £1,200 with the alterations," she says.
"That's one of the things that you don't really think about - you buy a dress and get it in a couple of months, then you end up losing weight and they have to take it in."
There were themed toiletries for the guests, flip flops that they could wear while dancing and even a custom Snapchat filter set up for the day that guests could use when they were taking photos.
"You are having to cover such a wide age range - people in their 20s and 30s, right up to their 80s.
"The older people liked having scones and tea in between everything and the younger ones liked the Snapchat filter.
"We probably didn't need to do the next day, but it created a little bit more than just one day.
"You spend six months planning this, so you don't want it to be over in a day.
"You get so caught up in it that you can't enjoy it until the next day, and it was really relaxing to chat to people in the boat and have a drink. It was lovely and I enjoyed it."
Grainne says there were things she saw at wedding fairs and thought about doing but decided against - such as the glittering dancefloor.
And while people were very generous with their time, money and talents, the couple saved up by staying in for six months in the run-up to their big day.
"It's the one day you do it - you might as well make the most of it," Grainne says.
'The ceremony was in Central Park and we hired a double-decker bus to take our guests on a tour of New York'
Janet and Gary Posnett, from Belfast, married in New York in April this year. The couple met four years ago, introduced by a mutual acquaintance.
"It was sort of a blind date set up by our mutual friend Karen Harkness - it went really well and we decided to see each other again," says Janet (41).
"I think when you're a wee bit older you know straight away, and we both knew what we wanted.
"Gary popped the question in Muriel's in Belfast, in the Monkey Room - he had a surprise 40th birthday party for me, and that's when he proposed.
"We always knew that we wanted to go away to get married. New York is my favourite city, so that's where we decided on.
"We went out there a year ago to look at venues and see what we wanted."
Janet and Gary booked their wedding and honeymoon through wedding specialists Clubworld in east Belfast, and arranged New York-based wedding planners through the company.
"We had our wedding ceremony in Central Park and had a vintage cab that took me and my dad there," Janet says.
"There were a few photographs in Central Park and then we had hired a double-decker bus to take our guests through the city on a two-hour tour with a guide. That was brilliant.
"We went to Pier A at Battery Park at the bottom of Manhattan, and that's where we had our cocktail reception and then food and drinks and dancing - it was great."
One of the good things about having the wedding planners was that the couple didn't need to bring many decorations over with them.
"It was a vintage theme," Janet says.
"I am very much into vintage and my engagement ring was 1920s, so it all worked into the vintage theme.
"But Pier A didn't need anything added to it - it was already the right look."
They couple had 20 guests, which helped to keep the cost reasonable, and the wedding and honeymoon were included in an overall deal.
"We went to Miami for a wedding, then a Sandals resort in Jamaica for a week. The honeymoon would have come to about £10,000 - it was the trip of a lifetime," Janet says.
"We travelled first-class to New York when we left here and travelled home business class - we got our flights cheap.
"The flights (for the guests) would have cost £30,000, but we paid £1,400 because we had been saving up our air miles."
Janet estimates that the cost of the wedding and the festivities surrounding it came to around £30,000, not including the honeymoon.
"The night before the wedding, we had a party in the Dead Rabbit for our guests, and that was another £4,000," she says.
"In America you don't just book a venue and food - you have to have an open bar all night.
"The tour bus was just amazing - we didn't realise we would have their tour guide on the bus and she just kept the whole thing going."
The couple also treated themselves to a helicopter trip over the city with friends on the day after the wedding.
"We'd been in New York a few times and had seen a lot of it, so we were able to spend time individually with everyone. We did go to the Hudson Yard and the High Line," Janet says.
"Our guests, for all the time they were there, packed as much sightseeing in as they possibly could."
Janet brought her wedding dress - a £2,500 piece by Suzanne Neville, bought in Castle Couture in Galgorm - with her, and Gary wore a £1,500 suit made by Suitor Brothers in Belfast. Janet's shoes were by Manolo Blahnik, bought in New York last year.
"The shoes were definitely very Sex And The City," she says.
The couple started saving for the wedding after they got engaged and had help from family as well.
"We've never sat down and worked out what we paid - you're paying for things on an ongoing basis," she explains.
"It was 20 months from when we got engaged until we got married.
"That gave us the time that we needed to save up for it.
"It was a real experience, and it exceeded everyone's expectations."