Belfast Telegraph

Rory McIlroy wedding: Cong a who's who of A-listers as golfer and Erica Stoll get ready to tie the knot in luxury of Ashford Castle

By Ralph Riegel

Love birds Rory McIlroy and his fiancee Erica Stoll gave their romance wings as they marked their last day as singletons with an exhilarating display of Irish falconry.

Rory (27) and Erica (29) arranged for the special performance on the sprawling grounds of Ashford Castle in Cong, Co Mayo, to mark the final countdown to their lavish wedding ceremony.

Specially-trained falcons - and one extremely rare trained owl - swept around the couple in an astonishing display of the medieval sport.

The highlight was having the owl sweep between the golfer and his US-born fiancee as they stood facing each other less than one metre apart.

On Thursday, the Holywood-born golfer indulged in clay pigeon shooting with some friends as he enjoyed his four-day no-expense-spared wedding in the luxurious 360 acre Mayo estate.

Throughout yesterday, a fleet of limousines, jeeps and helicopters swept into Cong in preparation for Ireland's celebrity wedding of the decade.

The wedding in the 13th century castle is set to be a who's who of Irish sport, showbusiness and financial worlds, with the 200-plus wedding guests set to be entertained by US pop star Stevie Wonder.

A spectacular fireworks display will also be staged tonight to celebrate the wedding.

The guests include One Direction star Niall Horan, (right) and Mr McIlroy's Irish Ryder Cup team-mates including Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley and Shane Lowry.

Coldplay's Chris Martin and singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran are tipped to attend but they had not arrived at Ashford Castle last night.w

The newly crowned US Masters champion, Sergio Garcia, is also thought to be among the guests.

The business world is expected to be represented by Limerick billionaire JP McManus.

Locals admitted they were thrilled with the focus on the picturesque village.

"It is great for Cong, great for Mayo and great for the west of Ireland," admitted Aisling Butler who runs The Hungry Monk cafe with Jonathan Byrne. "Everyone is keeping their eyes peeled for a celebrity - and, to mark the occasion, I was even thinking of selling golf balls in the cafe with morning coffee."

Aisling's cafe is already a popular haunt with Irish celebrities, boasting regular visitors including Daniel O'Donnell, The Hardy Bucks, Pippa O'Connor and Connacht rugby stars.

Local man Paddy Rock, who founded the Cong Hands of Fame Award, said the golfer's contribution to the area is such that he is now being invited to immortalise himself by having his hand imprint set in bronze on the monument.

Locals raced for their cameras yesterday afternoon as a vintage wedding car - with the fitting license plate '2R1' - drove through the town towards Ashford Castle.

Mr McIlroy's management team have worked overtime to ensure the wedding details remain top secret from the large media entourage which has descended on Cong.

Ashford Castle staff, famed for their discretion given the hotel's celebrity clientele, refused any comment on the wedding celebrations.

However, guests will be feted by gourmet cuisine over the four-day wedding from Ashford Castle's award-winning chef, Philippe Farineau. Guests have also been assured that they can celebrate the wedding in absolute privacy with security around the sprawling castle and estate described as being "as tight as when US President Ronald Reagan visited in 1984."

The castle went into full security lockdown yesterday morning as the last of the non-wedding guests left.

Special security wristbands were issued to allow access to the 350-acre estate until Monday morning when the wedding party formally ends.

Three separate layers of security are now in place around the estate including perimeter patrols.

Mr McIlroy's personal security chief, Brian Murphy, who also works with U2, was supervising arrangements at the castle perimeter.

Staff at Ashford Castle have been issued with green wristbands - while other colours will designate wedding organising staff, security and entertainers.

Roving security patrols are also in place around the sprawling estate to deal with photographers who may want to try and get a snap of the celebrity couple and their VIP guests.

Special measures have also been taken to prevent drones equipped with cameras from flying over the estate.

A large marquee was erected outside the castle, though the majority of the wedding ceremonies will happen inside the huge luxury hotel.

The golfer and his bride-to-be will have the lavishly equipped boathouse suite for their wedding night which costs €4,000 (£3,342) per night and ranks alongside the presidential suite in the main castle which was used by President Ronald Reagan during his 1984 visit.

The lavish four-day wedding celebration is understood to cost between €250,000 (£208, 895) and €500,000 (£417, 779) - with Ashford Castle and virtually all hotels and guest houses in nearby Cong completely booked out for the wedding.

Wedding guests arriving early at the main Ashford Castle entrance were greeted by a staff member in formal attire including a butler's hat.

The majority of guests flew into Shannon and Knock Airports and were transferred by limousine to Cong.

A small army of caterers and wedding planners - most of whom are staying at Ryan's Hotel in Cong village - were hard at work for the ceremony.

Even teams of street cleaners were working to have all approach routes to Ashford Castle spotless.

The wedding party travelled to Cong village on Wednesday.

Belfast Telegraph


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