When I told friends a few months back that I would be attending the wedding of Mountaineering Man’s sister, they all asked me the same question.

Have you ever been to an Irish wedding?

As soon as I’d informed them that I had not, the warnings came fast and furious.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint!

Drink loads of water throughout the day and pace yourself with the drinking!

Grab a sandwich between the church and the reception!

Take a few breaks up in your hotel room if you can!

Apparently Irish weddings can go on for hours and some even go for days. And while the wedding of Nessa and Cathal was perhaps quite mild by Irish standards, it certainly didn’t disappoint by any standard. The church service began at 1 p.m. and MM and I left the reception at about 2:45 a.m. – a total of nearly 14 hours. I heard a handful of guests partied until 5:30 a.m., so suffice it to say it was a proper Irish wedding!

036 After the church service, we all retreated to a pre-reception cocktail hour at the beautiful Hodson Bay Hotel in Athlone. While the bride, groom and their families took official photographs the rest of the guests enjoyed champagne and canapés in a bright, sunlit room with a fantastic view of the lake Lough Ree. A nice (and very Irish!) touch was provided by MM’s father, who’d been saving a collection of fine whiskeys to share with wedding guests. The bottles, ranging from The Glenlivet to a classic Jameson’s, were lined up along the reception bar for anyone who wanted to take a sip. Needless to say there was a fair number of very grateful guests who took part!

I was blown away by the guests’ attire; everyone was dressed to the nines and many of the women wore intricate hats that’d rival any of those featured at Will and Kate’s nuptials. At that early point in the afternoon, everyone was still quite civilised and the atmosphere was one of quiet enjoyment and chatter about the ceremony. After an hour of sipping champers and meeting a whole load of MM’s relatives and family friends, I made my way to the official dinner reception.


This was where the real party began. After a range of hilarious toasts (including one by the priest – I was half-expecting him to end with, “I’ll be here all week!”), we feasted on a gorgeous meal that included a delicate smoked salmon starter, a medley of seafood and a lovely roasted lamb dish with creamy mashed potatoes and perfectly-cooked vegetables. The wine flowed freely and the bar was busy all night. When the band took the stage everyone flocked to the dance floor and showed off their stuff. I have to say I was most impressed by the slick stylings of the older guests – they gave the young ones a run for their money! Nessa and Cathal also wowed the crowd with their graceful dance moves.

nessa hat head nessa dancers

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A surprise to the bride and to all the guests was a performance by a group of traditional Irish dancers from Athlone. Wearing straw, cone-shaped hats and colorful country garb, the group put on a remarkable display of old-school Irish dancing and song. In addition there were two young girls who kicked up their heels (literally) to perform Irish stepdancing (made famous by Riverdance). I was absolutely amazed by their technique and skill – it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. After the performance the band came back on and we all danced (and drank!) the night away.


The next evening was the post-wedding day party in a smaller banquet room of the hotel. For me, this intimate party really captured the essence of the Irish wedding as it was all about close family and friends. Coming from a country with a divorce rate of over 50%, it struck me how many whole families were part of the celebration. It was reassuring to see couples who’d been married 40+ years attend the wedding with their grown children and young grandchildren.

After a lovely meal we enjoyed music by an Irish singer/guitarist, which was followed by an old-fashion hootenanny of singing by guests. MM himself led a series of songs that he played on his acoustic guitar, which included a good number of traditional Irish tunes. We all sat around with our drinks singing and clapping and having a wonderful time. It was especially touching to see MM and his sister, side by side, singing together as their parents looked on with pride. I was pretty proud myself – MM can really sing!


Thanks to the advice from my Irish friends – and a mid-weekend hotel spa visit – I survived the weekend with nary a hangover and with energy to spare. At the wedding reception I drank about three glasses of water for every alcoholic drink I had, and I only had a few. At the post-party I enjoyed a few more but stopped early and kept up with the water. I’m glad I did; it was a wonderful weekend that I’ll remember for a long time to come.