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Tuesday 03 March 2015

Benedict Cumberbatch slipped off recently to quietly marry Sophie Hunter on the Isle of Wight, while Stephen Fry headed for Norfolk to tie the knot with Elliott Spencer. George Clooney certainly didn't do it quietly, but chose Venice rather than the USA or his bride's hometown of London. Meanwhile, Michelle Dockery, 'Lady Mary' in Downton Abbey, has announced her engagement to one of our own - John Dineen - so perhaps they might choose a castle in Ireland for their big day. Certainly, getting married 'out of the parish' is a solution for some.

The wedding industry is huge, from hotels to bridal shops, photographers to vintage cars, wedding cakes, singers and florists - the list goes on. However, for the happy couple, as well as the joy, there is a huge amount of planning and pressure. Family tensions, rivalries and anxieties come to the fore - and by the time the big day arrives everyone is a nervous wreck and many are up to their eyeballs in debt.

This got me thinking back to my own very simple, if somewhat hilarious, wedding in a little country village, but it also had me recalling the acrimonious happenings I have seen at weddings over the years. There were only 12 people at our wedding, including himself and myself. I was an only child and neither of us had parents alive, but I reckon we had as memorable a day, on a shoestring, as one could have wished for. We were married in St Mullins in south Carlow, where my uncle was parish priest at the time. In fact, he was a one-man band for the occasion. A wonderful musician, Father Joe played the organ as I walked up the aisle on the arm of Brendan's older brother. The reverend uncle then galloped around the back of the church, to appear, immaculately robed, at the altar for the ceremony, before another quick change to play the organ as we walked down the aisle. Needless to say, he was also official photographer; we had to exit the church twice to allow him take the pictures. It was then back to the parochial house, where the uncle's housekeeper, who was very much in the Mrs Doyle tradition, had made a great, horseshoe-shaped wedding cake. Brendan had been an hour late to the church as they got lost trying to find St Mullins. The final hilarious fact was that, even though Champagne had been placed in our hotel room in Wexford, we had been allotted a twin room, while the bridesmaid and best man had double beds for single occupancy.

There are delicate areas when it comes to weddings - and speeches are high on the list. A girl I knew years ago in the UK fell in love with a guy who had been transferred over from Ireland on a business assignment. He, however, had been going out with a girl back home for 10 years and an engagement had been expected. Nonetheless, this was love at first sight on both sides, and nothing was going to get in the way so, with disapproval from the groom's family, the wedding went ahead. It was all a bit awkward on the day, but all civility fell apart when the best man stood up, stuttering through his speech, to - horror of horrors - accidentally 'welcome' the jilted former girlfriend into the family.

At another very fractious wedding, the bride walked up the aisle as the musical group at the back of the church belted out the old Julie Rogers number, The Wedding. "You by my side, that's how I see us/Your folks and mine, happy and smiling." It might have been their dream, but the animosity was so bad that the priest spoke from the altar reminding the families that the way they behaved that day would have a lasting effect on relationships for a long time. He might as well have been talking to himself, as the groom's parents later refused to sit at the top table.

The guest list is always a nightmare. It is so easy to offend and to lose family and friends for life. I sat with a mother and daughter as they argued about the seating arrangement of the guests. "It's my wedding," bleated the daughter. "It's not your wedding, it's mine," said mother firmly. "Well, when's my wedding?" retorted the daughter. "When your daughter gets married," replied the mother.

For some, maybe the solution is to get married abroad. Apart from the sunshine, you are more likely to keep the guest numbers under control without causing offence.

After 25 years as a banker, Catherine Sherry started her own business as a wedding planner, concentrating on Italy. "I decided to build a business that incorporated my love affair with Lake Garda, setting up 'Marry Me in Lake Garda' in 2007, and never looking back. It attracts couples that want something different. I understand they want the best of both cultures; the craic of an Irish wedding and the style of an Italian wedding. Lake Garda offers amazing scenery, beautiful food and is in the heart of the Bardolino and Valpolicella wine regions, with so much for the wedding party to do while visiting the area. We work in partnership with the couple; it remains their wedding dream and we put our arms around it. We tailor-make a bespoke wedding to suit their budget and needs - once it's realistic. We are not commission-based, therefore we can offer a wide variety of venues and top suppliers. It is our vision that the bride and groom have a wonderful experience and choose venues, menus, wine, flowers and music. People say: 'It was like relaxing on holiday and getting married in the middle of it'. Our secret is the personal touch. We work with each couple, usually 12 months in advance, and on the day of the wedding I am the last woman to manhandle the groom by pinning on his buttonhole flower in Lake Garda."

Catherine says that she never leaves the party and is there until the early hours to see everyone home safely. See

Another destination to consider is Andalucia. Spain has always been a popular destination for the Irish, and La Cala Golf Hotel & Spa in Mijas, which is a glorious spot nestled in the mountains between Malaga and Marbella, is very anxious to cater for Irish weddings, as its sales and marketing director, Noemi Roman, told me at the recent Bride of the Year Show at the RDS. See

However your big day turns out, you'll end up laughing at the foibles and treasuring them too.

First published in IRISH LIFE in the Sunday Independent