November 22, 2005

The weddingometer guide to the Irish economy

Posted in Sunday Business Post · 8 comments ·
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Last week, Minister for Social and Family Affairs Seamus Brennan was in Britain advising some of the 30,000 Irish emigrants who are set to return this year to expect a different country.

On the same morning, a leaflet advertising wedding fairs came through our door. While the minister was struggling to list examples of the change in the country, such as credit, house prices, costs and immigration, he could have just sent all the would-be returning emigrants to a wedding fair.

This would have opened their eyes to the New Ireland far better than any economic statistic.

Wedding fairs capture the hopes, dreams and expectations of our twentysomethings and thirtysomethings like no other pageant. Over the coming weeks, the social and personal pages will be full of gushing announcements, trumpeting next year’s wedding season.

Marriages are in, and marriage rates are up by 25 per cent since 1995. There will be over 23,000 weddings in 2006 – more than any other year on record. This is big business: the Irish wedding industry is worth �400 million per year and rising.

The nation is in the grip of marriage fever.

And every wedding ups the ante for the next one.

In the new Ireland, your wedding reveals much about the type of person you are. It is a serious business, because wedding envy is alive and well.

From the minute the announcement is placed in the paper, the �weddingometer’ starts to tick. The weddingometer is a large internal clock which is switched on in the head of the bride. It gauges, measures, benchmarks, compares, assesses, ranks, rates and analyses every minute detail of the wedding’s progress, its organisation and crucially its execution on the day.

The weddingometer is both qualitative and quantitative. Taste and style are just as – or perhaps, even more important than – scale and reach. The weddingometer has the precision of a clock, yet the ambiguity of a social climbing judge. One false move can be fatal. One inappropriate flower, one unimaginative hymn can tip you into negative status territory.

For a young couple, nothing should upstage their big day. It is a unique opportunity to showcase your strong breeding, your straight teeth and your ascending status. Wedding faux pas are not easily forgotten.

The weddingometer continues to tick and by the time the bride is up the aisle, thousands of euro will have been spent on everything from flowers to place-names, dresses, cards, drink, food, bridesmaids, photos, cars – all designed to make this day the best wedding in Ireland, the wedding of your dreams, the wedding that will out-wedding all your mates, that will push the weddingometer into a state of mechanised nuptial delirium.

Enter any moderately proportioned hotel on a dark, dreary Sunday between now and March and you will be ambushed by the smell of Mac foundation, hairspray and baby pinks, soft whites, ribbons and general schmaltzy glitz.

This is the nirvana where �dreams come true’. Welcome to The Wedding Show – Ireland’s great nuptial roadshow.

Today, we are in the Point, Dublin’s largest indoor venue. It is thronged with twentysomething and thirtysomething women from track-suited blondes to highlighted brunettes in suits.

Some have forlorn looking fianc�s in tow, others are marshalled by gushing bridesmaids. Many are accompanied by their mothers. Row after row of lilac and pink stands are crowded with girls loudly discussing the merits of various products.

The sound system blares out a looped �My Girl’ by The Temptations and leaflets are thrust at you by the type of woman whose face cracks when she forces a smile.

The focus is on �the dream’. Live your dream, your dream day and so on. Running a close second is the �be different!� mantra. Personalise this and individualise that � from wine labels to match boxes!

New Ireland’s equivalent of the fairy godmother is the wedding planner who can wave a wand here and a tacky carriage with befeathered nags will emerge, a sprinkle of fairy dust there and the bride’s teeth will change from Marlboro Light yellow to J.Lo white enamel.

The wedding planner is the queen of dreams and overdrafts. For a fee she – or he – can create the perfect VIP day.

With such pressure, it is not surprising that half of Ireland’s weddings end with a bawling bride in the loo and a drunken groom at the bar ordering double vodkas and Red Bull.

One wedding planner has a suitably Gothic ad (there is a big Gothic thing going on with wedding planners: helpless maidens and dashing princes that keep recurring in a cross between Shrek and Saddam Hussein’s boudoir).

This agency sets the scene with a blatant white lie, claiming that �no two couples are alike’�. It offers the full service package. It promises the following: �A most comprehensive package. It is inclusive of all of your planning needs from budget development, creative event design, site and vendor selection, meticulous planning, etiquette advice, development of event schedules and timelines, and onsite event management.�

It sounds more like Microsoft’s AGM then an Irish Big Day Out.

I was intrigued as to what exactly etiquette advice is and who exactly might admit to needing it.

As for marketing the product one example is the Enchanted Occasions website, which is full of Arthurian imagery of Gothic virgins with long flowing locks being carried away on horseback by dashing, vaguely camp princes in tights.

However, unbelievable the queenish princes are, the idea of an Irish virgin on her wedding day is even more bonkers.

Given that the average girl loses her virginity in her late teens and doesn’t get married till she’s thirty, it’s a hard circle to square. �If another person asks me for doves, I’ll bloody kill them!� So says one of Ireland’s top fairy godmothers, who has seen a huge increase in demand over the past three years.

When she meets the spellbound ones, they discuss weddings they have been to, what worked and what didn’t. In the benchmark file somewhere deep inside the weddingometer, every prospective bride is gauging, dissing and sniggering at a �friend’s'� best efforts. In no time at all the �to-be-avoided-like-the-plague’ errors are listed. This particular fairy godmother only deals with wedding budgets above �30,000 and the most juicy commission was the big �1,000,000. Lots of doves at that, one imagines. What exactly does a wedding that costs �1,000,000 feel like?

The average Irish wedding costs �20,000 and, as we are getting married in great numbers, typically parental cash is brought in to finance the impact of celebrity weddings on mere mortals’ expectations. Hello! weddings set the tone – from J.Lo’s pink diamond ring and Brad Pitt’s self-designed (but obviously not very effective) ring to Vera Wang’s celebrity frocks and Britney Spears’ gift of Juicy Couture tracksuits to all her guests.

Photographers make out like bandits at weddings, plus they get fed and watered and usually end up scoring some drunk girl who has peeled off from the main group. One photographer describes himself as �relaxed and unobtrusive’� – I would have thought that this be a basic requirement rather than an advertised extra. Why not go for the �fidgety and interfering’ photographer next time just to calm the nerves?

So, if you are talking to friends over Christmas who are considering coming back to Ireland for good, point them in the direction of the closest hotel blaring that signature My Girl loop and tell ‘em to take a long hard look at the future.


  1. Sean

    David,

    is the wedding phenomena part of the wider phenomena of
    women having more money to spend?

    Most of the ads on Tv & in the newspapers are concerned with
    the fashionable items that our cimely maidens should buy.

  2. Nick

    The wedding phenomena is yet another sign of the increasing
    materialism and Americanisation of Irish people.

  3. Dan Hayes

    David,

    Just a minor follow-up from this side of the pond regarding
    wedding frenzies here and there.

    I am forced to go to weddings about once every half-decade.
    I am always shocked/flabbergasted on how more elaborate
    they have beome in some five or so years. Usually the main
    meal is prefaced by a cocktail pary which has enough food
    and drinks to satisfy a Cossack Army! Of couse there is so
    much eating that appetites are ruined for the main meal,
    which in itself is a gastronical adventure of godzillian
    proportions.

    One another anomoly. Over the years I have noticed that New
    England weddings are much less venturesome. This is
    probabably due to the Irish-Americans adopting New England
    WASP frugality. But I will give the WASPS credit for one
    thing – before going to their dinners fill up on food as
    they are quite stingy with the food calories, but NOT with
    the alohol calories.

    Keep up your good work!

  4. Pete

    >Americanisation of Irish people

    Well said Nick. That’s exactly what’s happening,I just
    hadn’t found the right word.

  5. john bennett

    david,
    an excellent an entertaining article. I remember reading an
    article on this topic a while back. Their reasoning as to
    why weddings have become more expensive and elaborate is
    that the brides father does not have the same control over
    the event as he had in the past when it was being payed for
    by him. Now weddings are by and large being payed for and
    organised by the marrying couple. The groom these days
    doesn’t have much power to rein in the brides ever growing
    expectations.

  6. AdjectivePat

    David,

    Fantastic article, a realistic snapshot of the lifestyle we
    have wrangled upon ourselves.

    I have returned to Ireland after a period overseas, I have
    been to a few weddings since, everyone I met at these
    weddings proclaim them to be a fantastic day and blaah blaah
    blaah, etc… until you meet the same people at the next
    wedding, instantly the previous affair was invalid because
    of x, y, z.

    I charged against this rationale in my head for the first
    couple of occasions, always rem my mothers sayings,
    “tup-pence hay penny lookin down on tup-pence” and the
    classic “fur coat and no knickers”, until I found myself
    weighing in with like-minded comments, such as the “waitress
    didn’t smile once” and “did you see the way they brought
    out the baby to the bride at the dinner table”, “jeez yah
    think she’d get her teeth fixed, before tossin away 1500 on
    a harp player for the day”…… anyways I digress.

    Were doomed! I myself have no ill feelings towards marriage,
    just the 15 months leading up to it and the 6 month fall out
    after it…..

    I rem a couple of years back in B.C Ireland (Before Charlie,
    that’s McGreevy not our favourite white powder), a mate of
    mine asked me, why we couldn’t print our own money, I
    jokingly answered, we could but we don’t have enough to
    spend it on…….. I wonder if the primordial wedding
    planner overheard me?

  7. Spinsta Sista

    David,

    It’s all so scary and true! But where do people get the
    money to spend on a day of plastic gothic rose petal
    strewn pageantry when house prices are still rising? It’s
    not as if marriage is for life anymore, so why bother? It
    seems ridiculous to spend the guts of €20K on feeding and
    watering a bunch of guests who are going to criticise
    everything. It would be more sensible to put the money
    towards the mortgage or some other investment, failing
    that, back a few racehorses. When I Mr. Right we’ll be
    living in sin!

  8. Dermot

    As a wedding DJ, couldn’t agree more. One major change occured about 4 years ago. Every groom was given a list of jobs to do including organising the entertainment. Everytime I have a groom on the phone enquiring about my services, I can hear his bride to be in the background egging him on.

    They are also pushing out the advanced booking – where once it was 3 months, I took a booking earlier this year for 2009!

    All very true David, but I’m not complaining!

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