If the very idea of a big white wedding brings you out in hives, check out Lucy White's edit of the country's best bijou bashes...
Depending on which study you read, the average wedding in Ireland costs around €21,000, the venue alone hogging anywhere between €6,000 and €9,000. Factor in that a third of weddings consist of between 100 and 150 guests and it's easy to see how the budget can, very quickly, spiral out of control.
Unsurprisingly, many couples look to cut costs by trimming their wedding party. I mean, would anyone really miss Aunty -Twice-Removed Dympna, who you've not seen since you were last swapping fancy paper? But more than that, many couples simply don't want a colossal party. Whether it's just not their style, or they're on their second (third... fourth...) marriage, sometimes less is more. So, if you're looking for somewhere that can accommodate the ceremony and reception on one site, or you just need a small, intimate, atmospheric venue to eat, drink and be merry (without any of the formal stuff), read on and get your notebook out.
Bygone farmhouses meet contemporary creature comforts at Ballilogue Cloch?n (pronounced ?clock-awn?), where hospitality is warmer than a hot toddy. Former fashion designer Pat McCarthy spearheaded the restoration, and couples have the option of a ceremony, reception and afterparty all on site, for up to 40 guests (22 guests can stay over; bridal suite is complimentary). Food (five-course banquet style) is locally sourced. This place is also a great base for scenic walks - ideal for blowing away morning-after cobwebs.
The Inn @ Ballilogue Cloch?n, The Rower, Inistioge, Co Kilkenny, 051 423 857
A burlesque of sumptuous red velvet, antique chandeliers, ornate Corinthian columns and possibly the poshest loos in the North, The Merchant in central Belfast is perfect for vintage-themed weddings. There are several wedding-size options but, for an intimate reception, we love the idea of propping up the handsomely styled Champagne Bar; after all, The Merchant boasts arguably the best (and most extensive) cocktail menu in the city. And where better to get your dance on than at the hotel's Art-Deco-style jazz bar, Berts?
The Merchant, 16 Skipper Street, Belfast, +44 28 9026 2717; themerchanthotel.com
For Chilled-Out Chicks
Home to one of Dublin's oldest bookshops, The Winding Stair is also one of the city's best-loved restaurants. Wedding couples have dibs on the private room at the top?of the building, seating a maximum of 70 guests across its stripped-wood tables, bentwood caf? chairs and Chesterfield sofas. Food is artisan, seasonal and Irish sourced - special wedding menus are available but you can also choose their regular - la carte, or early bird. Its enviable vantage point overlooking the River Liffey seals the deal.
The Winding Stair, 40 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1, 01 872 7320; winding-stair.com
Kilgraney Country House may be wee but it doesn't fall short on hospitality, comfort, or facilities. Accommodating up to 26 wedding guests, this gorgeous Georgian gem is set in five acres of secluded lawns and herb gardens overlooking the Barrow valley. Food is locally sourced and home-grown, while an exclusivity package ensures that Joe Public won't end up photo-bombing. Note that Kilgraney is unsuitable for children under 12 years, which solves that riddle about whether to invite cousin Ava and her unruly offspring.
Kilgraney Country House, Muine Bheag, Bagenalstown, Co Carlow, 059 977 5283; kilgraneyhouse.com
Art lovers may get hot under their Joanne Hynes collars to discover that the National Gallery of Ireland hosts civil ceremonies, wedding receptions and dinners Monday- Friday. Far removed from a white cube, the gallery's events space is in a beautifully restored adjacent Georgian house; a blank canvas for your own nuptial noodlings. There are two rooms - the Lavery (up to 40 guests) and the Purser (up to 20), and even the option of a private gallery tour. Tip: Save cashola on invitations by buying blank art cards from their fab shop.
National Gallery of Ireland, 5 South Leinster Street, Dublin 2, 01 663 3512; nationalgallery.ie
Located on Dublin's Georgian Mile - and a short walk from the Registry Office on Grand Canal Street - 25 Fitzwilliam Place is pure elegance, not least the opulent, Gandon Rooms, painted in Cinema Navy blue, where food is served after the civil ceremony. Chef James Doyle, who has previously worked with Gordon Ramsay, will help devise a tailor-made menu, while parties of up to 100 guests are given the option of exclusive feasting at its nearby sister venue, Brasserie Le Pont. This outfit is classy meets contemporary swoonville.
25 Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin 2, 01 669 4646; 25fitzwilliamplace.ie
Lucy White @LucyWhiteDublin
This article featured in BASH Volume 2 as 'Small But Perfectly Formed'. BASH Volume 4 is on shelves now.