Hello everyone, this week on my blog you are in for a real treat. As you may or may not know I am roaming our beautiful countryside with the hard task of meeting the amazing people behind the weddings venues you know and love. Not just to pop in admire and ogle but more importantly to congratulate them on their weddingsonline award win and delve into the reason why they won the award and what it means to them. So many are over the moon to have won but are humbled to keep going to better create, reinvent and make YOUR wedding the best it can be.
I was delighted this week to venture down Dunlavin way to Co. Wicklow but this time to a property I have heard non stop about from fellow brides. Many say it’s beautiful, many say it’s breathtaking, many say it’s cosy but for me when I drove up the vintage gates and onto the gravel with the golf course on either side, I knew it felt like home. If only my home LOOKED like that but it is my aspirational home, laced with cascading ivy, lush gardens and character to boot. Tucked away behind the incredible landscape of vast greenery is the stunning Rathsallagh House and boy was it a marvellous sight!
Rathsallagh to my mind as mentioned is one of the VERY few wedding venues I’ve neither stayed in nor had the pleasure of attending a wedding at. I was struck by how much character the face of the building has; it’s so pretty and encapsulating that you forget it’s a highly functioning exclusive venue with over 70 staff. I thought on first reflection that it was a weekend retreat too where you could book special birthdays and Christmas’ but I was wrong- only a few days or a weekend a year does it open to us mere mortals so you better be quick… I luckily got my spoke in and booked in for next January… okay so only another 9 months to wait but it’s worth it!
Meeting Joe O’Flynn Proprietor and Manager is a fun-filled experience, dapper and dashing, Joe is full of stories and life… my kind of person who talks about the excitement of having your wedding here, a mix between Formula 1 Eddie Jordan and old gentry. This place has it in spades, it’s stunning, country, chic, unique, classy, cosy and individual… and as Joe would say you can hire it out for the few days and have the craic… again my kind of person!
So in catching up with Joe on the sofa at Rathsallagh beside the roaring fire, I wanted to know after ALL the wins over the years (there has been too many to name), why was this one, the weddingsonline award for ‘Exclusive Venue of the Year’ so special?
“ It was amazing… we’ve always been runner up and we’re like ‘come on, we’ll do it, we’ll do it’… and we finally got it and it was just thrilling! My heart nearly came out of my mouth the night when they announced it but it’s for the team here, it’s THEIR award!”
What has the weddingsonline award done for you, your business and the team spirit here at Rathsallagh?
“It’s done amazing things… the enquires have gone through the roof, sure we could hardly keep up with them so it’s been brilliant. We’ve another very busy 2018, we’re nearly fully booked for 2019 but come on… I still have some dates!! Haha… but no it’s really flying and we are great thank God!”
Joe is a true businessman and knows that Rathsallagh is something special. For me it may be a top class wedding venue but it’s the history of the property and that of his family who bought it in the late 70s and transformed it to what it is now that is just as important. The back story of the house is just as interesting to those who marry here as the legendary weddings they produce and Joe kindly filled me in.
“When we came here in 1978, we were dairy farmers from Cork and butchers in Cork city. My father found Rathsallagh and then the recession hit hard in the 80s so my mother started doing Farmhouse B&B. In and around 1984/85, we started in the hospitality industry and we’ve been thriving ever since.”
Rathsallagh is coming into its 40th year as a family run business and it’s one of those venues which has repeat business and it’s passed down from family to family and generation to generation.
“We’re here so long, we’ve had a daughter getting married whose mother was a Rathsallagh bride. I’ve also got a gentleman whose four daughters have been married here… he tells me he has shares now!”
We wouldn’t doubt it, but what are the team behind the magic like, how and who makes them work like clockwork?
“We have a LONG history of doing weddings here and we’ve a superb team. Catherine Lawlor has been here since day one for example; 30 years and Maeve is here 28 years so the combined wedding experience for the wedding co-ordinators here is 80 years! They don’t like me to say that but for me that’s continuity and right through recessions, hard times and good times we are still here and we are still delivering and doing what we love to do!”
Joe’s parents now in their 70s and 80s are very much on par with running the show and as we know already the team have over 30 plus years experience, so what makes a wedding here unique? Is it the exclusivity or the personal touch or is it the fact that they are experts after all their years and you’re in very safe hands?
“There are an awful lot of venues in Ireland that call themselves ‘exclusive use’ but they might have some other business such as a shop or restaurant, something else going on in the property… we don’t. So when that couple walks in the door, our entire focus for the day, two days or three days is them. Any last minute changes can be done for example; say they are having an onsite civil ceremony in the beautiful walled garden beside the apple blossom tree and suddenly a cloud comes over and it doesn’t look good, we can instantaneously move the wedding inside without a blip or hardly anybody noticing. That’s all because of our focus and dedication to that couple on the day because there is nothing else here, only them and we are only there for them too.”
Sounds wonderful, close personal attention – that’s what every bride and groom needs and wants but my little findings after a recce around the property was that of a new church on the site grounds. This is Joe’s latest addition and it’s genius.
“On site civil ceremonies have been rising year on year and have become more and more popular particularly around Easter time where you can’t get married in a church in Ireland so we discovered that a lot of couples don’t want to compromise. We have a dedicated space now (our church or granary) and we can seat 250 people there- it’s magnificent!”
But Joe’s genius ideas extend to us ladies, how did he come up with the exclusive boudoir off the dance floor? THIS I loved and had never seen before but there is method behind his madness as he explains…
“If you go to a wedding in a big hotel, keeping everyone together can be difficult and particularly the ladies, I’ve found that many women seem to find the furthest bathroom away and convene there spending hours away from the party. So…. I put a boudoir right there beside the wedding pavilion for ladies so you can be found! It has everything you need, mirrored walls, seating area, lotions and potions. It means people aren’t split and you’re all kept together.”
One thing that struck me aside from the stunning bedrooms and old country feel was how many rooms there were! I counted 39 in the main house and 6 in the two gate lodges but according to Joe there are over 800 B&B’s too that you can share with your guests if you have a large wedding. Rathsallagh can actually cater for the small weddings of 40 right up to 250. However, although I couldn’t disclose ANY celebrities who have had their wedding there, let’s just say they are the crème de la crème of both the music industry and indeed Hollywood too… you are walking with the A-list when you book… but it also is so endearing it feels like home.
“We like to be relaxed and treat everyone the same. But yes people aspire to have their weddings here and we’ve had many high end ones, during the Derby times we had to bring in Irish helicopters with their own air traffic control because there could be anywhere from 5 or 6 aircrafts coming and going at the same time to the races. It’s lovely to aspire to but we will work with everyone’s budget from 50 cents to 50 million!”
Finally, after chatting non stop to Joe, I found out that Rathsallagh House is going to have a face-lift in the coming months so anyone that knows and loves the property are in for a treat. The ‘old lady’ as Joe calls her is going to have a fresh coat of paint and will when it’s complete according to Joe, look ‘brilliant!’
I don’t doubt it and with his rock solid team and his effervescent enthusiasm I’m convinced this bit of lipstick and highlighter is going to make her better than ever for years to come!
Congratulations on your win and we look forward to the next 40 years of Rathsallagh!
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Lisa Cannon is best known as a presenter on TV3's hugely popular movie show, Box Office. She blogged all about the lead up to her Big Day in Italy in September 2015.