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A Breakdown of the Types of Wedding Ceremonies in Ireland

You’ve got engaged and set the date and looked at venues. So much to do and so many choices. Budgets will need to be set and reset. Guest lists need to be drawn up, discussed in depth and decided upon. Your favourite venue may change if your guest list is bigger than the venue has capacity for. At a very basic level you need five things to get legally married:

  • 2 people who meet the criteria to legally marry
  • 1 Solemniser who can perform the legally binding wedding ceremony
  • 1 Marriage Registration Form that is signed on the day of the ceremony
  • A venue booked or registry office appointment
  • 2 witnesses to sign the Marriage Registration Form (and a pen that works)

One of the big decisions you will have to decide is what kind of ceremony you want. A church or a non-church wedding.  If you decide on a non-church wedding there are some things you need to know that will help you make the big decision.

Firstly let me clear up the misnomer that all ceremonies that happen outside a church are civil ceremonies. This term is used regularly and is incorrect to attach it to all non-church wedding ceremonies. There was a time when being married outside a church meant you had a civil ceremony in a registry office. That was all that was available. But that changed a number of years ago whereby legally binding ceremonies could take place outside of the church setting and the registry office. It also means that there are now people with the authority to perform a legally binding ceremony who are not registrars. They are called Solemnisers and they can sign the Marriage Registration Form that is issued to you when you declare your intent to marry with the HSE alongside you the couple and the two witnesses’.

Hold onto your hat as we take a whistle stop tour through the kind of ceremonies you can have. These categories are clearly outlined in the Register of Solemnisers as Civil/Religious/Secular. This list is updated on a very regular basis and is dated letting you know how up to date and accurate the information in it actually is.

Terminology has become a tad blended to describe non-church ceremonies and confusing people greatly.

When it comes to Civil Ceremonies do take notice that only HSE personnel are listed beside the ‘Civil’ category. So if you want someone other than HSE registrars to perform your wedding ceremony that means you are having either a Religious or Secular wedding ceremony.

Let’s look at the categories in a little more detail.

Civil Ceremony

A Civil Ceremony is performed by a register. The registrar works for the state and can perform a wedding ceremony in either

a) The registry office


b) Depending on availability can come to your venue if it is approved by them.

There is limited ability to personalise your ceremony. There can be no mention of anything religious or spiritual in either the readings you choose or music you wish to have played. You are also not guaranteed the time of day you would like.

Religious Ceremony

A Religious/Secular ceremony is performed in line with the beliefs and philosophies of the particular organisations.

It might surprise you to know that not all Religious ceremonies have to take place in a church or other religious type building. Although this category does include all established religions which typically take place in their places of worship. But there are some ceremonies that fall under the religious category can happen in hotels and other bespoke venues.

This may have you scratching your head and wondering “How can that be, I thought all religious ceremonies happen in a church” and that is simply not the case. Nor do you have to subscribe to their beliefs in order to be married by them. All you need to know is that you are married under the Rites and Ceremonies of that body.

Spiritual Ceremonies is one body that falls under the religious category that respects and acknowledges all beliefs. This allows you to decide what is Spiritual to you. It also means you can take time in your wedding ceremony to remember those who have passed on by lighting a candle to symbolise their presence. Family members and friends can be remembered in a variety of ways in your ceremony and this can be discussed with your celebrant as to how you want that to happen.  You are afforded the option to have the freedom to include readings and music that have a religious tone.

It is important to note that not all religious bodies that fall under this category will facilitate this so do check if it is something that is important to you.

Secular Ceremony

Secular ceremonies are performed by bodies that have a view point that does not include anything religious or spiritual. They have no belief in the after-life with the ‘here and now’ being the cornerstone of their philosophy. So if you wish to acknowledge your loved ones in your ceremony this is more than likely not possible in alignment with their philosophy.  You will also have to check if you have to subscribe to their philosophy in order to be married by them under their rites and ceremonies.

It is also worth mentioning that if you have booked a celebrant to perform your ceremony you would be wise to ask them can they solemnise the marriage as in sign the paperwork. Don’t assume that everyone who is titled celebrant has this authority.

So there you have it. There are so many more options available now to be legally married than there ever was in Ireland. Yet so much confusion about who and where they can take place. My best advice is to think about how you want your ceremony to reflect you as a couple.  Ask for recommendations from other couples to get a sense of their experiences with your potential celebrant. Take your time to do your research and endeavour to have a conversation with the celebrant to see if you click with them personally.

Finally may I wish you all the happiness in world in your married life. And here’s to enjoying the best day of your life.

Spiritual Ceremonies:

Enda Harte | Mike Murray | Minister Eileen Morris | Rose Mummary | Sandra Losty | Berenice Farrell | Minister Miriam Fitzgerald | Tara Carroll | Vincent Whelan | Graham Barrett

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Kelly Jane Hartmann

Kelly is a former wedding planner and a lover of anything pink. She believes that any bride can plan her own wedding, with a few tips and helpful tools.

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