The wedding planning business is a creative and exciting one. It’s often long hours, a lot of research, a lot of hands on working with a variety of people and traveling to places and we absolutely love every second of it. Our premier wedding planner, Michelle Johnstone Clark, often travels between her homes in the US and Ireland; researching and checking on venues for hands on details, negotiating and planning, conceptualizing and reconfiguring all in an effort to create her clients’ dream wedding day in Ireland. We thought it’d be fun for you to see what a typical week is like for Michelle. A combination of travel and work, a wedding or two and lots of meetings, take this inside look into how hard your planner and her team works for you to make your dream day come true.
Wake up. After a moment’s mental check that I’m waking in Ireland (rather than the States), I pop out of bed and begin the Monday Ritual, which incidentally is decidedly indifferent as to country or time change. First, emails. A quick glance through exciting new business inquiries, and I forward them on to Stephanie on the team to organize for more detailed review later in the week. The second batch of emails are correspondences with current clients; many clients end up doing catch up work for their wedding planning on Sundays, which usually means a bunch of emails on Monday mornings. A call to my partner, Sile, to catch up on progress and then upcoming scheduling completes the morning’s ceremony.
On schedule for today is a site visit to Tinakilly House. A 4 star hotel in county Wicklow, the “Garden of Ireland,” this country style estate house is charming and sophisticated, perfect to host two upcoming weddings for our clients. I am here to get a more detailed view of the venue, checking on the antique-decorated bedrooms and Victorian style dining room that will host our client’s event. The house was purchased by new owners about three years ago and have put in some remodeling work to update the Victorian mansion. I’m here to check up on the updates and see what they’ve done!
I will be happy to report to my clients the first impression as you enter will delight their guests. It has a very welcomed feel to it, very inviting which is important when hosting a wedding. The Captain Halpin Suite dining room has a gorgeous view of the Irish Sea, and if it’s a sunny day, we can make use of the garden right outside as well, perhaps to host a cocktail hour or after dinner space to enjoy champagne under the stars. If it’s a colder day we can move into the Asgard Suite or the Mizen Suite, both with beautiful marble fireplaces to cozy up to. We even did a mock dinner placement so I can show my clients how their reception may look; if they want to make any adjustments we have plenty of time to do them. The accommodations look fabulous: opulent and warm but not pompous, the big poster beds are inviting and make you want to just jump right in the middle. Yes, it will most certainly do.
Part of my job as a wedding planner is to be the eyes and ears for my clients who live thousands of miles away. It’s an incredible responsibility, to catch every detail of the venue and space and make sure it matches up with what the clients want to accomplish. When I do site visits, I really take the time to walk around the entire venue; walking around and looking at every corner and space to see how it can play its part for my clients’ big day, listening to see the sounds of the ocean in the distance perhaps, or birds in the garden. It’s imperative as a planner that I walk around the venue and grounds to understand its flow, the possibilities and also the limitations, so I can work together with the couple and make any adjustments if necessary well in advance. I take pictures as I go, for reference and to help my clients get a true representation of how their event will look like there.
After being in the business for ten years, we’ve seen most venues in Ireland. But they are constantly updating, so it’s important as planners we revisit to make sure they will still suite the aesthetic and feel our clients are looking for on their wedding day. This helps decrease their stress level, so by the time their wedding day arrives, we all know everything is on point, ready, and will be executed expertly.
Satisfied with the renovations at Tinakilly House and excited to report back my findings to my clients, I retreat back to my slumber and prepare for the next day.
Wake up. Back to emails. Tuesdays I usually coordinate with my writer, Mishy, on what amazing wedding, trend, venue, or planning and travel advice we’re offering on the blog this week and see if she needs anything from me. A few more return emails to clients and vendors, organizing details and making sure people are on task, some client calls and vendor scheduling and I hop into the car and head off to the wonderful Village at Lyons, located just 40 minutes from Dublin.
We’ve done many incredible weddings at the Village, but today I’m here to check out their newest edition: The Dovetail Cottage. As more and more couples are opting for smaller, more intimate weddings, as planners we’re looking for spaces to accommodate that still have the feeling of magnificence and splendor that a large, 300 person wedding in a castle would have. I have a detailed meeting with the wedding and conferencing manager and take a detailed tour of the Dovetail Cottage. I’m so happy and excited to present this option for our clients! The cottage is so charming: it has an “old world” vibe, is warm, and just so perfectly quaint. When put together with the rest of the estate and gardens, it will offer just the perfect option for my clients looking to host a smaller, more intimate wedding. I can envision the pictures here already and am just so excited to find that “perfect match” for a venue.
Feeling satisfied with the day’s progress so far, and hop back in the car. It’s off west to County Clare to check out another potential venue to host smaller weddings near the Cliffs of Moher. Still our most requested location for ceremonies, we’re constantly looking for places to host receptions and guest accommodations that are near the Cliffs to suit different tastes and price ranges. Today I’m excited to explore a new place, the Cliffs of Moher Retreat, situated right on the coast of the Cliffs themselves!
I arrived in Lahinch, a small fishing village off the Atlantic coast in Southwestern Ireland and made my way up to the Retreat. The owners, Michael and Michelle, have created the most amazing space of tranquility and nature perched high atop the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. Merging their passion for yoga, they brought back their knowledge and expertise to Ireland and purchased a field space in Lahinch on which they built their incredible space. The Retreat includes bedrooms, baths, and a state-of-the-art yoga studio with commanding views of the ocean and Clare coastline. The space appealed to me for weddings because a couple can have that same view and Cliffs experience, but in inclement weather months within the comfort and warmth the studio offers. Some elemental details brought in, candle light, fresh flowers can instantly transform this space into a unique and gorgeous venue to host your wedding ceremony. And the energy is incredible; calming and centered to help sooth any wedding jitters. The surrounding fields and short walk down to the cliffs themselves offers couples incredible opportunities for photographs and video, and guests will really enjoy the proximity to nature and the incredible natural beauty of this part of Ireland.
Michelle and Michael led me on a detailed tour and we sat down to discuss wedding packages, including an option to reserve the entire property for their exclusive use. That level of privacy and intimacy is something more and more clients are looking for on their wedding day, and I’m so thrilled to be working with Michelle and Michael to achieve that. Our talk ends with a wedding to be planned in 2017, and then I’m back in the car!
Next stop: meeting Lindsay in Liscannor! Our Waterlily Weddings team resident style guru Lindsay is based in Ennis. I got the opportunity to meet up with her to discuss weddings and styling for photo shoots at Vaughn’s Anchor Inn. Their restaurant boasts some of the most amazing food on the west, and this was my chance to finally sample some! The pub exhibits a fresh seafood menu (literally fished from a few feet away!) and compliments with dishes made from the fresh vegetable and herb garden right on the grounds. The menu changes seasonally, sometimes daily, to reflect the fresh, local fare, which would be a perfect option for clients wanting to get married in the west and have good food highly ranked on their priority list. Exciting me further, Vaughn’s opened a new back room that could seat up to 40 people. Excellent food, centrally located, and with the charm and tradition of an Irish coastal town, Vaughn’s is a perfect place I can recommend to clients for receptions and rehearsal dinners!
Belly full, I get back in the car and hit the road north towards Ballyvaughan, snapping some shots along the way. We always comment that you can stop anywhere on the western coast in Ireland and find the most perfect place to get married. It’s literally so true.
As the sun sets on the horizon, I make my way back and get some rest. The next day will be a big one.
Wedding day!!!! Perhaps the only other person on the planet besides the couple and close family that wakes up excited on wedding day is the wedding planner. The honor of being there for someone such an important day, being an integral part in the preparations and being able to help with those finishing touches truly makes my job the best in the world. Today we have a most spectacular elopement in one of the most breathtaking parts of Ireland: The Burren.
Located a few miles inland from the famous Cliffs of Moher, the Burren is a vast territory of varied topography, showcasing Ireland’s incredible landscape and spiritual history. From thousands of years old burial tombs to spectacular natural rock formations molded by the wind and salted air of the sea, it is no wonder why the ancient Celts chose this place as a place of worship. And it is befitting for a couple, seeped in tradition and spiritual awareness, to choose this glorious wilderness to be married. Today’s couple is is eloping, engaging the brilliant talents of Gavin Gallagher to create an absolutely epic video of their ceremony. They whisked away to Ireland together with their two small (and absolutely adorable) children, and presenting the finished video product back home to surprise their friends and family.
The day could not have been more spectacular. A bright shining sun burst through the blue sky this morning and was ready to warm the wilderness of the Burren. I met the bride in her room at Gregans Castle, a gorgeous boutique hotel in the heart of the Burren. A special place dear to my heart personally, as I was staying at Gregan’s with my eldest, Baily, was only 4 months old. It was then I started thinking about starting Waterlily Weddings, so I visited a list of my top four venues I would want to work with, Gregan’s being one of them, and just fell in love. I met Simon, the owner, and we struck up a friendship and business relationship that still lasts ten years later. It’s still one of my favorite places to visit, and one of my favorites to plan a wedding.
I helped the bride put on the finishing touches and then we all made our way to the ceremony location. The couple together with their fearless children courageously made the treck through the rough terrain to the middle of the Burren, where their celebrant was waiting. The sun’s rays split the rocks just perfectly, adding another element of perfection to the ambiance. A meaningful, spiritually focused ceremony took place, it’s simplicity and perfection highlighted by the glorious natural surroundings. The resulting video is absolutely amazing and we can’t wait to show you!
Wake up. Emails. Calls. All in order. A catch up on new business and then in talks with Aileen in Kerry about an upcoming wedding on a remote beach off the Kerry coast. We love pushing ourselves to create our clients’ dream weddings, even if that takes us to unusual locations or ones a bit further out to reach. We relish the challenge and savor the creative juices, so being able to brainstorm and coordinate as planners together to help achieve our client’s dream wedding day is a wonderful start to the day.
Here’s a sneak peek of BJ and Rene’s incredibly beach wedding on an island off the coast of Kerry (in the west). Ireland has a variety of topography, from mountains to sandy beaches and nothing but green in between. The sun shone perfectly for their special day. Stay tuned for more pictures soon!
I jump in the car and it’s off to visit Ocean Bar and Restaurant in Bray for a meeting with the manager about an upcoming rehearsal dinner in fall.
As I walk into the space I’m immediately taken with the spacious layout, comfortable seating, and vibe. The brick walls add texture and the restaurant is tastefully modern. It will be perfect to host the rehearsal dinner. I snap a few photos to send back to the clients, and finish up details for the rehearsal dinner. Talking in person with our vendors is so much better than over the phone; we can be clear on details, as often the small ones are what makes the biggest difference. It’s part of my job as wedding planner to interface between my clients (3000 miles away) and vendors in Ireland, communicating their desires and preferences and makes sure they will be personally attended to.
Satisfied, I head to Dublin….via The Dart! I love the Bray Train Station, and the journey from Bray to Dublin winds around a part of the east coast of Ireland nicknamed “The Sorrento of Ireland.” Taking in a bit of a break (from driving), I relax on the train and catch up on emails while the Irish countryside and coastline wind alongside my window.
I pull off at the Dublin station and make my way on foot to the alternative and very hip, Smock Alley. This incredible space of brick, stained glass, and history sits on the banks of the River Liffey in the quit(er) part of Temple Bar, a neighborhood of Dublin known for its artists, boutiques, and pubs. But what you may not see from first glance, is the incredible history in the building. Standing right next to the oldest building in Dublin, Smock Alley dates back to Dublin’s founding by invading Vikings battling native Celts. The building eventually became a theater, in fact, the only Theater Royal to be named such outside of London, and enjoyed a prestigious career as the foremost theater in all of Ireland. In the early 1800s the building was converted into a Catholic church, bringing together a couple of smaller churches to form the official Church of St. Michael and St. John. Eventually in 2012, the building returned to its roots and once again became a theater, restored to its former glory and premier theater for Dublin and now insanely perfect wedding venue!
The brick walls, crown molding ceilings, and medieval-inspired details together with original stained glass windows and fixtures throughout the building make for a most spectacular space. But the best part is the incredible natural lighting that comes through. Elegant and pure, the sunlight streams through even on the cloudiest of days, creating a most wonderful space just perfect to host a wedding or reception. Glossy wood floors and excellent acoustics beg for a great band and dancing into the night. We are so excited to be using it for a drinks reception (and possibly ceremony as well!) for a wedding soon. I’m so excited to report back to my clients that this is truly the perfect space for their dream wedding in Dublin!
While in Dublin, I take advantage of roaming the streets of this ancient bustling city. I make my way around Temple Bar, admiring the art galleries and local artists’ work, and end up at Jam Art Gallery. I picked up a sketch by Donegal Artist, James Stack for my son, Eli before I make my way back to the hotel.
I sink into my bed, exhaling in relief and recanting my week’s journey in Ireland in the stead of counting sheep. Cute local restaurants, excellent food sourced locally…spectacular scenery to host weddings, the wild Burren and the peaceful Cliffs of Moher Retreat…the crashing cliffs in Clare to the peaceful coastline of Dublin’s Bay…the colors of Temple Bar and serenity of Smock Alley…I cannot wait to get back to the states and talk to my clients, updating them on the wonderful things I’ve seen, and how excited I am for them to experience them firsthand soon. I close my eyes and wander off to sleep….
Beep! Beep! Beep!! The alarm rudely awakes me from my sleep bright and early. A quick pack of my things and check of the passport and I’m out the door to make my flight back to the States. As I walk into the airport I take another deep breath of my homeland — sweet Ireland — my heart gently saying “goodbye for now” and “I’ll be back soon.” I settle into my seat in the plane and pop open the laptop once more, scrolling through my notes and pictures, loading up the old email inbox once again, and settle in for 7 hours of uninterrupted work. I’m excited to share what I’ve seen, confident my clients will love everything, and excited to plan more details for their days.
As the plane begins to pull away from the airport and begin its assent into the clouds, I think of the new clients — those who haven’t been to Ireland yet, those who are just on the precipice of planning their dream weddings and I can’t help the smile that forms on my face. “They have no idea what’s in store,” I think to myself, “and boy are they going to be so pleasantly surprised!”
All pictures taken by Michelle Johnstone Clark with permission.