Erin & Ryan's Northern Ireland roadtrip and homespun Appalachian handfasting

(WV) The Kiss
Photos by Erin Clemens and Will Robbins

The Offbeat Bride: Erin, Executive Director at a Nonprofit Organization (and Tribesmaid)

Her offbeat partner: Ryan, MarComm Director at Biotech Firm

Date and location of wedding: Ballynoe Stone Circle, County Down, Northern Ireland and our forested backyard, West Virginia — October 6, 2012

Our offbeat wedding at a glance: Ryan and I like to take the old proverb "you can't have your cake and eat it, too" as both personal challenge and individual goal. Therefore, when we were planning our wedding and couldn't decide between two drastically different affairs (a free-spirited private destination wedding adventure versus an intricately detailed small community backyard handfasting), we decided to have them both.

(Ireland) Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetary

(Ireland) Cliffs of Moher

(Ireland) HIgh Tea @ Merchant Hotel

Wedding #1: NORTHERN IRELAND
All we knew was that we wanted to be at Ballynoe Stone Circle on the Autumn Equinox for our quaich ritual and vow ceremony. We didn't make a single reservation or plan in advance, outside of renting a car. Each day we decided where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see, and left a lot of room for exploring and twists of fate. We had this incredible, spontaneous journey for two weeks wherein we circumnavigated the entire island before heading to Ballynoe for our vows. It was just the best experience we could have imagined as a lead-up to our ritual, and really put us in the right mindset for our ceremony the following day at the gorgeous megalithic stone circle in County Down, where many years before we celebrated our first Winter Solstice as a couple.

(WV) Nuptial Jewelry

Wedding #2: WEST VIRGINIA
For our West Virginia immediates-only handfasting, we decided to vet any and all plans along a four-point rubric:
1. No purchasing of any goods we wouldn't reuse multiple times in the future
2. Local/seasonal/sustainable/small business/green everything possible
3. Have an old-fashioned Appalachian community celebration using freely offered skills and supports
4. To each contribute something creative of "unique, meaningful, and lasting value" to our celebration (e.g. I wrote and he brewed.)

(WV) Rings N' Things

(WV) Wedding Afterparty

We were handfasted at twilight on a gorgeous October evening underneath an apple tree festooned with tiny tealight lanterns and crocheted streamers in our forested backyard. Then we moved into a canopy tent to eat food, listen to music, and spend some time talking and laughing as a newly formalized family before ending the night drinking leftover bottles of champagne around a bonfire. Ryan and I stayed with our last guests until 3:00 a.m., where we all raided the fridge for leftover wedding feast tidbits and listened to some spontaneous guitar on the back porch before heading upstairs for the night.

etched-wedding-glass

One thing I would like to share is how very lucky we were to have many close friends and family contribute their special talents to our wedding, which made our special day unbelievably affordable in addition to creating a very uniquely special celebration to remember all of our lives.

(WV) Homemade Chocolates & Candies

birch-wedding-cake

To share just a few of the incredible labors of love from our community:

  • My brothers Matthew and Ryan created and brewed a Belgian-style WV buckwheat honey ale that we christened "Handfast Me Honey Ale." (Spoiler alert: it was delicious!)
  • My mother Suzan created a lovely wedding cake fashioned like the birch trees that used to ring our property, with hand-painted leaves and our initials carved into the back. The cake was my grandmother's legendary dark chocolate with buttercream frosting and ganache filling, wrapped around a Guinness rice crispy treat center created especially for Ryan.
  • My cousin Nicole made a delicious tower of homemade candies for our Pittsburgh-traditional cookie table, a nod to Ryan's family heritage. Yummies included WV wild blackberry caramels, Valhrona dark chocolate and candied bacon bites, pecan pie brittle, and sweet pumpkin truffles.
  • Ryan's Aunt Janet created my gorgeous wedding crown and bouquet from an extremely rough concept, utilizing her awesome professional costumer skills.
  • Ryan's friend Geordy put together a "punk-rock string quartet" with some music school friends who created a setlist of great songs by artists like Radiohead, Led Zepplin, Pixies, and Portishead.
  • Ryan's Uncle David purchased a pig from a farm near his home and transported it over 80 miles for my brother Matthew to roast whole over hickory coals.

(Ireland) Ballynoe, Autumn Equinox

(Ireland) Quaich w/Tullamore Dew

Tell us about the ceremony: NORTHERN IRELAND: Ryan's mom Karen bought us a gorgeous traditional Scottish quaich engraved with part of Robert Burns' "My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose." Fun fact: the poet is actually one of Ryan's distant ancestors! We used it to toast our vows with Tullamore Dew, the Irish whiskey of choice to both of our maternal grandfathers. It was a fantastic melding of Ryan's Scottish family ancestry and our shared Irish family heritage.

(Ireland)  Celebratory Muffins

Since our West Virginia wedding was planned out in advance with a lot of detail and thought, we wanted complete spontaneity for our Northern Ireland vows. We bought my flowers and our nuptial cupcakes at St. George's Market on the morning of the ceremony, selected a dress while window-shopping in downtown Belfast that afternoon, then snagged candles and whiskey on the way to the site. The only things we brought with us in advance were the heirloom altar cloth and the quaich.

(Ireland) Erin + Ryan

Instead of composing written or rigidly structured vows in advance, we both allowed each other time to speak freely from the heart during our quaich ritual about what our relationship meant to each of us, what we had already shared, and what we wanted to come in the years ahead.

(WV) Punk Rock String Quartet

(WV) Ceremony Space

WEST VIRGINIA: My mother became licensed as an officiant by the state and performed our ceremony. She has always been the spiritual leader of our family, and has gradually learned to speak fluently again after suffering a stroke three years ago.

We used an antique wedding ring quilt made by the great-great ladies in my family line as an altar cloth that is probably over 100 years old. Ryan had a groom's processional, and he walked in to our punk rock string quartet's version of Pixies' "Here Comes Your Man."

(WV) Karen & Jim's Recitation

My dad Jim and Ryan's mom Karen started off the festivities by doing a really funny dramatic reading of The Magnetic Fields' "The Book of Love."

(WV) Laughing During The Ceremony

(WV) Tying The Knot

I wrote the ritual that we used for our handfasting over several months of thought and many cups of Earl Gray. The following is an excerpt:

The ties that bind a relationship are invisible, but are represented here today in each of these interwoven threads. Each color and thread represents an event in the lives of Erin and Ryan — a formative experience or twist of fate — that pulled the pieces together to create the whole that is this day, this relationship, and this moment. Some of these threads stretch to a time before Ryan and Erin were born, and are pinned on the love and promises of their own parents and grandparents. Some of these threads were picked up accidentally, and some were selected with careful design. Some came tangled and snarled, while others were smoothed and straightened. The act of weaving these individual influences into a larger whole is a transformation caused by love.

(WV) Ancestor Altar at Wedding

Our biggest challenge: I would have to say the biggest challenge was sticking to our ethos and vision in the face of that monolith known as the wedding industry. Having never been targeted by an industry in quite the same way before, I didn't understand how much pressure we would receive from all directions (vendors, vague acquaintances, wedding specialists, potential venues, and the like) to buy into a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all rite full of traditions that didn't hold any meaning for us. It made me really grateful for resources like Offbeat Bride, as well as for the community created around that shared outlook. Thank you, Tribesmaids! You were more help than you'll ever know!

(Ireland) Manors, please!

(Ireland) Ring of Kerry

(Ireland) Valentia Island

My favorite moment: NORTHERN IRELAND: On the day of our quaich ritual and vow ceremony, we revisited the house where we first lived together as a couple in Belfast, had a delicious celebratory meal at the restaurant Made In Belfast, then spent the rest of the afternoon retracing our separate daily routines from back in the day before meeting up again for our sunset ceremony. It was a perfect way to cap off the travel portion of our experience.

WEST VIRGINIA: Right after we exchanged vows and had our hands joined with the handfasting cord, our friend Claire (who flew in from England for just this one day) stepped forward and did a reading that brought tears to our eyes. It was lovely because it gave Ryan and I a moment to pause in the middle of the ritual and concentrate on each other without having to participate in anything.

(WV) Ryan Playing Erin's Processional

Another really incredible moment for me was my processional. I walked out while Ryan sang Bob Dylan's "You Belong To Me" accompanying himself on guitar. That song has a lot of special meaning for us, and is something Ryan often plays to me from stages, across firepits, and snuggled in our living room.

(WV) Souvenir Take Home Cookie Bags

My funniest moment: WEST VIRGINIA: We made these tea stained, die-cut leaves out of old slit-cover books abandoned at my office to mingle in with the real leaves/gourds/lanterns we used as centerpieces. Halfway through the reception, some of our guests came to the realization that certain naughty literature was emblazoned on some of the leaves. We realized eventually that our giveaway book lot must have included works by Anais Nin and Irvine Welsh. As you can probably imagine, a healthy black market trade quickly developed for the leaves with the juciest quotes.

(WV) Wining and Dining

(WV) Matt & Will

(WV) Family

What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding? Rituals only have the meanings we assign them, so you should only incorporate elements that speak to who you are and where you want to be as a couple.

Find a day-of coordinator if you can afford it. You will be way too busy to oversee everything, and you will need someone with a detailed command of your overall vision to ride herd on the pre-festivities. My sister Randi served as our coordinator, and she was absolutely invaluable in that capacity.

(WV) The Ritual Space At Night

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  1. Hooray for a beautiful autumn wedding in West Virginia. I'm hoping mine this October will be at least half as lovely.

    5 agree
    • Thanks, Sara! Those are some really sweet things to say! Are you getting married in West Virginia? October is such a fantastic month for autumn wedding, especially here with all these mountains and trees. I'm sure your wedding will be absolutely gorgeous!

      2 agree
  2. Oh my gosh! So awesome that you got married in two of my favorite places! And any food from Richwood is AMAZING I bet it was a very delicious day!

    Much love and a bit of jealousy from a WV transplant by way of Belfast!!!

    5 agree
    • Jess — how are we not already friends?!? πŸ˜‰ Thanks for the shout out! If you are somewhere in the 304, we should get a coffee sometime and talk about our mutual loves!

      I completely agree on all points! Jason from Richwood Grill is a good friend, and he did an absolutely incredible job…purchased from local farmers and vendors, crafted a seasonal meal that was absolutely incredible, had everything laid out beautifully and looking absolutely fantastic…and the total cost of the meal was a fraction of what a standard buffet dinner at a banquet hall/venue would have been. (That plus the whole family nibbled some very delicious leftovers in coming days.) It was just unbelievable, and really made the night perfect!

      2 agree
      • I am in the 304, currently Morgantown. I would love to make new friends! You can get a hold of me on the tribe I'm jhall16.

        1 agrees
  3. Love – You guys are awesome! Everything was beautiful and even more special because it's a reflection of you both. Congrats again!!

    4 agree
    • Thanks, Lauren! πŸ™‚ That is such a wonderful thing to say! I know your upcoming wedding will be just as special and meaningful! (Good luck in the final weeks! I know it will all turn out gorgeously!)

      2 agree
  4. "Rituals only have the meanings we assign them."
    This is so perfect. I loved reading this- it seriously read like an amazing story. I am so entranced by the idea of the spontaneous wedding. It's beautiful. And when you listed the food you had in W. Virginia…wow. The rice Krispy inside the cake is genius.

    6 agree
    • Lellida…you are making me speechless. ::hugs:: Thank you for the beautiful, very kind words. Your comment has completely made my day. πŸ™‚

      I strongly believe in that sentiment, and think a lot of our Tribesmaids probably also agree. It can be a hard thing cutting through all the layers of pseudo-tradition in order to craft a rite that truly speaks to the couple involved, and I love that so many people on this site are making a similar effort.

      Oh, the food! Dinner was absolutely incredible…I was floating around on a culinary cloud for the better part of a week afterwards (delicious leftovers abounded since we skipped headcounts and portions, and went right into Roman orgy for servings)… and the rice krispie center is epic! I don't know if it will be so epic in another few months when we do the traditional first anniversary cake thing, but I like to think that is what they make chocolate sauce for!

      2 agree
  5. Hooray for the punk rock string quartet! I saw that their music was written out, and that definitely takes lots of time to do. I bet they loved getting to play something new and more offbeat.

    3 agree
    • Hi, Phaedra! ::laughing:: It was definitely a twist. I didn't get to see this part because I was inside the house getting ready, but apparently when they first started they did one of those tasteful jazz standards and then slowly morphed it into Led Zepplin's Kashmir. People were whipping out camera phones and laughing. πŸ˜‰ (I heard a lot of positive feedback about that afterwards!) They definitely had a lot of fun doing something other than…what did he say?…the blah blah blandly tasteful jazz standards. πŸ˜‰ The quartet were also big fans of the Handfast Me Honey homebrew, and later asked for a batch of their own!

      1 agrees
  6. Yay! So good to see an offbeat wedding in Northern Ireland, and beautiful County Down especially! (I'm slightly biased.. i live here).. Looks wonderful, and really impressed you took each day as it came without a plan, love the spontaneity!

    3 agree
    • Pigeon! You lucky human being — County Down is such a gorgeous, incredible place! (As is Northern Ireland — no bias because it's just true.) It is honestly one of my favorite spots in the world. Would you be willing to use your local knowledge and share some recommendations for our next visit? πŸ™‚

      Being flexible and spontaneous during our roadtrip wedding was one of the best decisions we've ever made as a couple — I would recommend it to other Offbeat Brides in a heartbeat. There is absolutely no stress involved, and you are totally free to go where the day is taking you…to linger over delicious beverages of an afternoon…to go see that one place you are so very close to…to check out that thing the people at the coffeeshop mentioned…to stay the night in the amazing place you just stumbled across… absolutely brilliant!

      2 agree
  7. Two beautiful weddings for two beautiful people! Everything was absolutely you and absolutely stunning! Love ya!

    3 agree
    • ::hugs:: Such lovely words, as always. Love you, too, Stacia! THANK YOU!

      (Tribesmaids: Stacia is the lovely lady behind my bridal makeup! She did an awesome job of adhering to my natural products ethos, too! Kudos to her for such a fantastic job!)

      2 agree
  8. So wonderful to see a W.V. wedding! It is so rare to find any local inspiration. Even on OBB there aren't even many vendors listed for the state. What glorious, joyful events you have had! All best wishes to the couple.

    3 agree
    • Sarah, thank you so much! It certainly felt that way to us! πŸ™‚ And I know exactly what you mean — West Virginia isn't representing very strongly on OBB right now, for whatever reason. I was very happy and humbled to share the things that worked for us, and am looking forward to posting some vendor info on our state listing. Thank you for the lovely wishes! πŸ™‚

      1 agrees
    • Thanks, Naphtha! πŸ™‚ My mother did that cake all on her lonesome! (Correction: I think my brother Matthew helped create the Guinness rice krispie treat center recipe.) She used to do cakes for wedding and parties many years ago, and now just exhibits those skills primarily for special occasions. It is cool because Ryan and I actually didn't know any details at all until she brought the cake out at the reception. (She made it in secret, and crafted it based on our personalities and our wedding.) Mom made a lovely white tiramisu-inspired cake for my sister's wedding, and is working on another for my cousin's Summer 2014 wedding! I should have her work up a DIY tutorial about it and share it with the Tribe!

      1 agrees
  9. Absolutely one of my favorite weddings I've seen here! I love the double ceremony and all the soulful thought that went into the various rituals. We will probably have an autumn wedding and your dress and decorations inspire ideas for me. Best to you all…what a beautiful start to the next part of your life. πŸ™‚

    4 agree
    • Erika, thank you SO MUCH! ::hugs:: Those are some of the loveliest things I've heard! I am so glad you are finding inspiration in what meant so much to me, and I hope your autumn wedding (if that is what you decide to go with) reflects the same joy and generosity that you radiate. Will you be a fellow red dress bride? I would love to hear details of your special day! πŸ™‚

      1 agrees
  10. Congratulations from Belfast, Erin & Ryan. So happy to see another couple enjoying the harvest season in lovely Counties Antrim and Down, and I just about hopped out of my chair with excitement at your mentions of local haunts like tea at the Merchant Hotel and St. George's Market! πŸ™‚
    All of your autumnal colours and details are rich while being simple, and every item expresses the love of your community. Really beautiful.
    May you have many happy years together!

    1 agrees
    • EMILY! ::giant hug:: You recognize all of our places! I am so excited that we both know and cherish these same spots! (I literally just called my husband up in the middle of band practice to tell him about your comment!) I absolutely love Belfast…even more so the larger areas of Counties Antrim and Down…and am so happy you know the brilliance of the Merchant Hotel tearooms! Also: you are so incredibly eloquent! Your description of the atmosphere and ethos is exactly everything we wanted our rituals to be. Thank you so much for letting me know that it came across that way. Lastly, thank you for the blessing! We hope for that exact future! πŸ™‚

  11. Absolutely beautiful wedding – one I am looking for actually. Curious so were you considered "married" in Ireland then? My boyfriend and I heavily talk about the wedding and I'd love to add the handfasting part. Beautiful concept. Right now it's long distance, but we've talked about getting hitched and putting off the big wedding until a year or so late. I don't know how I feel about it, but yours seems close to the idea of what we'd do just closer together. Beautiful wedding. Colors and everything – so jealous! I'm from Chicago and want a fall wedding (as does he) like this…just breathtaking – views, decor, words – all aspects!!!!

    2 agree
    • ::hugs:: Thank you so much, JoAnn! You really made my day! Thank you for being so generous, complimentary and kind! πŸ™‚

      Your fall wedding & handfasting idea sounds fantastic! — I fully admit to being biased. πŸ˜‰ — It sounds like you have a very similar outlook on things as my husband and I!

      One thing I know some couples do is to have a private ceremony handfasting (which we did with our quaich ceremony), and then follow that up a year and a day later (on the anniversary of the wedding) with the public commitment ceremony/celebration involving loved ones (which we did with our handfasting.) That might be something to consider, as it works well into your plans! My husband and I are actually planning a party to celebrate our first anniversary based around that concept! πŸ™‚ The handfasting ritual is really very lovely and meaningful, so you should definitely consider incorporating it if it speaks to you.

      To answer your question about the marriage filing — we filed our marriage certificate in West Virginia, because we wanted to have my mother's signature (as officiant) on our permanent paperwork. πŸ˜‰

      Good luck with your wedding plans and ideas! It's such a lovely life ritual! If I can help point you to any resources or information that would be of use, please don't hesitate to find me on the Tribe! πŸ™‚

    • ::hugs:: Thank you so much, JoAnn! You really made my day! Thank you for being so generous, complimentary and kind! πŸ™‚

      Your fall wedding & handfasting idea sounds fantastic! β€” I fully admit to being biased. πŸ˜‰ β€” It sounds like you have a very similar outlook on things as my husband and I!

      One thing I know some couples do is to have a private ceremony handfasting (which we did with our quaich ceremony), and then follow that up a year and a day later (on the anniversary of the wedding) with the public commitment ceremony/celebration involving loved ones (which we did with our handfasting.) That might be something to consider, as it works well into your plans! My husband and I are actually planning a party to celebrate our first anniversary based around that concept! πŸ™‚ The handfasting ritual is really very lovely and meaningful, so you should definitely consider incorporating it if it speaks to you.

      To answer your question about the marriage filing β€” we filed our marriage certificate in West Virginia, because we wanted to have my mother's signature (as officiant) on our permanent paperwork. πŸ˜‰

      Good luck with your wedding plans and ideas! It's such a lovely life ritual! If I can help point you to any resources or information that would be of use, please don't hesitate to find me on the Tribe! πŸ™‚

      1 agrees
  12. Hello! I'm from California and I'm looking to get married to a man from the north of Belfast(Newtownabbey)!

    Did you find it easier to get married in the states officially? Do you live in the states now or in Northern Ireland? We've decided to get married in NI and then have a blessing in my hometown a week or two later. But we've decided to live in NI afterwards but it seems to be so hard because of the visa laws! So nice to see someone else got through what I'm currently going through but it always seems that couples get married in the states and then come back to the UK.

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