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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?
- Photography: Erin Clemens (Northern Ireland) and Will Robbins (West Virginia)
- Personalized etched beer glasses: Glass Engraving By Jennifer
- Personalized tree carving stamp: Blossom Stamps
- Caterer: Jason Lemine of Richwood Grill
- Cupcake tower: The Cupcakerie
- Cupcakes in Northern Ireland: The Cakery Bakery
- Jewelry: Bride's design crafted by Robin Dallas of Bead Monster Boutique
- Gown: Maria Severyna
- Groom's Tie: Cyberoptix Tie Lab
Enough talk — show me the wedding inspo!
fashion: Cyberoptix Tie Lab