Caroline & Mark’s Unexpectedly Snowy Dublin Wedding

Today’s wedding graduate post could easily be a tale of everything going wrong: a wedding planned far away from friends and family, painfully awkward family interactions, and unexpected fall snow that made it near impossible for guests to arrive. But somehow it is a story of hope and joy and redemption. It’s a testament to the fact that often things go wrong, even really wrong, but somehow, as my grandmother, who braved her own wedding snow storm once told me, the magic of weddings is, “They happen no matter what.” And sometimes that’s enough. More than enough, even. So this goes out, with love, to those of you braving weddings in the face of tornados, and other disasters. We’re all wishing you joy, and hope, and the will to make it through.

Mark and I met in a Walmart parking lot in Helena, Montana. This is a slightly random place to meet an Englishman. But he was on a cross-country trip, we had friends in common, and I loved showing off my Western town. He stayed for a day that turned into a week that turned into a road trip to Utah and a plane ticket to the UK, and then two and a half years of flying back and forth, and applying for Irish citizenship so we could work in the same country. When finally, after three years, we were living in the same place.  Tired yet? We were. Living in the same time zone, let alone the same apartment, was a welcome change, and Mark proposed six months after I moved in.

We had our wedding in County Wicklow, just south of Dublin, Ireland.  It was 10 minutes away from where we got engaged. Since we were living in Dublin and our families were scattered throughout the US and UK, it was handy for us and (somewhat) equally inconvenient for our friends and families. We saw it as the only chance to have our families and friends ever meet, which was important to us. Also, most of them like Guinness, so it’s win-win.

However, as we were asking a lot from all our family and friends (like getting passports for the first time, spending precious holiday-days, or flying Ryanair), we struggled with things like a date, and a venue. We wanted something that felt special, but also was “us.” Oh, and we had vastly different internal visions for our wedding. I always expected to get married outside, near a field or mountains or something similarly grassy. In Ireland, this is not an option. You cannot legally get married outside. Until 2004, the only options were church or registry office. The rules have changed a bit, but it still has to be in an “approved venue” with things like walls, and a roof, and other stupid requirements.

We finally settled on Thanksgiving weekend since it would give the Americans some extra travel time, and it’s one of my favorite times of the year. Oh, and we got married on a Monday, because it was the only way we could afford the venue we found – a country hotel 10 minutes away from where we got engaged with local food, pheasants roaming, and a little decommissioned chapel next to a brook.  Plus, living in Ireland meant we could have a lovely fall wedding, even in the end of November.

Which brings me to point 1:

There are some things you can control. And there are some things you can’t.

This became the mantra of the wedding weekend. Here’s why – our crisp fall wedding turned into a snowy winter one. The night of our welcome reception (we rented a room in a pub so that everyone could hang out, instead of a more formal rehearsal dinner) it started to snow. Hard. It was beautiful. But I pretty much collapsed, crying, in the middle of an abandoned Dublin street as we walked miles home at two in the morning because there were no cabs. My maid of honor was delayed due to snow, and I wasn’t sure if she would make it (she did, 10pm the night before the wedding). I thought our vendors would cancel (one did, more later). I thought our solemnizer wouldn’t show up (she did, just late). I didn’t know if the roads would be passable to our rural location (they…well, they weren’t really. People had to park 2 miles away and get ferried up in 4 wheel drive vehicles, such as painters’ trucks and delivery vehicles).

And yet, it was okay. It wasn’t easy. It took some guests 7 hours to make a 1 hour journey. People pushed cars, and drove into ditches, and ripped off rental car mirrors. But all but two people made it to our ceremony. People compared horrific travel stories, and always had something to talk about. My fur coat suddenly looked appropriate. Our replacement DJ might have been able to vie for the worst DJ ever (When I point blank asked him to play certain songs immediately, he wouldn’t. Well he did, only 2 and a half hours later, in such an intense explosion that I thought I might have a dancing induced heart attack.) but we still danced, and stayed up until the wee wee hours. And the pictures?  They were almost worth all the trouble.

Awkwardness, like sh*t, can happen. Minimize it.

Most of our families have never met. We come from different cultures, and while we share a language, my southern Grandma can still barely understand his parents’ northern English accents. This could be normal awkward. But there is also the issue of my father. When my friends heard that he was coming, they immediately asked, “will that be awkward”?

(A bit of background: My father and I went through periods of talking or not talking throughout my entire adolescence and early adulthood. He’s an alcoholic, and has the emotions of a child. He got remarried six years ago, and invited me to the wedding. And then he uninvited me to the wedding. I had never met his new wife, nor had I seen him in six years.)

So yes: that will be awkward.

One of the best ideas we had was to have the awkwardness early. Our immediate family met each other on Friday evening, a whole day before the official welcome party. It was better than I expected. (Though my father actually introduced himself, not sarcastically, to my mother – she replied with, “Hi, I was married to you for 11 years.”) I freaked out a bit, but not as much as expected, because everyone was on their best behavior and my husband was a rock star. My mother-in-law, who I sometimes have a rocky relationship with, stepped it up and helped keep my father in check for the weekend. It was much, much better than I expected, and the rest of the weekend was casualty free because of it.

And one of the reasons I also think it was casualty free?

Doing it alone (together) is hard. But amazing.

This is the thing about planning a wedding where you have no friends, live far away from family, and living in a country where you have no community. You have to do it alone, together. You can try to involve family and friends as much as you want. They helped us find a dress and suits. They sat through Skype calls while we debated bridesmaid dresses and invitations. They helped us plan our hen and stag parties. But there is so much that you have to do yourselves – hauling yourself uptown, by yourself, for a final dress fitting. It may just be the two of you assembling crepe paper flowers, confetti cones, and favors. You have to work to include your people – to assemble wedding elves for much needed tasks like sure making my eye makeup not look like a fourth grader put it on, or making sure all the details are in place so that you can have a couple moments to just relax before the wedding. Our family and our elves were important. But you still have to do so much on your own.

The plus side? I found it is so much easier to have a wedding that reflects the two of you when you only hear your own voices. I didn’t have to deal with my mother’s comments on the song I walked down the aisle to, because it didn’t come up in our Skype chats ( it was M. Ward’s Eye on the Prize – and okay, maybe that was on purpose). We came up with our own set of events that reflected both cultures. I loved our pseudo-rehearsal dinner event that turned the wedding into a weekend.  I loved our super long British wedding schedule. We chose a Unitarian ceremony that gave homage to my spirituality, without making Mark feel uncomfortable with too much religion. I brought along a second dress to change into, one my cousin designed, so that I could dance better.

We also had an open call for speeches after the wedding party’s: so many people, from different corners of our lives got up to talk about us. The friend that accidentally set us up, my boss who gave me the time off to runaway to Utah with Mark, my friend Jess, who told me about APW and held my hand as we planned our weddings together. Hearing their voices just brought it all home for me, and made the day amazing. These were the things that helped make our wedding ours.

If I could pass on one word of advice to the undergraduates, it would be these words that I kept reminding myself when things were hard, or busy, or crazy.

It’s just a day, but it’s a big day. And the corollary: It’s a big day, but it’s just a day.

When I was sweating the details, and stressing out about things (or me) being perfect, I could remind myself that when it came down to it, it was one day in a lot of days in a marriage. And when I was frustrated and just wanted to drop it all and hide underneath my bed, I could step back and remember that I was doing it for the chance to have all our people together, in one place, and have our marriage blessed by them.

To us, our wedding was a celebration, a union of our separate lives. It was a project we accomplished together. It was not what we had planned, it was better than we expected, and it was always a surprise.

Photos By: Penry Photographers and Caroline’s friend, Brent Bearden Laurenz

Featured Sponsored Content

  • I totally agree with while a bit hard (and oh so lonely), planning a wedding without any help in a foreign country makes it a whole lot easier to really have the wedding you want. No one was expecting anything of us because my family had never been to an Argentine wedding nor his to an American wedding. They simply didn’t know what to expect or pressure us about! And… No pressure and no expectations really relieves stress during the planning process. And even if the snow complicated transportation, I’m totally jealous… it looks beautiful!! Congrats!!

  • SpaceElephant

    Are there footnotes here? I see an asterisk and a double asterisk but no correlating text.

    Thanks for this, Caroline. We are having our wedding where we live, which is not where either of our families or most of our close friends live. But it was the best choice for us bc this is our home, where we want to start our little family, and it gives us the most control over the day (weekend). But sometimes the logistics are overwhelming. It helps so much to read a story like yours to put everything in perspective. 7 hours for a 1 hour trip! You must feel so loved.

  • Edelweiss

    Awesome. My intended’s parents were married during a blizzard on Valentine’s Day. We just celebrated their 40th Anniversary this past February. And although nothing went as planned, their stories and pictures shone with smiles. In the end they didn’t remember what went wrong but the kindness of the strangers that shuttled their guests on ATVs up the hill to the church and the amazing will of all thier guests to show up and be with them on thier special day.

    Your story and pictures remind me of that love of community that makes a wedding so unique. Also – the third shot with you holding your shrug is ADORABLE.

  • Jo

    b) SO jealous you’re in Ireland. SO.
    c) This is some of the best advice I’ve read. Love it. Love love love.

    • ElfPuddle

      Of course she’s practical. She’s a Montana Girl!
      (Yes, that was actually said of me once. )

      • Jo

        Haha, it’s been said of me too.

        • I know officially plan on using my MT-girlness as the reasons for all my practical wedding choices… moreover nixing the “impractical” ones ;)

  • It’s just a day, but it’s a big day.
    And the corollary: It’s a big day, but it’s just a day.

    YES. Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES. To all you baby brides out there, just remember BOTH those things, and you’ll get through with your sanity and marriage intact.

    • This was my favorite part of the post too! Such great, valuable advice!!

    • When I was sweating the details, and stressing out about things (or me) being perfect, I could remind myself that when it came down to it, it was one day in a lot of days in a marriage. And when I was frustrated and just wanted to drop it all and hide underneath my bed, I could step back and remember that I was doing it for the chance to have all our people together, in one place, and have our marriage blessed by them.

      Tucking this in my bra cups to whip out on the day. Thanks for the sage words.

  • ElfPuddle

    Thank you, Caroline (and Meg). This is exactly what I needed to read and see this morning!

  • Lauren

    I love M. Ward. What a great song to walk down the aisle to!

  • struiling

    Open call for speeches. I want this, and I’m worried it won’t work out because no one will speak. Also, do you tell people ahead of time? What if they wanted to say something, but not with 5 minutes notice?

    • Caroline

      We planted one person (with a couple weeks notice), the person that introduced us, and the rest just happened. Which was awesome, but they were mostly my friends and family’s rather than Marks, because we are the loud, open American ones (I think). I think mentioning it to one or two people you want involved is a good idea, but I was really surprised (and humbled) by people who just got up and had something lovely to say.

    • Kristen

      Or… what if one of the people who really shouldn’t have a microphone pipes up?

      *And just to clarify that it’s not bridezilla-ness speaking – rather a true concern about a person who has, at times, actively worked at humiliating me. Or she could say something really nice and I would hate to squelch such an urge. You just never know with her.

  • Class of 1980

    Wow. Those wedding pictures look so happy and serene that I’d never guess at all the drama surrounding the day – from weather to families!

  • Laura

    Lovely wedding…I adore the sweet cake/cupcake display :)
    Thanks for your practical words regarding family awkwardness! This is a concern of mine too, and I appreciate hearing how others have dealt with it. So glad for you that everyone was on their best behaviour!

  • Amy*

    I love this grad post!*

  • Beth


    I just got back from my honeymoon in Ireland, they could not have married in a more beautiful place. Congratulations to them!

  • Natalie

    Yay Caroline! I’ve been waiting for this, and it is every bit as awesome as I expected. :-)

  • “It was not what we had planned, it was better than we expected, and it was always a surprise.”

    This is my favorite line.

    • Ain’t that true of life too?

  • ka

    Yay! A stunning wedding that’s also a survival tale. :) It’s true that when things go wrong, people never run out of things to talk about. I’m glad it all turned out in the end, and that we get to benefit from your sage advice. I love your story, and your stole, and your paper flowers!

    (Also, were the 2 who didn’t make it the ones flying Ryanair? ;-) )

    • Caroline


      And no, the Ryan Air people made it (though 4 had an emergency 3am landing with a bus transfer), but two of Mark’s coworkers who had never driven in snow did not. They were with their year old baby in a ditch, and decided to turn around.

      I could not make this stuff up.

  • Karen

    Wonderful story! So glad it all worked out well — I agree that you can’t tell from the pictures that there was any drama of any kind.

    I also went looking for the footnotes and couldn’t find them….

  • ELLE

    Excellent post – and as an Irish reader of APW, I am totally with you on the silliness of not being able to get married in a place that is not ‘a fixed structure, open to the public.’ What nonsense. P.S. If you ever want to run a Dublin APW Book Club, I’m in.

    • Caroline

      I’m in too!

      • Eimear

        Count me in too! Was the wedding in Brook Lodge? It’s amazing so many of your guests made it!

        • Caroline

          Awesome! I’ll put up a Facebook thread before the next one!
          And yes, Brooklodge – and yes, it was a miracle!

  • Your photos are GORGEOUS. I’m envious of the gorgeous snow and the living in Ireland… how cool is that?! I never hear about brides moving out of the country to be with their husband, so it’s amazing to see it. I have so much respect for you packing up your life and moving across the globe for him. Kudos, girl. Kudos.

  • Yea for unexpected snow weddings! We knew ours in the middle of November could’ve either been autumn or winter. The blizzard the day of made it winter. You’re right, the pictures make it worth it. And my wool coat definitely came in handy much like your fur.

    And I LOVE your little cake toppers. So adorable.

  • meredyth

    Can I just say, your dad and your mom’s response? Wow. I’m so glad your dad didn’t cause too much awkwardness. I thought I had some awkwardness to anticipate but that can’t compete. Also, we’re doing open speeches and a meet before the wedding as well. I love the idea of more people getting to share their stories about us with everyone. My brother’s wedding did this and it was cool. Also, the meet up before the wedding sounds like such a smart idea for all of us who are having family come from far away that haven’t ever met.

    And your wedding, with the church by the brook looks beautiful, despite the crazy weather!

  • Susan

    Very honest, very sweet and brought back such wonderful memories.
    Was a very magical wedding weekend.
    Our Family will be talking about this one for years to come!
    I’m proud of Caroline and Mark for having the wedding they wanted.

  • Emmy Lou

    Caroline says : “It’s just a day, but it’s a big day. It’s a big day, but it’s just a day.When I was sweating the details, and stressing out about things (or me) being perfect, I could remind myself that when it came down to it, it was one day in a lot of days in a marriage”

    Amen sister. Thank you for the reminder!