ON a recent Saturday afternoon, Karen Berkery’s teary-eyed and proud father was walking his daughter down the aisle at Cork city’s Imperial Hotel.
Karen and her husband-to-be, Gavin Barry, both believers in the Humanist faith, did not want to have a church wedding. So, they invited Geraldine O’Neill, a certified Humanist wedding celebrant, to officiate their ceremony.
Humanism is a system of belief, based on the “nature, dignity, interests and ideals” of humanity, and rejects the concept of God and godly faiths.
Geraldine, a former theatre director and actress in Cork, who has the assertive tone of a seasoned stage performer, reminded the newlyweds to love one another unconditionally but to respect each other’s “individuality”.
“We believe in leading an ethical life. We believe in looking for our proof of existences within science and the natural world,” Geraldine explains.
Besides its secular nature, however, Karen and Gavin’s wedding differed little from every other Irish wedding: emotions were running high, and age-old Celtic traditions were celebrated.
This idea, of the similarity of weddings and people’s behaviours during such ceremonies, regardless of the couples’ faith or sexual orientation, is to be the subject of a new documentary.
Alex Fegan, director of award-winning film Older Than Ireland, which chronicled the lives of Ireland’s most senior citizens, is now calling on Cork couples to let his camera into their weddings.
The notion behind documenting the Cork weddings, Alex explains, is a unifying one: that despite all of our disagreements, there is little difference between us, something which is often apparent in our “funny and poignant” wedding speeches.
“Ultimately, it’s about the love between family and friends and, despite all of our prejudices and differences, this love comes through in our weddings,” Alex reasons.
“I think there is something quite endearing at Irish weddings, in particular wedding speeches.
“People can be quite funny, but they can also be quite poignant, especially when people are saying the same things but in different ways.”
Alex’s own father stood up to give a speech at his son’s wedding, but brimming with laughter under the influence of “a few too many Proseccos”, chuckled for “five minutes” and sat down.
Karen’s father, on the other hand, read an excerpt of American singer Johnny Cash’s famous love letter to his wife June.
“I want to use the idea of wedding speeches as a prism to enter the Irish culture,” Alex says.
Geraldine, whose mispronunciation of Karen’s surname made the bride, who was on the verge of tears, laugh, says these are traditions and speeches that “warm” the weddings, not a couple’s faith or sexual orientation.
“We had our Irish costumes and traditions long before (religions) came to the scene,” Geraldine says.
“Look at religion-based ceremonies like Christmas and Easter; even those are all ceremonies that come down to our need to belong and be part of our communities.”
Alex, who is Dublin-born and a former solicitor, says he has already got the green light from a few Kerry couples to document their weddings, but he is keen to include Cork weddings as well.
“I love Cork city and county. I lived in Cork for over a year, so we are particularly looking for Cork weddings. The Rebel County is an important part of Irishness,” he says.
“We have no Cork weddings for our film at the moment, so we want people who are having their weddings in such a beautiful part of the country to be in our film.
“So, let us know when you’re getting married because we want to film your wedding.”
Ben Kavanagh, a UCC student who is studying Film through the college’s arts and creativity grant Quercus Scholarship, has also teamed up as researcher with the award-winning director for documenting the Irish marriage feasts.
Alex specifically invites rural couples to participate in the social documentary, believing that the pure, traditional nature of weddings is often best reflected in rustic ceremonies.
“I think there are different amazing traditions in rural weddings and there can also be rivalries among different parishes in rural Ireland that (crop up) in wedding speeches,” he says, laughing.
“There’s also a lot of culture in rural weddings like people swapping GAA jerseys.”
Wearing a blue wedding gown, locking the church door to make it impossible for the groom to escape, and joining in matrimony on St Patrick’s Day for good luck, are also among historic wedding traditions of the country.
Alex is also calling on LGBTQ couples in Cork to help him shed light on the irrelevance of sexual orientation by documenting the motions and emotions of their weddings.
“The point is underlying that everyone is the same, that is the bottom line, and I think it will come across in the weddings we are going to film,” he says.
Fís Éireann, or Screen Ireland, has funded Alex’s project, and filming will continue until February. However, there may be a sequel to the Irish wedding project.
“We are filming weddings all the way up to February, but there might be a second series because this could be a feature film, but it might turn into a series too,” Alex explains.
“So, people (who are getting married after February) can let us know as well.”
Future bride and grooms in Cork who are interested in participating in Alex’s film can get in contact with the director through Alex@atomfilms.ie.