FOR years, Cork wedding singer Muireann Holly sang love songs at people’s weddings, picturing her own special day in her head.
“I’m a lesbian, and I’ve been playing at other people’s weddings knowing that I couldn’t get married to the woman I was in love with,” she says.
How did it feel to be a wedding singer when you weren’t allowed to get married yourself?
For Muireann, it was a mixture of different sentiments.
“A part of me was always a bit jealous,” she admits.
The legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2015, however, made Muireann realise that she wanted to sing at weddings for as long as she could.
“It was massive for me,” she says.
When Muireann and her group, The Incredibles Wedding Band, performed at their very first same-sex wedding, she was brought to tears.
“I was very emotional, it was two women getting married, and I remember singing Bruno Mars’s Just The Way You Are, and I shed a little tear,” Muireann recalls smiling.
Erik, the band’s keyboard player, describes their first same-sex wedding as “historic”.
“It was a true joy to be a part of history, and it genuinely felt that way in the room,” he says.
From that day on, Muireann has dedicated her music career to singing at people’s weddings, knowing that this time she can be a part of everyone’s special day. “It made me take it more seriously,” she says.
“Apart from differences like two white suits or two wedding dresses, same-sex weddings are just like heterosexual weddings — still somebody’s uncle Johnny wants to get up and sing a song and things like that,” Muireann says.
For Patrick, the band’s guitarist and vocalist, knowing that Muireann and others dear to him were now able to get married was a “huge relief”.
“A lot of our same-sex marriage gigs so far seem to have been between people who would have been married long ago if it were possible,” he says.
Craig, the band’s drummer feels the same: “No matter who the couple, they all love each other and everyone is there to celebrate that love.
“It’s great that we can call that a part of our job.”
In 2016 alone, 1,056 same-sex marriages took place in Ireland, according to the Central Statistics Office.
Muireann became the Incredibles’ lead vocalist eight years ago while she was a music student at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa (CSN).
Red Entrainment Ireland now represents the college-formed group of five. The management company describes itself as “representative of Ireland’s best wedding bands”.
Unlike some young musicians who dream of touring around the world, Muireann is happy enough being Cork’s wedding singer.
“At the moment I’m kind of half living my dream, to live on the money you make from music is quite rare itself,” the 29-year-old says.
Making money from music, however, even as a local wedding singer, is not an easy task. When I spoke to Muireann, she was back from a full day of weekend rehearsal.
“This is my hoarse Sunday voice,” she says clearing her throat — still energetic with a contagious laugh.
As busy as she is, the young Cork woman still managed to get a degree from Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) in Counselling and Psychotherapy.
Muireann’s love for counselling stems from her admiration for counsellors, including her own mother.
“I always had an excellent relationship with counsellors; my mother is trained in counselling as well, and she was always very supportive of me and my siblings growing up,” she says.
She now offers part-time counselling services to students at the University of Limerick.
“I’m hoping to start my practice here in Cork by next year,” she says.
“It’s wonderful to have two careers that are so very different but really enriching at the same time.
What is the most gratifying part of being a wedding singer?
“When a couple take the time after we finish and come on up to shake our hands and say thank-you so much, that means so much to me,” Muireann says.
When I ask her if she is getting married to her girlfriend any time soon, she expresses her appreciation of the question: “Before same-sex marriage was legalised, people were asking heterosexual people who were in a relationship for a long time about when they were getting married, but I was never asked that up until now.
“I would like to be set up in my career first but getting married is definitely on the cards,” she says.
Muireann is also an active supporter of lesbians in Cork who are going through challenging times. The Cork singer is one of the Lesbians in Cork (LINC) charity group’s directors. The organisation provides counselling and other services for lesbians in Cork.
“LINC is very special to me, it does incredible work, and people who work there are just so passionate and dedicated,” she says.
Between Cork weddings, activism and counselling, Muireann still finds time to do something different: singing covers of the ’80s power ballads.
“There are songs I absolutely love to perform like Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse Of The Heart, but they wouldn’t fit in a wedding setting,” she says.
To do so, she has booked the Everyman Theatre out of her own pockets for a night of 1980s nostalgia on February 17.
It will be the singer’s third time delivering the anthems on the stage: a project called Fist of Pure Emotion which she has co-created with Cork guitarist and guitar tutor John Boyle.
Cork’s ’80s enthusiasts can get tickets to Muireann’s Fist of Pure Emotion event on The Everyman’s website or box office.