Mary and John Gunnigan and the bridal party on their wedding day.

The Vow

Weddings through the decades - meet brides from each decade from the 1950s to today

Love and marriage will never go out of fashion, but the trends and practices at Irish weddings have changed over the years. We talked to a bride from each decade since the 1950s to find out what happened on their big day

Mary Gunnigan

Married her husband John in 1957.



"Only people having big society weddings wore white wedding dresses and veils in the 1950s."

"John and I met at a dance at the Eclipse ballroom in Ballyhaunis, Mayo. I was a nurse and he was a farmer, and I already knew him as I was friendly with one of his sisters. He had seven sisters and no brothers, and I had two brothers and no sisters, so we called ourselves 'The Odd Couple'. I was 27 and John was 25 when we got married on October 23, 1957. Our wedding was at 9am in St Patrick's church in Aghamore, and the nuptial mass was celebrated by John's uncle, Canon Timothy Gunnigan.

"Only people having big society weddings wore white wedding dresses and veils in the 1950s. I went to Dublin with my mother and we got my dress in a shop in Henry Street. It was light blue and came to below the knee, and the hat was the same colour. I had my hair done the day before the wedding and did my own make-up. My friend, Agnes Morley, was my bridesmaid, and her dress was blush pink. Our dresses went lovely together and we looked like sweetpeas. John's best man was Oliver Kerr, his late brother-in-law.

"We fasted before the wedding, and had our wedding breakfast of cold meats and salads at Churchfield House Hotel after the ceremony, which was unusual back then as most people had it at home. We had a three-tier fruit cake, and kept the top tier for our first child's christening. There was no wine, as we were, and still are, Pioneers. My parents were teachers and they paid for the wedding.

"There were speeches afterwards, and anyone who could play an instrument or sing got up, and we had a bit of a dance. The wedding ended at 3pm, and John and I went off on our honeymoon to Ennis, Cork, Carlow and Dublin. Our wedding night was so funny, and we nearly died laughing because we were so innocent, but we learned along the way. I always think if you can laugh at life, it's a great help in a marriage. I'm 85 now and John is 83, and we're married 57 years. We have seven children - five sons and two daughters - and 19 grandchildren."

Eileen Smith

Married her husband Larry in 1967.


"Everyone was trying to get married before the end of the tax year because if you did, you got all your tax back for the year."

"I met my husband Larry when we were both visiting our friend Kathleen in hospital. I was 20 and he was 18, and we got married on March 27, 1967, when I was 27. We got engaged after two years and saved for five years for the wedding, because my dad had died so we were paying for it ourselves. I borrowed my veil and headdress from a girl I worked with, and as I was a dressmaker, I made my dress myself from brocade material that I bought in Arnotts. My sister Marie lived in London and she made her pale pink bridesmaid's dress herself too. When she came over for the wedding, she was stopped going through customs and it was seized. We got it back at the last minute, but the wait was terrible.

"You couldn't get married during Lent, so we got married on Easter Monday at 11am. It was like a conveyor belt, as there were weddings before and after us. Everyone was trying to get married before the end of the tax year on April 6, because if you did, you got all your tax back for the year. We were known as the 'beat-the tax brides'. A friend Pat came and did my hair, and I put a bit of lipstick on. My brother Billy walked me up the aisle of St Agnes' church in Crumlin, and when we came out, there was snow on the ground.

"We had our reception at the Old Shieling Hotel in Raheny, and our 60 guests had a meal of turkey and ham. The best man, Charlie, made the speech and the wedding ended at 6pm. I changed into my 'going away' outfit of an apple green dress and coat and gold hat, and we went on honeymoon that evening to the Isle of Man.

"We hadn't been intimate with each other before marriage as it was frowned upon back then, so we were very innocent. One funny thing that happened was that there was a nail sticking up on my side of the bed, and I was too embarrassed to let Larry complain, so we spent the honeymoon squashed into one side of the bed. We're married 48 years now, and have two children, Andrea and Brian, and three grandchildren, Adam, Abby and Isobelle."

Imelda Hollowed Hamilton

Married her husband Liam in 1978.


"On my wedding day, I got a bus into town to have my hair done in Switzers, and walked to Arnotts to buy earrings."

"I met my husband Liam when we were both 16 and helping out in a club that looked after the elderly. We got engaged on Christmas Eve, 1976, and bought our ring in the Happy Ring House. We got married on August 8, 1978, when we were 21 in St Agnes' church in Crumlin, and had to do a compulsory pre-marriage course. Liam was still in college studying engineering, and I worked in British Leyland. A week after our honeymoon, the place went on strike for nine months.

"When it came to my dress, I looked through patterns in Hickeys and picked one I liked, and a local dressmaker made it for me. She also made mint green halterneck bridesmaids' dresses for my sisters, Jackie and Debi. We had to put chiffon capes over them to cover up in church. Liam's brother, Brendan, was best man, and my brother, Val, was groomsman. My bouquet was made of red roses, and the girl two doors up got married the same day so we shared the flowers in the church.

"On my wedding day, I had a bath and got a bus into town to have my hair done in Switzers, and walked to Arnotts to buy earrings. I treated myself to a taxi home, just in time for my friend Bernie to come and put a bit of eyeshadow on me.

"We nearly got killed on the way to the reception at the Springfield Hotel in Leixlip, as the wedding car slid off the road going up a hill! We had 100 guests, the meal was steak, and a neighbour's son-in-law made the three-tier fruit cake. We had a band for the entertainment, and the wedding ended about 11pm when the bar closed. My 'going away' outfit was a blue suit and blouse, and we went on honeymoon to London.

"We moved into our first little house in Clondalkin after we got married. I was only 20 when we bought it, but only Liam signed for it as I was too young and he was four months older at 21. I cried my eyes out for a week over leaving home for the first time - I was very innocent back then.

"We're still married now almost 37 years later, and have four children, Anne, Ciara, Eoin and Kate, and two grandchildren, Ryan and Katelynn."

Denise McNeill

Married her husband John in 1989.



"My sisters and I did our own hair and make-up - blue eyeliner and all."

"I met my husband John at a roller disco rink when I was 15 and he was 17. We were engaged a year later when I was 16, and got married when I was 24 on September 15, 1989. We bought a house in Palmerstown in the meantime, but we didn't live together - we were very good. I was sad leaving my mam's house, as I was the youngest and the only one left at home.

"My wedding dress was like Princess Diana's, and my bridesmaids were my sisters Elaine and Susan, and they wore red dresses. My niece, Melanie, was the flower girl. I bought patterns and material, and my auntie Margaret made the dresses for me. I had two hen parties, one in the Cherry Tree pub for my mother and the older people, and one for the younger ones in the Embankment nightclub.


"On the morning of the wedding, my sisters and I did our own hair and make-up - blue eyeliner and all. When we arrived at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Greenhills at 12.30 pm, the bus bringing John's family hadn't arrived, so we had to drive around in the Rolls Royce until they got there. I was really nervous and was crying going up the aisle, but that was partly because my dad had died so my brother was giving me away.

"We had a reception for 75 guests at the Spa Hotel in Lucan. There was a tea and coffee reception on arrival, and a roast beef dinner. My sister Susan bought the wedding cake, a traditional fruit one, as a present. The entertainment was provided by a band called La Bamba, and after the wedding, I changed into a beautiful pink and navy suit from Pamela Scott for 'going away'. We didn't tell anyone that we were actually staying upstairs, but the guests on the bus spotted us and John's brother-in-law climbed up the drainpipe to us as a joke. We went to Santa Ponsa for two weeks on honeymoon, and won a competition for the 'ideal couple' over there. We moved into our house on our first night home, and John's dad came straight up and handed over his big Doberman dog! We're married 25 years now and have one daughter, Chelsea."

Anna Healy Kavanagh

Married her husband Andy in 1998.

"I had my hen night in Planet Hollywood."

"I met Andy in 1995, and he proposed a year later on Dun Laoghaire pier. After having my hen night at Planet Hollywood, we got married when I was 30 on October 16, 1998, in Mount Argus church in Harold's Cross. My friend sketched the dress I wanted, and a dress designer in town made it. I collected it two days before the wedding, but when I got home and tried it on, I was really upset because it wasn't fitting right and there were huge buttons on the back that weren't meant to be there. My sister-in-law came with me the next day to the dressmaker, and she fixed it and then I was really happy with it.

"My bridesmaid was my friend, Susan O'Brien, and we rented her dress. Andy's best man was his brother, Mark. On the day, I got my hair done in a local salon and did my own make-up. I was nervous going up the aisle, and was giggling like Muriel in Muriel's Wedding. When we arrived at the Leixlip House Hotel, we had a sherry reception and our meal was lamb. We had a band and my dad played the harmonica at the reception, and there was a DJ afterwards. The wedding was over at 2am.

"A few little things went wrong. The photographer wasn't able to make it and he sent someone else on the day. I didn't hire a professional videographer, as my brothers and uncle were going to bring their video cameras, but afterwards I realised that they had only filmed some parts of the day, because they each thought the other was doing it. It was my fault, because I should have told them what I wanted. Also, we had ordered a croquembouche, a French dessert of choux pastry balls piled into a cone, but there was a mix-up and it was forgotten.

"Andy and I went on a trip-of-a-lifetime for our honeymoon to New York, Florida, San Francisco and Las Vegas. Our wedding day, 16 years ago, was one of the best days of my life, alongside the births of our children, Freya (15), and Dara (10)."

Betty D'Arcy

Married her husband Stephen in 2006.


"I made one of the speeches after the meal, which was the one thing I was determined to do."

"I met my husband Stephen Ryan in 2002, when we were both working in the Passport Office. He was my boss! Stephen never actually proposed - we just went and picked a ring at lunchtime and I wore it back to work. He's made up for it in the romance stakes since then. We got married when I was 37 and Stephen was 46 on October 2, 2006, in Laois (I'm from Dublin and he's from Limerick, so it was halfway between the two).

"I chose to wear a pink wedding dress from Scarlett Brides in Clare, and I loved it. I think everyone expected me to wear a yellow dress because that's my favourite colour, but we had a yellow vintage wedding car and our cake was also a yellow car made of biscuit cake. My twin sister, Denise, was my bridesmaid, and Stephen's brother, Tony, was the best man. We had our three nieces, Katie, Victoria and Alana, as flower girls, and our nephew Sean was the page boy. Sean's trousers were too short and we forgot Alana's shoes, so someone had to rush out and buy replacements in Portlaoise on the morning of the wedding.


"On the day, I had my hair and make-up done professionally. As our dad had passed away, my brother Ian walked me up the aisle of St Tighearneach's in Cullahill, and I wasn't one bit nervous. We had a champagne reception and canapés for our 120 guests as they arrived at Castle Durrow, and there was a chocolate fountain, which was a big hit with everyone. The meal was a choice of steak or salmon, and the starter was curried soup. I made one of the speeches after the meal, which was the one thing I was determined to do.

"I changed into a pink 1950s-inspired dress for the reception because I wanted to be able to dance. Our band was the Jim Farley Band and we had a DJ afterwards. We had a great day, and Stephen and I went on two honeymoons, one to the Maldives and then to Lanzarote. We were already living together by then, and are married eight years now. We have two children, Amelie (7), and Dylan (6)."