Before lunch in late February, at the height of a Level 5 lockdown, four couples are getting married at the registry office on Grand Canal Street Lower in Dublin. The officiant isÂ Louise Dodrill, executive registrar and marriages manager at the Dublin Registry Office. An employee of the Health Service Executive, she has worked here almost nine years, ever since her sister sent her the job description and the words, â€œThis is you all over.â€
Why was it â€œyou all overâ€? She laughs. â€œBecause I love â€˜loveâ€™. Itâ€™s so cheesy but I love it. I love romance. I love finding out how [the couple] met and when they incorporate stuff like that [into the ceremony]. I love all that.â€
Thereâ€™s a glass Covid partition at the desk from which she officiates. â€œThe bubble of love,â€ she calls it. Behind her on the wall is a framed copy of Frederic William Burtonâ€™s Meeting on The Turret Stairs. Most of the blue seats in the room have yellow â€œdo not use this seatâ€ signs placed on them.
Some people donâ€™t want the fuss and always wanted the four-people wedding and didnâ€™t want the stress of inviting family
In 2020, 1,793 couples were married in registry offices by the Civil Registration Office that covers Dublin,Â KildareÂ andÂ Wicklow. This is fewer than the 2,447 married the year before but this is likely due to the fact they were shut for 10 weeks at the outset of the pandemic. Thus far in 2021 there seems to be an increase in demand. Theyâ€™re booked up until September.
In Level 5, wedding parties can have just six guests. The room here can usually cater for 60. Smaller weddings, she says, suit some people. â€œSome people donâ€™t want the fuss and always wanted the four-people wedding and didnâ€™t want the stress of inviting family. For others itâ€™s like, â€˜Letâ€™s do the legal bit and letâ€™s have a party next year.â€™â€
Prospective newly-weds must give a minimum of three-monthsâ€™ notice. Some time slots are harder to get than others such as on New Yearâ€™s Eve and during summer. â€œSometimes we get calls saying, â€˜Weâ€™re getting married in exactly three-monthsâ€™ time.â€™ You would see a lot of people who get engaged at Christmas time. So January is all queries. And then you kind of hit Easter and then youâ€™re into constant weddings.â€
Tom, the security guard, Dodrill says, slags her about her first wedding because she was so nervous. Why was she nervous? â€œYou want to make someoneâ€™s day special.â€
Tom has worked at this registry office since the first civil partnership in 2011. At the moment, part of his job involves giving people a Covid form to fill in and taking their temperature with a handheld thermometer.
â€œOh, hereâ€™s a very happy bride,â€ says Dodrill. Out in the lobby, a bride and groom are waiting with their witnesses. They are laughing and relaxed.
â€œTheyâ€™ve all been zapped,â€ says Tom, referring to the temperature test.
JimÂ and Sarah are in their mid-50s and beautifully dressed. Their 18-year-old son and Sarahâ€™s sister have come as witnesses. â€œJimâ€ and â€œSarahâ€ arenâ€™t their real names. The wider family donâ€™t know about the wedding yet, so theyâ€™d prefer to be anonymous.
â€œWe always said to family,â€ says Sarah, â€œthat if we were going to do it, weâ€™ll do it. . .â€
â€œIncognito,â€ says Jim.
So this is a sort of elopement. Sarah has a face mask with â€œbrideâ€ printed on it and Jim has one with â€œgroomâ€.
â€œThat wasnâ€™t my idea,â€ says Jim. â€œIt came from that side of the family.â€
How long have they been together?
Â â€œTwenty five years!â€ says Sarah
We donâ€™t want to rush into things,â€ quips Jim.
A little later he says, â€œThe conversation came up one evening and we just said, â€˜Sure we might as well do it.â€™â€
Thatâ€™s an unusual feeling. Iâ€™ve never worn jewellery in my life. Iâ€™m heavier on one side all of a sudden
â€œI think everything slowed down with Covid and you had more time to think,â€ says Sarah. â€œYouâ€™re with each other more often. Youâ€™re not out working so that you only meet passing each other in the hallways or just at dinner at night.â€
How did they meet? â€œWe met through my brother,â€ says Sarah. â€œAnd we met up in the . . . What was the name of it?â€
â€œThe Bleeding Horse,â€ says Jim. â€œIt was my 28th birthday, I think. Weâ€™d gone up there [to the Dublin pub] and the two girls [Sarah and her sister] came in and history was made.â€
Jim and his sister-in-law go into the main room and then Sarah is walked down the aisle by their son. She tentatively joins Jim in front of Dodrillâ€™s desk. â€œWould you like to get a little closer?â€ says Dodrill. They get closer and everyone laughs.
The ceremony is simple, but the couple have the option of adding readings and vows. Sarahâ€™s sister reads Pablo Nerudaâ€™s Love Sonnet 17 (online I find that this is recommended for â€œan elopementâ€) and later their son reads The Art of Marriage by Wilferd Arlan Peterson (It includes the line: â€œThe little things are the big things.â€).
Dodrill is a calming and cheerful presence. When Sarah becomes emotional reading her vows in a passage about how kind Jim is, Dodrill passes her a box of tissues. â€œThatâ€™s allowed,â€ she whispers.
I feel married. It feels right. It took a bit of time, but it feels right
When it comes time to place rings on fingers, Dodrill registers some momentary confusion and says to Jim, â€œThe left one, yeahâ€, and everyone laughs.
The marriage licence is signed. Rings are exchanged. At the very end they kiss to the sound of the Poguesâ€™ song, I Love You Till the End.
Afterwards they seem really happy. â€œThatâ€™s an unusual feeling,â€ says Jim, holding up his wedding finger. â€œIâ€™ve never worn jewellery in my life. Iâ€™m heavier on one side all of a sudden.â€
Sarah laughs. â€œHe was joking that youâ€™ll need [to book] next Wednesday for the divorce.â€
â€œIt was nice to see them have a special day, they deserve it,â€ says their son.
After 25 years, do they feel different?
â€œCompletely!â€ says Sarah and laughs. â€œAh no, itâ€™s lovely. I feel married. It feels right. It took a bit of time, but it feels right.â€
Theyâ€™re not particularly nervous. â€œWeâ€™ve been together so long and we have this little guy,â€ says Ryan.
We got engaged last October but there were no jewellers open, so there were three jelly rings for today
Theyâ€™re very relaxed. Her lovely dress even has pockets she can put her hands into. â€œYou canâ€™t go wrong with pockets,â€ she says.
Ryan works in aviation. Ferguson is a teacher and this is during the midterm break. Teachers often get married during the midterm, Dodrill tells me. She can often guess someoneâ€™s profession purely from the timing of the wedding. People who work in hospitality, she says, usually get married on a Monday.
Did Covid affect their plans? Ferguson thinks theyâ€™d probably have done something like this anyway. â€œThis number of six [people] altogether is even better in one regard because itâ€™s less organisation and more concentration on ourselves and him [Jamie].â€
The pandemic has affected things in some ways though. Ferguson opens a ring box to show three jelly rings. â€œWe got engaged last October but there were no jewellers open, so there were three jelly rings for today. Obviously, weâ€™re getting married but Jamie would be upset if he wasnâ€™t getting a jelly ring as well. But when the jewellers is back open again, weâ€™ll get a nice ring as well.â€
They could get these ones preserved, I suggest. They laugh. â€œWeâ€™ll frame them,â€ says Ferguson.
â€œI donâ€™t think theyâ€™ll last that long,â€ says Ryan, pointing at Jamie. â€œWe have a jelly fan.â€
What are their plans for afterwards? â€œJust go back [home] with the three of us and Marieâ€™s parents and my brother and have something very simple. And tonight me and Marie are going to stay in the Shelbourne for the night.â€
In the context of lockdown, he says, itâ€™s lovely to have something to celebrate. â€œKeep it nice and simple. Just turn up, be with those we love. And then fingers crossed Marie will say â€˜yesâ€™, Iâ€™ll say â€˜yesâ€™ and then weâ€™ll take it from there. Itâ€™s a lovely distraction.â€
Moments later the three of them are walking down the aisle together to George Ezraâ€™s Shotgun.
â€œLovely, Jamie!â€ says the boyâ€™s granny, encouraging.
â€œDo you want your own chair or do you want to sit on Daddyâ€™s knee?â€ asks Ryan when they reach Dodrillâ€™s â€œbubble of loveâ€.
My own chair,â€ says Jamie and a third chair is pulled up between them.
He is very involved, as he should be. When it comes time to exchange rings, Jamie, the ring bearer, opens the box, hands one jelly ring to his mam and one to his dad.
â€œGreat job, Jamie,â€ says his mother.
Then Jamie pops the third jelly ring straight into his mouth.
â€œStraight in,â€ she says and everyone laughs.
Seamus HeaneyÂ said, â€˜If you can winter through this you can summer through anythingâ€™ and I was thinking last night that this was our day of summer
In this context, the words â€œI give you this ring as a token of my love, a symbol of all that we promised and all that we now shareâ€ raise another laugh.
When it comes time to sign the marriage licence, his mother suggests that Jamie can add an â€œXâ€ to his parentsâ€™ names if he would like. He doesnâ€™t want to. â€œDonâ€™t sign anything you donâ€™t understand,â€ says his father approvingly.
After they are pronounced married, they kiss, and Fergusonâ€™s brother says: â€œYouâ€™ll have to do it again, I didnâ€™t get the photograph.â€
How do they feel? â€œLighter,â€ he says. â€œSeamus HeaneyÂ said, â€˜If you can winter through this you can summer through anythingâ€™ and I was thinking last night that this was our day of summer. Despite all the sad things going on and everyone just trying to get through it, everything is going to be all right.â€
Melanie ReisÂ andÂ Patrick HolohanÂ have been engaged since Valentineâ€™s Day 2019. Theyâ€™ve been together since they met studying physiotherapy inÂ EdinburghÂ in 2012. They were meant to get married in June 2020 in Niagara inÂ Canada, where Reis is from, but they postponed it until June 2021 and then even that started to look optimistic. â€œIn Septemberish we started looking into having a civil ceremony here,â€ she says.
Occasionally, as we talk, Reis turns to wave to a phone being held by Holohanâ€™s sister, Kate. Reisâ€™s family are watching on Zoom from Canada. She introduces them to me and The Irish Times photographer. â€œThis is my family.â€
â€œHi Canada!â€ says everyone.
Reis is slightly nervous that 70 per cent battery wonâ€™t see her through the ceremony. Holohanâ€™s other sister, Jane, is also videoing the event so they have a backup. Their parents, Hugh and Marie, are here too, up fromÂ Tipperary. â€œWe were very excited just leaving the county,â€ says Marie.
I still have a wedding dress I want to wear. I still have to alter [it] and everything. I was hoping to have it in June, but weâ€™ll see
The happy couple walk down the aisle to Ellie Gouldingâ€™s How Long Will I Love You? They do so quite quickly.
â€œYou ran down that,â€ says Dodrill.
â€œItâ€™s a slope,â€ says Holohan.
â€œItâ€™s a slope, yeah,â€ laughs Reis.
Throughout the ceremony, Jane and Kate hold up their phones, for fear of Reisâ€™s family missing anything, until Dodrill says, â€œI now pronounce you husband and wife. Kiss your bride.â€
Thereâ€™s a round of applause.
â€œThat was lovely,â€ says the groomâ€™s mother, Marie.
â€œIt was,â€ says his father. He adds, with a wink, â€œThe seats are much more comfortable than church seats.â€
Outside, two friends of Marieâ€™s who live nearby come to the gate with a dog to wave hello. Marie is a nurse and one of her friends works in intensive care and the other is involved in the vaccination programme. â€œItâ€™s like a wedding during the war,â€ says one of them.
The couple hope to be able to have another celebration with the brideâ€™s family later in the year. The beautiful outfit sheâ€™s wearing now, she explains, is just her outfit for today. â€œI still have a wedding dress I want to wear. I still have to alter [it] and everything. I was hoping to have it in June, but weâ€™ll see.â€
It was so hard to get clothes. We ordered online. My dress looked like a sack so I had to find something else at the last minute. He wasnâ€™t supposed to wear jeans today
The 12.30pm wedding has been cancelled. One of the couple was diagnosed with Covid. This happens every now and again. â€œItâ€™s always last minute when you find out so you canâ€™t actually facilitate somebody else into that slot,â€ says Dodrill.
This morningâ€™s final couple, Seamus and Elizabeth (not their real names), are in their early 20s. They are relatively casually dressed, though when they come in Elizabeth changes out of her runners and into some fancier shoes. â€œItâ€™s been a crazy experience,â€ she says. â€œIt was so hard to get clothes. We ordered online. My dress looked like a sack so I had to find something else at the last minute. He wasnâ€™t supposed to wear jeans today.â€
â€œMy slacks ended up being a bit too big,â€ he says. â€œThatâ€™s the problem with ordering online unfortunately. And of course, trying to get a haircut with the restrictions. . . I tried styling it but the wind caught it and it undid all my work.â€
â€œAnd I trimmed his beard,â€ says Elizabeth.
Theyâ€™ve been engaged since summer 2019 and this isnâ€™t quite how they saw their wedding. Elizabeth is Mexican and they had hoped her parents could be here. Many of Seamusâ€™s family are older so theyâ€™re joined today by two friends. â€œI wanted to keep it nice and safe,â€ says Seamus. â€œIâ€™m a stickler for the guidelines. We can always have our own ceremony after. We donâ€™t mind on paper being husband and wife, but I feel with our family there it will feel much more gratifying.â€
How did they meet? â€œWe actually met online and got chatting. . . and I ended up going toÂ Mexico. â€
â€œIt was so crazy,â€ says Elizabeth. â€œI think we hit it off from the very first moment.â€
Elizabeth moved toÂ IrelandÂ two years ago and they moved in together at the start of the pandemic. â€œI think the lockdown allowed us to accelerate a few plans,â€ says Seamus.
Love is everywhere. Even in a time of pandemic, love wins. People are still able to get married, pandemic or no pandemic
It is the final wedding of the day and Dodrill gives it everything. I think she always gives everything. Seamus and Elizabeth are shyer than everyone else today but when Dodrill asks Seamus, â€œDo you understand the declarations you have made? Do you make them of your own free will and without duress?â€, he responds with an emphatic: â€œDefinitely.â€
They seem endearingly surprised when she eventually says, â€œCongratulations guys. Youâ€™re married!â€
Their Hungarian carpenter friend, here to witness the ceremony, looks moved as he watches them get a photo taken. â€œIâ€™m so proud of them,â€ he says.
â€œI still canâ€™t believe it,â€ says Elizabeth.
Dodrill has married all types of people, about 5,000 couples, and she enjoys each one. â€œIâ€™ve had couples who bring their dogs as ring bearers,â€ she says. â€œIâ€™ve jumped over a broom, thatâ€™s a pagan ritual. There are some really lovely things. You canâ€™t do it during Covid, but thereâ€™s a ring warming ceremony where the ring gets passed through the best manâ€™s hands through all the guests. I love handfasting, literally tying the knot.â€
She usually leaves the registry office on a high, she says. Has she learned much about love from working here? â€œOh God. Thatâ€™s a really good question. Love is everywhere. Even in a time of pandemic, love wins. People are still able to get married. People are still able to make that commitment to each other, pandemic or no pandemic. At the end of the day the most important people are the couple and thatâ€™s really all you need, the couple and the witnesses.
This article was edited on March 22nd, 2021.