A Wedding Weekend in the Irish Countryside

Photo: KT Merry

A Chicago-bred, London-based couple invited family and friends for a four-day celebration on the Emerald Isle.

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Jo and Andrew

KT Merry

When her boyfriend, financial analyst Andrew Nichols, got a job in London, literary agent Jo Rodgers happily joined him there. They'd been together since they were 16-year-olds attending rival high schools on Chicago's North Shore, through college in the Boston area, and for two years working in New York City. "We thought we'd stay for a year, but after we moved, England began to feel like home," says Jo. "Probably it was because we were drinking so many Pimm's Cups!"

After 10 years as a pair, they got engaged and started planning a wedding that would make their families and friends from all over the world feel right at home. "Our idea was four days of fresh air and blazing fires, picnics, and plenty of wine and whiskey," says Jo. Which meant they needed a location that fosters a settle-in-and-stay-awhile vibe. They found it at Ballyfin, a restored country mansion at the foot of Ireland's Slieve Bloom Mountains. "Our families are very active," says Jo. "The Irish countryside offers hiking, boating, and horseback riding."

They invited their closest relatives to come two days prior to the vows to leave plenty of time for outdoor activities. Attendants showed up on the grounds the day before the nuptials and pulled on their boots for a leisurely picnic. That night, more friends arrived for a family-style welcome dinner of roasted chicken and duck-fat potatoes, then nightcaps and acoustic Irish music in the library—by the first of four bands who performed over the course of the weekend "to fill the house with bluesy music," says Jo.

The highlight of the weekend festivities took place on October 4, 2014, when Jo and Andrew wed in a candlelit Catholic ceremony in the glass conservatory. Afterward, the newlyweds and their 100 guests headed into the house for Champagne and canapés that included gougères with truffle cream, Scotch quail eggs, and crostini with ricotta and vegetables, followed by dinner. Before everyone danced for hours, husband and wife had their first spin on the front portico, to "Around the World," by Harold Adamson and Victor Young. While this was clearly their reception, in a way it felt like an incredible after-party to the days of fun that came before it. "One of the best decisions we made was to have a long lunch with our family and attendants before the vows," says Andrew. "Laughing and talking punctured any nervousness we might have felt. When the ceremony began, we were just unbelievably happy."

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The Location

KT Merry

All of the events took place at Ballyfin, which was built in the 1820s. The 20-room restored country house-turned-five-star hotel sits on 614 acres of land in central Ireland.

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The Invitation Suite

KT Merry

The invitation suite, by Mr. Boddington's Studio, reflected the setting, with an ivy motif, calligraphy in earthy green ink, and gold-foil foxes on the R.S.V.P. card.

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Checking In

KT Merry

Along with their families, Jo and Andrew arrived at Ballyfin on the Thursday before their Saturday wedding. They rented out the entire property for themselves, their relatives, and the wedding party. Other guests stayed at various bed-and-breakfasts in the surrounding countryside.

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A Love Boat

KT Merry

The day before their I do's, the pair slipped away for a private boat ride on the lake.

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Please Be Seated

KT Merry

A calligraphed seating chart helped guests find their seats at the rehearsal dinner—and reminded them of William Butler Yeats's quote that "There are no strangers here; only friends who haven't yet met."

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The Rehearsal Dinner

KT Merry

Everyone joined a rehearsal dinner in the dining room the night before the wedding. Acoustic Irish music and teary speeches accompanied dinner, and nightcaps in the library followed.

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The Place Settings

KT Merry

Each place setting included a calligraphed menu screen-printed on a gold silk napkin.

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Leafy Accents

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Ivy featured prominently on the tables at both the wedding reception and the celebration the night before. At the rehearsal dinner each plate was topped with a wreath fashioned out of the twining vine. A single leaf, calligraphed in gold with a guest's name, served as picturesque placecard.

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Big Day Prep

couple eating cake
KT Merry

On wedding day, Jo's bridesmaids (there were eight total) helped her into her Mira Zwillinger dress. Each wore a lace robe by Emily Riggs Bridal, who also made the bride's veil.

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The Groom

KT Merry

The groom wore a boutonniere of ivy and rosemary and a bespoke tuxedo by Norton & Sons.

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The Bridesmaids

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Along with J.Crew dresses, 'maids wore ivy garlands draped around their shoulders. The bride carried a bouquet that included 'Beatrice' and 'Patience' garden roses, chocolate Queen Anne's lace, fall foliage, and wild vines.

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The Ring

Heirloom Emerald and Diamond Engagement Ring
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Jo's emerald and diamond engagement ring is a family heirloom that belonged to her mom.

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The Bridal Bouquet

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Jo's clutch included 'Beatrice' and 'Patience' garden roses, chocolate Queen Anne's lace, fall foliage, and wild vines.

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Words of Wisdom

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"The week before, a friend who was recently married sent me a note that said, 'On the day, something—or many things—will go wrong. But you'll be so happy, you won't care. So don't waste time worrying about it.' She was right. They did, and I didn't."

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Warm Welcomes

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Attendees arriving at the ceremony were greeted with mulled wine and ginger cookies.

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Wedding Day Festivities

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Pre-ceremony and post-first-look, the couple, their families, and the wedding party gathered lakeside for a picnic lunch of cheese, charcuterie, hazelnut cake, fig tarts, and plenty of Champagne—Dom Pérignon from 2002 to be exact, in honor of the year they started dating.

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The Ceremony

Unkempt Willow Branch Wedding Arch with Pink and Orange Flowers
KT Merry

Andrew's childhood priest flew in to officiate the Catholic ceremony, which took place in the Victorian glass conservatory under an arch of fall foliage and fruit. The processional was set to "Tabhair dom do Lámh (Give Me Your Hand)," a 17th-century Irish song. Another traditional tune, "O'Carolan's Concerto," played by the string quartet as the newlyweds walked up the aisle together.

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The Bridal Party

KT Merry

The wedding party was made up of relatives and friends of the couple from their college days.

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A Gift of Thanks

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Everyone in the wedding party received a basket packed with a bottle of Redbreast Irish whiskey, Irish sea salt, homemade butter and vanilla bean caramels, apples from the Ballyfin orchard, cobnuts from a local forest, a novel, and a personal note from Jo and Andrew, written in green calligraphy and fastened by a custom wax seal with the insignia of a goose—the couple's nickname for each other.

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Fall Flowers

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Dramatic displays of flowers, including Beatrice garden roses, Carmel Antique Garden roses, chocolate cosmos, and fall foliage including beech leaves and hops vines celebrated the season.

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The Menu

KT Merry

The seated dinner after the nuptials included roasted quail and beef bourguignonne, followed by Irish cheeses.

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A Fondant Cake

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The four-tier fondant-covered cake was topped with ivy, mini pears, and crabapples.

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Desserts for Days

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For dessert, partygoers tried each of the cake's three flavors: chocolate Guinness, biscuit cake, and strawberry. Around 2 a.m. the merrymakers called for a second round of the sweet confection.

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Dancing Outside

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After dinner, the front portico was transformed into a candlelit stage for the first dance, performed by an 18-piece band who kept things going by playing jazz standards.

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A Bright Send Off

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Jo and Andrew left the reception to the light of sparklers.

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KT Merry


Location and Catering: Ballyfin

Event Planning & Design: Pearl & Godiva

Flowers: Hanako; Sarah Winward

Photography: KT Merry

Stationery: Mr. Boddington's Studio

Calligraphy and Day-Of Paper Goods: Tara Jones

Makeup: Sjaniël Turrell


Bride's Attire and Groom's Attire: Ralph Lauren

Bride's Shoes: Prada

Groom's Shoes: Hunter

Hair: Glen Cullen


Decor and Linens: Pearl & Godiva

Place Cards: Pretty Letters

Music: [pianist] John Flanagan; [band] The Whileaways

Bride's Attire: Alexander McQueen

Bride's Shoes: Gianvito Rossi

Hair: Glen Cullen

Groom's Attire: Oxxford Clothes

Groom's Shoes: Salvatore Ferragamo


Decor and Linens: Pearl & Godiva

Music: [ceremony and cocktail hour] The Carolan String Quartet; [reception] Black Magic Big Band

Plate Rentals: Caterhire

Bride's gown: Mira Zwillinger

Bride's Veil and Bridal Party Robes: Emily Riggs Bridal

Bride's Shoes: Brian Atwood

Hair: [bride and bridesmaids] David Cashman; [bridesmaids'] Glen Cullen

Bridesmaids' Dresses: J.Crew

Groom's Tuxedo: Norton & Sons

Groom's Shoes: Kurt Geiger

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