LIMERICK wedding planner Sharon McMeel has become Ireland’s first certified gay weddings expert.
Sharon, a ten year veteran of wedding planning who started her career in the Castle Oaks House Hotel, recently completed the course taught by the 14 Stories Gay Wedding Institute, based in New York and Boston.
The Ballysheedy woman, who has an office on O’Connell Street, said she was “thrilled” to complete the course and especially to discover that she was the first person in Ireland to do so.
“It was great, fantastic to do and a big eye opener actually, because a lot of the time there are things you wouldn’t even think about,” she explained of the course at the GWI, which is America’s first same-sex wedding research institute and think tank.
“They go through everything from language and terminology, how to be an advocate for your client, traditions and procedures for weddings.
The wedding planner believes that she is now fully equipped to meet the demands of “an emerging market” and that the course made her “fully aware of the needs of same-sex couples planning their civil partnership in Ireland”.
“At the moment we only have civil partnerships but it is going to a constitutional convention in the next few weeks for gay marriage so we will see how that turns out,” explained Sharon.
“You are talking about an awful lot of people who have been together for years and could never get married, it is a relatively new part of the wedding market and like any professional service I wanted to make sure I had my skills and knowledge updated.”
Sharon says that same-sex couples seeking to wed - even through civil ceremonies - face obstacles in the planning of such an event.
“It is something you would have never thought about, but sometimes gay couples nearly have to come out over and over again with everybody that they are dealing with,” she explained.
“That is where I would come in, to get rid of all of those obstacles for them beforehand and vet who is gay friendly and who has worked with gay couples before. That can be very uncomfortable or embarrassing for people to have to deal with.
“For me to be able to take that pressure and that worry away from them is great, so that they can just focus on the day itself,” she added.
Despite the recession, Sharon says that the wedding industry in Ireland is still alive and well, but that budgets have decreased.
“Weddings are nearly recession proof because people still get married, it is the budgets that vary. A couple of years ago people spent about €32,000 on average, whereas now it is around the €22,000 mark - but people are still definitely getting married.”