How Long Is A Celebrant-Led Ceremony

In my blog posts, I tend to focus on what goes into a ceremony – for example last week, I spoke to you about the love story. But there’s another important aspect to a celebrant-led ceremony that’s also important and that you mightn’t have thought about – how long a ceremony is.

You may be delighted to know that a ceremony led by an independent celebrant is a lot shorter than a traditional ceremony. Because we’re not bound by any legal or religious obligations, there are fewer procedures for us to follow, so we can deliver your ceremony in as much or as little time as you want.

This photo illustrates the idea that timing is important for ceremonies.
There’s a picture of an old-style alarm clock. It’s black and white and has bells on it. There’s a hand pressing one of the bells.

In a way, asking how long a ceremony is like asking how long is a piece of string. You’ll decide the length. Sometimes people do want a long ceremony with loads of rituals. Some people like it brief and to the point. There is no right or wrong way. There is just your way.

Still, there are average lengths of time that a ceremony can last for, so I’ll give you a run-through here.

First, the big one – weddings

Your average celebrant-led wedding will be around 30 minutes long. Within that, you’ll usually fit in two readings, three pieces of music, a love story, a ring and vow exchange and that all important pronouncement. You’ll be surprised how fast the time goes. I know I always am!

Then there are baby namings.

At baby namings, there are lots of little ones in the audience, so I’ll make it snappy. The first time I did a baby naming, it was 30 minutes long, but with the benefit of hindsight, I’d go for 15 minutes, 20 minutes tops. I’d concentrate on rituals, with a quick reading to break those up. In that time, depending on how many people are involved, we could get three rituals done.

Now for vow renewals

The length of a vow renewal will depend on the type of vow renewal cereninbt you’re going for. Some people want their vow renewal to be like a wedding. In that case, the vow renewal will take about 30 minutes. But some people prefer a no-frills vow renewal with an emphasis on family rituals. In that case, the ceremony can be completed in 15-20 minutes.

And finally, funerals

The length of a funeral will also depend on the type of funeral you’ve chosen. A ceremony in a crematorium will take 20 minutes because that’s the length of the slot you’re given, and there’ll be other cremations taking place after you. Or you may just want a brief graveside or scattering of ashes ceremony and those would take about 10-15 minutes. On the other end of the scale, you may be holding the funeral or memorial service in a funeral home, a public venue or in your own home. There’ll be no time limits, so you can go for a true celebration of life that can last for up to an hour.

Why A Short Ceremony

There are lots of reasons why a short ceremony is a good idea. One is attention span. Our heavy use of social media and smartphones has cut our attention span to the bone. So, if I keep it short and snappy. I’ll be sure to hold the attention of the crowd.

Also, the sooner I finish my ceremony, the sooner you can get on with celebrating your day, and there’s no way a celebrant like me would want to hijack that precious family time. After all, as celebrants we’re all about family.

Whether you want a brief but brilliant ceremony or a long and lavish celebration, I’ll be here for you. Give me a call on 087 6959799.

My Life As A Visually Impaired Celebrant

Anyone who reads my blogs and social media posts may have noticed that I always add a photo description to each post. The photo description tells search engines what’s in your photograph, but it also tells anyone who’s visually impaired or blind what’s in your photo. I felt it was only right to set a good example and add these photo descriptions, because I myself am a visually impaired celebrant.

I can see enough. That’s the best way I can describe it. Thanks to my trusty magnifier, I can see print and images on my laptop easily enough. But move print any more than six inches away from my face and it disappears. I have a turbulent relationship with steps, which turns some ceremony venues into an adventure for me. And it takes me a little more time to get to grips with the finer details of some ceremony rituals.

Challenges in Celebrancy Training

When I was doing my celebrant training, my sight proved more of a challenge than I expected. I’ve had the same sight all my life, so it doesn’t knock a feather out of me at this stage. Usually once I have the handouts in front of me and can listen to the presenter, I fly through course material. But our course manual was printed in the smallest, faintest font known to man. And I couldn’t really tell what the tutors were doing when they were showing us the rituals, particularly the handfasting.

I had explained my situation before I began my celebrancy training with the IIOC and asked the tutors to spend a bit of extra time with me on the rituals. They let me actually do the ritual, so I could feel the ribbon in my hands and see up close where it was meant to go. I was grateful for the extra time they spent and managed to do a perfect handfasting at the mock ceremony I did on the day of my celebrant exam.

I also let the course organisers know that the manual wasn’t accessible and I’ve been told they were planning to update it since. COVID may well have made that situation easier, as the IIOC is currently delivering its courses via Zoom. That means that any visually impaired attendees of the course can use their magnifiers or their screen readers (software that reads all the information on a screen for blind people) to access the course material.

So, how do I then deliver a ceremony?

Well, mostly I use my superpower – my ability to memorise large amounts of information. After I write my ceremony, I learn it off word for word. I find this the best way to manage. If I were to read it in the normal way, my face would be buried behind the book. If I memorise it, I can look out at the crowd and let them see my face. I still have my ceremony book, with the script in giant writing in case I get lost. But mostly I never use my celebrant book.

This pic illustrates how I manage my ceremony text as a visually impaired celebrant.
Pic Caption: This is me in my pink celebrant suit with yellow bushes in the background. I’m holding my celebrant book and if you look closely, you can see the giant writing. (Photo Credit: Dermot Byrne Photography)

I’ll also spend time practising the rituals. All celebrants do this anyway, but I know I need to spend a little extra time on them so I can feel comfortable lighting candles and tying ribbons under pressure. Taking this time literally gives me a feel for the ritual, so I’m not just relying on my sight to pull the ritual off during the ceremony.

Then on the day, I spend extra time scoping out the venue. Celebrants are advised to turn up well in advance of a ceremony anyway, so I’ll turn up about two hours before the ceremony and walk around the venue to see if there are any steps that may trip me up. Funny enough, flights of steps are okay, but one step can be a landmine, so it’s good to know that step is there.

My Ceremony Helpers

It’s good to have an ally on the day, someone who knows the score and can step in if needed. If it’s a wedding, I’d probably inform the best man about my eye condition, and if it’s a funeral, I’d let the funeral director know. But my biggest ally of all is my husband.

As many ceremony venues are away from public transport links, and there can be a lot of materials to carry, he drives to the venue with me and helps me to set up. He’s a good logistics man with a sharp eye for detail, so he’s the secret weapon to my success as a celebrant.

Because of my own background, I’d love to work with couples and families who have disabilities of all kinds. I’ll do all I can to make sure the ceremony experience I create is accessible for everyone. If you want to get in touch with me about my ceremonies, please contact me on info@celebrantderv.ie.

Should Celebrants Cry At Ceremonies?

When I was training as a funeral celebrant, we frequently talked about what we would do if we were overcome by emotion. At a funeral, you’re exposed to people when they’re in a raw state of grief, and you’re bound to feel that grief, and to remember griefs in your own life. So, we asked ourselves this question.

Is it okay for us celebrants to give in to their emotion and cry during a ceremony?

Many people in our group came to the conclusion that it was okay to shed tears, as long as you kept control of your delivery and carried on with the ceremony. Crying would allow you to show your human face, to show that you empathise with the people you’re delivering the ceremony to.

But I feel myself that I’d prefer not to cry, at funerals or at any other ceremony.

I have huge respect for my fellow funeral celebrants. They are full of compassion, and they’re comfortable showing that compassion through tears. I’m just concerned that if I cry, it’ll lessen the impact of the story I’m trying to tell. People will hear the tears, not the words.

All ceremonies are emotional, whether it’s a wedding, funeral or baby naming. But the emotion belongs to the people at the centre of the ceremony and their family and friends, not to me. It is their grief, their love, their joy. I’m there to be a channel for that emotion, to help them process it through the words I write and deliver.

If I’m doing a ceremony for you, I want that ceremony to be about you, not me. After the ceremony is over, I don’t want people to be talking about the poor celebrant who was in floods of tears and wondering if I’m all right. I want them to be talking about the moment the couple said I do, or about what a beautiful reading the family chose for their loved one’s funeral.

There are a few techniques I will use to channel my emotions and stop myself from becoming overwhelmed.

Breathe!

Seems obvious, but when you’re emotional, your breath is the first thing to go. Your chest gets tight and your breath becomes shallow. It becomes really hard to think straight. We were taught breathing techniques on our celebrant training course that help you control your voice and your stress.

When I see a bride walk up the aisle or a family filing in behind a coffin, I’ll breathe in for a count of and out for a count of eight. This brings welcome oxygen into my body and gives me something to concentrate on while I wait to deliver my ceremony.

Identify Flashpoints

When I’m preparing for a ceremony, I can spot which parts of the ceremony are likely to set off a wave of emotion in your ceremony guests – and in me. It could be the lighting of a memorial candle.


This shows me lighting a memorial candle at a ceremony. The candle is on a table in front of two pictures, and I’m crouched in front of it. I was concentrating so much on lighting the candle that I had no time for tears. (Photo Credit: Lopez Photography)

Or it could be words I say that will show you the true significance of this ceremony. You are welcoming a child into the world. You are committing to each other for life. When I come to these delicate parts of the ceremony, I can let the wave of emotion pass without letting it spill over.

Find A Spot On The Wall

At times of high emotion, distraction can be useful. It takes you away from that emotion for a moment and gives you something else to focus on. When I reach those heart moments, I’ll pick a spot in front of me to look at.

Since ceremony venues are often beautiful places, it’s easy to find something to direct my gaze at – flowers, trees, even a guest’s beautiful dress. I let my brain fill with that image and that gets me past the emotional danger zone.

Of course I know there are going to be times when emotion will get the better of me, when the circumstances surrounding a ceremony are particularly poignant.

Or sometimes I’ll just bond with a family and tap more easily into the emotion they’re feeling. If that happens, I will take a deep breath and carry on. And I’ll let my tears be absorbed into the emotion of the day.

What would you think of a celebrant that sheds tears during a ceremony? I’d love to hear your perspectives. You can email me on info@celebrantderv.ie.

Creating A Beautiful Memorial Ceremony For Your Loved One

I’m feeling quite sad this week. A few days ago, I heard about the passing of one of my ski tribe. I thought about his partner and children, who like so many people at this time, are mourning without a supportive crowd around them. Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard about someone in my circle who’s had to endure a lonely funeral.

But I am looking forward to attending the memorial ceremony for this man, who was a talented athlete and musician. There are going to be a lot of these memorial ceremonies, because we don’t want this virus to stop us from being there for the people we care about. And because we want to define people by how they lived, not by how their lives ended.

This picture complements a blog post about post-COVID memorial ceremonies.
Pic from Irish Ethical Celebrants Society which featured my article about memorial ceremonies.

I qualified as a funeral celebrant just before the virus began to close the world down. And I want to help you mourn your loved ones the way both you and they deserve. So, I’ve put together some ideas to help you plan a memorial ceremony for your loved one when restrictions are lifted. You can adapt your memorial ceremony  to fit the type of person your loved one was and pay tribute to them in a really personal way.

The Two Types of Ceremony

There are broadly two types of memorial ceremony you can arrange.

The Story Of Your Life

You can organise an informal celebration for your loved one that tells the story of their life in music, words and pictures. Hire a venue that your loved one enjoyed going to, fill it with family and friends and feast on your memories. Invite people from different areas of the person’s life to tell stories about them and intersperse each one with songs the person liked.

Ideally, you’d have a talented musician in your family play them live, but you can also sing along to a recording. And while you’re reminiscing, you could arrange a slideshow of pictures of the person to play in the background. Just be sure you designate someone to be the MC for this event, so it all flows smoothly.

Funeral-Type Event

You can also have a more traditional memorial ceremony. This is closer to a funeral in form. But it can still be highly personal, a ceremony that celebrates the person’s life and the contribution they made to all of your lives.

Here’s a flavour of the elements you can include in your funeral-style ceremony.

Opening Remarks: It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget about welcoming people when you have so much to think of. All you have to do is say that everyone is welcome and thank them for coming. And don’t forget to use your loved one’s name. Your name is intertwined with who you are. By using their name, the name they were known by, you invoke their presence and bring them to life. 

Readings: Did your loved one have a favourite poem or reflection? You can include that as a reading in the ceremony, to showcase your loved one’s personality. There are also readings written especially for end of life rituals. These are designed to give you comfort and to show you that the person can still be present in your life.

Depending on your loved one’s beliefs, you can choose a prayer, a spiritual reflection or a poem. You can spread readings throughout the ceremony: for example, a reading after the opening remarks, after the eulogy or before the final words.

Gathering of Memories: As this is a memorial, the memories you share of your loved one will form the centrepiece of your ceremony. This is the time to let your loved one’s personality shine. You can share these memories in a formal way, with a eulogy delivered by a friend or member of the family. Or you can ask a few close friends or family to tell stories about your loved one, stories that capture the spirit of your loved one and celebrate the high points of their lives.

Rituals: We all need rituals, and rituals can be powerful symbols of love and of life in the midst of death. A lot of people offer gifts that represent the person – maybe a football jersey, a newspaper or a souvenir from a brilliant holiday. You can also light a candle for your loved one, to show that their light will never go out.

Musical Magic: Music speaks to the soul and it reaches places that words can’t reach. Let yourself be inspired by your loved one in the music you choose. What tunes did they like? What did they dance to? Or is there a piece of music that you feel fits their personality to a T. Or maybe there was a song that your loved one always sang at family gatherings. What a fitting way to round off a ceremony, having everyone sing along to that party piece.

Closing Words: The end of the ceremony will be the most poignant part for you all. You already said goodbye at the funeral and now you’ll be saying it again. But the end of the ceremony is a good time to give thanks. Thank your loved one for the riches they brought into your life and thank all those who gave you support in many ways.

And finally, thank everyone for coming and let them know if you’ve organised refreshments for afterwards. Focusing on the gratitude you feel will take some of the sting out of that goodbye.

Have A Laugh: There’s still a feeling that we must be solemn at funerals and memorials and of course there are sad occasions. But they’re also celebrations of life, as I said. So, make room for laughter in your ceremony. Tell the jokes your loved one would have told. Share funny stories about the crazy things the person did. Let your laughter mingle with your tears and you will all leave with a happy memory.

I’ve produced a version of this blog post for the Irish Ethical Celebrants’ Society if you want to take a look at that. If you want more ideas or help with putting together a memorial ceremony, please don’t hesitate to get in touch on info@celebrantderv.ie

How To Add Spirituality To Your Non-Religious Ceremony

The thing I love about being an independent celebrant is that I have the flexibility to cater for all faiths and none. If you’re religious, a church ceremony will be really fulfilling for you. If you’re a non-believer, a humanist celebrant or state registrar will deliver a ceremony free of any mention of God, the spirit or belief.

But what if you fall somewhere in between? That’s where an independent celebrant like me comes in. We put no restrictions on what you want to include in your ceremony. You can use any wordings you like and pick the music that makes your soul sing. You’re in the driving seat. You get to decide how spiritual you want your ceremony to be. Your ceremony may not be happening in a church, but it can be full of spiritual meaning just the same.  

So, how can you add spiritual touches to your non-religious ceremony? In this blog post, I’ll walk you through the different sections of the ceremony where you can add a splash of spirituality.

Spiritual Readings

Readings are at the heart of any ceremony and they can capture the depth of our love in just a few words. The Bible is a rich source of readings that convey the sacredness of love. You may have heard quotes like ‘For everything there is a season’ or ‘Love is patient and kind.’ These come from the Bible.

This is a famous quote from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, a hugely popular reading at wedding ceremonies.

But you can draw inspiration from any spiritual background. The Celtic blessing, ‘May the Road Rise to Meet You’ fits well with any ceremony. The poetry of Kahlil Gibran is full of spiritual depth. ‘Your children are not your children’ and ‘Let there be spaces in our togetherness’ are popular choices for ceremonies.

Vows and Promises

Making solemn vows and promises is often a highlight of a religious ceremony, but you can also make these solemn promises in your non-religious ceremony with an independent celebrant like me.

You can be creative and make those vows your own, for example: I promise not get mad if my child spills paint on my favourite jacket. But you’re also free to choose more traditional wordings like ‘for better, for worse.’ You can trust those time-honoured words to reveal the true depth of your love.

Prayers and Blessings

Some people don’t want much spiritual input into their ceremony at all, but they may have religious relatives that they want to include. Asking them to say a prayer or give a blessing is a lovely way to involve them in the ceremony.

Letting your relative say a Hail Mary or give a traditional blessing shows that you value their contribution and you respect their beliefs. And they’ll feel honoured that you’ve made them part of your special day.  

Hymns and Songs

Music is a vital part of any ceremony. It lifts people’s hearts and it expresses emotions that go beyond words. There is a wide choice of spiritual music that you can include in your ceremony, from ancient sacred music to modern-day folk songs. If you have a favourite hymn or spiritual song, then feel free to include it in your ceremony running order.

You may love classic hymns like The Lord’s My Shepherd or Panis Angelicus. But did you know that Elvis sang lots of hymns like In My Father’s House Are Many Mansions. Why not add one of his for a rock and roll wedding with a spiritual touch.

I hope now you’ll see that your ceremony doesn’t have to happen in a church to be full of sacred moments. If you’d like some inspiration add spiritual touches to your non-religious ceremony, give me a call on 087 6959799.

Want to Know Where To Get Married In Ireland?

By Derbhile Graham

I feel lucky to live in a country as beautiful as Ireland. It’s a place of rugged coastline and mountains, often right next to each other. And that’s exactly what makes it a brilliant spot for a wedding. Some of these wedding locations are very well known, like the Cliffs of Moher and the Hill of Tara.

But what if you want a ceremony with a difference? What if you want to go off the beaten track?

In this blog post, I’m going to share some brilliant wedding locations with you that I’ve come across on my travels. They’re places that are a little off the beaten track, and perfect wedding locations for free thinking couples who like to do their own thing.

The Copper Coast, Co. Waterford

I’m going to start with a place that’s right in my own backyard. The Copper Coast is a stunning stretch of coastline that takes you from Tramore, where I live, to Dungarvan. Along the way, you’ll enjoy epic views of cliffs plunging down into hidden coves, with caves tucked into the cliff face. It’s called the Copper Coast because there was once a thriving copper mining industry in the area.

The Copper Coast’s history has been captured at the Copper Coast Geopark Visitor’s Centre, which makes a wonderfully intimate spot for a wedding if the weather isn’t kind to you. Or you can go wild and have your wedding or vow renewal ceremony on one of the little coves, just the two of you, with the rolling waves providing the soundtrack.

St Patrick’s Well, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary

Now we’ll travel a little further inland to our next wedding location. St Patrick’s Well is another spot that’s dear to my heart, as I grew up a stone’s throw away. It’s been a sacred site for thousands of years, since Celtic times, but it’s also the site of a holy well and church dedicated to St Patrick.

The sacred site of St Patrick’s Well. Pic taken by me.

As soon as you go through the gate and head down the steps towards the well, you’ll be filled with a sense of peace. The air is still and the modern world falls away. You will be able to celebrate your love in a place steeped with history, and the ancient trees surrounding it make a beautiful backdrop for your photos.

Slieve League, Co. Donegal

We all know the Cliffs of Moher are stunning, but you’ll find equally stunning views on the Donegal coast, at the Slieve League cliffs. You’ll also be away from the crowds. Known as Sliabh Liag in Irish, these are the highest and most impressive cliffs in Europe. If you’re feeling really brave, you can stand at the very top of the cliffs, which plunge down to the wild Atlantic Ocean 600 metres below. Like St Patrick’s Well, Slieve League has been a sacred site for Celts and Christians for thousands of years.

Lough Gur, Co. Limerick

If you are drawn to pagan and Celtic spirituality, Lough Gur is the perfect wedding location for you. Lough Gur is home to one of Ireland’s largest stone circles, which were used for pagan worship. The lake and the gentle, rolling hills around it give you a mellow backdrop for your wedding ceremony. Your younger guests can enjoy the fairy trails around the lake. It’s a more peaceful alternative to the Hill of Tara, with the added advantage that you can have your ceremony by the water.

Want some ideas for Celtic wedding rituals? Check out my Weddings page.

Guinness Storehouse, Dublin

You’ll know the Guinness Storehouse as a tourist attraction – in fact it’s Dublin’s number-one tourist attraction. But did you know you can also get married there? You can have your wedding ceremony in the Gravity Bar which is right at the top of the building, giving you panoramic views of the city. Then afterwards, you can enjoy a complimentary pint of Guinness and toast your future happiness. If you’re an urban creature who’s more into city breaks than weekends in the wild, the Guinness Storehouse will be a cool choice for your ceremony.

I hope these ideas will inspire you, whether you’re living in Ireland or planning a destination from abroad. If you’re coming from abroad, don’t forget to sort out the legal arrangements before you come to Ireland for your dream destination wedding. If you’re looking for ideas for your dream wedding location, give me (Derbhile) a call on 087 6959799.

How to Organise Your Legal Wedding Ceremony

I’m someone who likes to get to the nitty gritty. So, I’m going to get this out of the way. I can’t solemnise your wedding. That means I can’t make your marriage legal. I’d love to, but I can’t. And I could explain why, but I would need a separate blog post for that. Let’s just say it boils down to complicated marriage legislation. So, if you want me as your celebrant, your wedding will be a two-phase event. There’ll be a highly personal ceremony for you, your family and friends, conducted by me, and there’ll be a legal ceremony at the registry office.

Organising a separate legal ceremony is more doable than you think. It even gives you a good excuse for a party. So, I’ve created this blog post to show you how it all works.

Just Make An Appointment

I know that for Irish people in particular, it can be hard getting your head around organising a separate legal wedding ceremony. We’re used to having everything done in one place. But all you’re really doing is making an extra appointment to sign a document. All couples have to register their marriage three months in advance of their wedding with the Health Service Executive (HSE), no matter what type of ceremony they choose. You make a marriage notification appointment to register your marriage with your local Health Service Executive (HSE) and you make a second appointment for your legal signing. That’s it.

You can make your appointment for your legal ceremony at the same time as you make your marriage notification appointment. Or you can make it when you actually go to the marriage notification appointment. The registrar will ask you where and when you are getting married, and you tell them you want to be married in the registry office. You can then choose a date for your legal ceremony with the registrar.

Signing the marriage register makes your marriage legal

Just remember that the date of your legal ceremony must be at least three months later than the date of your marriage notification appointment. So, if your marriage notification appointment is in May, you fix a date for your legal ceremony in August or later. The good news is that your legal ceremony can happen either before or after your wedding ceremony with me. It makes no difference to me and it makes no difference to the HSE as long as you make your marriage legal with them.

What Happens At the Legal Ceremony?

Your legal ceremony will be very short, fifteen minutes at most. You just turn up at the registry office with two witnesses and everything will be done. Afterwards, you and your witnesses can go for a drink or a slap-up lunch. That’s where the party bit comes in. In fact, I’d recommend organising your legal signing the day before your wedding ceremony with me. What a great way to get the party started.

And if you do want both your ceremonies to happen at the same time, it’s still possible. If you’re getting married on a weekday between 9am and 5pm, the registrar can come out to your venue, depending on availability. Then you can have your ceremony with me and the registrar will be on hand afterwards for you to sign the register with your witnesses.

How Much Will All This Cost?

I can understand why you’d be worried about the expense of a second ceremony, but it needn’t cost any extra. All couples pay €200 anyway to register their marriages with the HSE. I charge a fee of €450 for my wedding ceremonies, which falls within the standard fees charged by celebrants of all kinds. The only extra cost is if you want the registrar to come to your wedding venue. The HSE charges a standard fee of €100 for that service.

Why would you even bother with a separate legal ceremony?

Because it frees you up to have the wedding ceremony of your dreams. I’ll put no restriction on the shape of your ceremony – you can use whatever wording and music you want. All celebrants and solemnisers aim to offer a personal service, but they are bound by legalities or belief systems. For example, in a humanist or registry office ceremony, you can make no reference to religion or God and certain legal words have to be said. So, if you want a ceremony that fits perfectly with who you are and what you believe in, an independent celebrant is your best option. I promise you – it’ll be worth your while.

If you have any more questions about organising your legal ceremony, I’d be happy to help. Just send me a message using the website contact form or email info@celebrantderv.ie. Otherwise, you can get information from the HSE website about getting married in Ireland.

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