Thursday, May 23, 2013

358 Days : The When and The Where

The first items on our wedding check list were the date and venue. We didn’t have a special date in mind, but wanted our wedding in spring/summer and decided on May in the vain hope that we’d get one of the UK’s rare May heat waves, or that it would at least be relatively dry and bright (Our current May weather isn’t encouraging!)

We had more ideas about what sort of venue we wanted...
- We wanted to have our ceremony and reception at the same venue, so we could spend the whole day with our friends and family and to cut down on their travel time.
- We are both originally from the beautiful North Coast of Northern Ireland and a lot of our family and friends live on the arc between Derry and Belfast so we thought having it somewhere near home would mean no one was travelling too far.
Image by Nicky Thompson

Image by Richard Robinson
- We made a very very provisional guest list which came in at around 140 people, so our venue needed to be able to accommodate this number of guests for the ceremony and the meal.
- We aren’t religious so a church wasn’t an option.
- We wanted somewhere that would cater properly for vegetarians and vegans, or somewhere we could hire caterers to create a meatless menu for us.
- We wanted a venue we could personalise and decorate, nothing too formal or fancy (we’re not formal or fancy people) but somewhere with real character. Plus, as ridiculous as it sounds I’m really not a fan of patterned hotel carpets... Yes I’m that peculiar!!

We decided our ideal venue would be a big old barn somewhere in the Northern Irish countryside.  There are lots of beautiful barns near where we live in England but Northern Ireland seemed to be lacking in the old wedding barn department!

So instead we looked at - 

Ardtara,Upperlands  – Gorgeous country house with a baby grand piano in the entrance and a conservatory with great view of the grounds. They were happy to chat with us about a vegetarian/vegan menu but unfortunately they couldn’t accommodated our large wedding guest list inside the house. They suggested we have a marquee outside, which they often do for larger weddings, but we aren’t keen on a marquee wedding. We’ve been to some beautiful wedding receptions in marquees but it just isn’t for us.

Photo from

Townhall, Portrush – Gorgeous view of the sea, Barry’s just across the road PLUS James and I first met in Portrush (WTSS Yacht Club gig in 2002). The venue doesn’t have a bar (we could have worked around this) but we got the impression that having our wedding there would just be too much bother for them. Not something you want to feel particularly when you’re planning your wedding from a different country. (Check out this gorgeous wedding, in Portrush Town Hall  - pictures by the extremely talented Ten21

Templeton Hotel, Templepatrick – We didn’t visit the Templeton but contacted them after I’d seen pictures of a friend’s wedding there. I was keen to talk to someone because their meatless menu options weren’t what we wanted. They didn’t have anyone available to talk but they sent us some information on their wedding packages. I loved the sloped roof and wooden floors but this wasn’t our venue.

Dunadry Hotel, Antrim - The Dunadry is an old restored paper and linen mill, and has the most gorgeous conservatory which would just be perfect for a wedding ceremony. It’s close to the International Airport for anyone flying in for our wedding and has onsite accommodation. The grounds would be great for wedding photographs but I just didn’t feel like this was the right venue for us either.

Then finally... one Sunday morning, while  James was at football, I typed ‘Northern Ireland Barn Wedding’ into google as I’d done several times before and came across a wedding photographer’s blog featuring a venue I’d never seen before.  

Riverdale, Aghagallon
Riverdale, Aghagallon

I arranged to visit Riverdale when I was home last September.  Jim was in Indonesia so I went with my Mum.  The moment we arrived I got goose bumps! We met with Oonagh, who showed us around.  The venue speaks for itself but she gave us some background, and rather than telling us how they usually accommodate weddings, she gave me the opportunity to mention ideas we’d had for our wedding and suggested how they could accommodate those. Rather than feeling like just another potential wedding in her diary she treated me like the only bride-to-be in the world.

The buildings have been so beautiful restored and the surrounding grounds are just perfect for photographs. The barn is licensed to have civil ceremonies, and there is a also licensed bar. It’s only 25 minutes from Belfast, there are lots of guest houses in the area and it isn’t hard to get to from either airport. They said they were happy to work with us on our perfect vegan menu and I didn’t need to hear anything else! I provisional held a date, then sent Jim a rather long email (with pictures) and thankfully he liked it too!

We just think it will be the most special place for us to celebrate with our friends and family and I'm very excited to finally be taking Jim to see Riverdale in a few weeks!


  1. Ooh Amy, love it! It an easy decision but I guess you got goosebumps and good feelings about the building and the staff - perfect!

  2. Oh Saz it's so perfect! I can't wait 'til next year!!