Helping couples enjoy their ideal wedding is a privilege and dream come true

Bound by ancient conventions, customs and religion, weddings in Northern Ireland have been one of the last great bastions of time-honoured tradition…but that could all change this year.
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From a rise in micro-ceremonies and spikes in research for ‘non-traditional vows’ to people turning away from the huge guestlists couples are saying; ‘we don’t’ to the traditional wedding in 2024.

A report by Pinterest shows there has been a 110% increase in online searches for ‘non-traditional wedding dresses’ while searches for ‘non-traditional vows’ have surged by 205%.

Wedding planning app, Bridebook also reports that key themes for 2024 include personalised and unique experiences while it also found small weddings save couples on average 40% compared to the big bash.

Ann Pinkerton, Humanist Celebrant at Irish Runaway Weddings.Ann Pinkerton, Humanist Celebrant at Irish Runaway Weddings.
Ann Pinkerton, Humanist Celebrant at Irish Runaway Weddings.

Ann Pinkerton, who operates Runaway Irish Weddings, from just outside Downpatrick, County Down believes the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis provided the watershed moment for people to have the confidence to have the weddings they want.

She said: “In the past if you didn’t have the normal church wedding, with the big reception afterwards, people thought it was a bit strange.

“But things are changing and gone are the days when mum and dad’s friends filled the guest list. We are now seeing a trend towards weddings that are different, romantic and fun with rustic vibes and an emphasis on sustainability and authenticity, especially from Gen Z.

“At Runaway Irish Weddings the emphasis is very much on providing affordable weddings which have a real quirky and ‘boho’ vibe and of course a big dollop of romance.

Irish Runaway Weddings.Irish Runaway Weddings.
Irish Runaway Weddings.

“Covid-19 initially forced couples to have small weddings to comply with the rules, but as we moved out of the pandemic people really started to look at weddings a lot differently.

“Now there is a focus on intimacy and fun with ceremonies and themes which are tailored perfectly for the couple.”

With support from the British Business Bank’s Start Up Loans programme, Ann launched Runaway Irish Weddings six years ago with the business catering for small weddings and elopements.

Born in Houston, Renfrewshire, Ann moved to Northern Ireland and lived on the Causeway Coast for a couple of years, in Bushmills and Portstewart, before returning to Scotland.

Irish Runaway Weddings.Irish Runaway Weddings.
Irish Runaway Weddings.

She later returned to live in Northern Ireland in 2015 where she met her partner, Pete and the couple eventually settled just outside Downpatrick.

Ann said: “Our home had an outbuilding, a summer house and a pond, but I had the vision that this place could be a really great wedding venue. It has now been transformed into a wonderful space where couples can come and get married and be immersed in nature.

“I also trained as a Humanist Celebrant through Humanists UK so I could carry out the ceremonies myself.”

Runaway Irish Weddings is renowned for organising romantic small weddings and elopements. Couples staying at their luxury holiday accommodation can host their wedding there and invite around eighteen guests depending on the season to join them for the celebrations.

The business also plans weddings on nearby beaches, forests and even on a boat, canoe or an uninhabited island on the stunning Strangford Lough.

Ann said: “We were just starting to get the business on its feet when the pandemic struck but managed to get through.

“I have to say this is my absolute dream job. It is a complete privilege to be with couples on what is one of the biggest milestones in their lives.

“My job is to help them be happy and make amazing memories, what could be better than that.”

Ann prides herself on giving each couple the wedding of their dreams, tailored specifically to their individual wishes. Every wedding at Runaway Irish Weddings is different.

And, with an increasing number of Civil Ceremonies taking place in Northern Ireland (of 8,564 weddings in NI in 2022, almost 33% were Civil Ceremonies) she has also spoken of her delight at becoming a Celebrant.

Ann said: “Growing up I didn’t come from a religious family, but we did have good values as a farming family.

“Being a Celebrant is not something I ever considered but after speaking to Humanists UK I was offered the chance to train and become one and I have to say it has been a real pleasure doing this work. I am now part of a great network of humanist celebrants here in Northern Ireland and we all work together and support one another.

“I meet with couples and get to know them beforehand and together we plan the dream wedding ceremony they want.

“This could include helping them with their vows or picking a certain theme for the day – it is entirely up to the couple to decide and my only task is to make it personal to them.”

Starting the business has been life-changing for Ann and she delights in establishing lasting relationships with many of the couples she marries.

She said: “I have emails and correspondence from couples I have married, and it is so special to be able to read those messages.

“I remember one bride insisting I stood beside her for the line-up to greet guests and she would tell people I was like a sister to her. You just can’t beat that.

“I once conducted a wedding for a lady and then a short time later organised her mother’s wedding – that was very special.

As the business grows so does the network of other local suppliers Ann has been able to work with.

“Being able to build up a group of other businesses such as photographers, florists, musicians and caterers and to be able to support them has been very rewarding. I ensure I use local suppliers who work well together as part of the whole Runaway story.”

When starting the business Ann turned to the British Business Bank for a Start Up Loan.

She said: “I remember putting together a business plan and being directed to the British Business Bank for funding and mentoring.

“The funding really helped me get started and my advice to other people considering starting their own business would be to make sure they have a strong idea and to run it past other people first.

“Take on good advice and have the confidence to really go for it. I would also advise against giving up your current job immediately, if that’s possible. I was able to carry on working but the business has got to the stage where this is my first year going full time with it.

“It can be a scary feeling but also running my own business has just been so fulfilling and to be your own boss is a great thing.”

Start Up Loans from the British Business Bank is a government-backed personal loan available to individuals looking to start or grow a business in the UK.

In addition to finance, successful applicants receive 12 months of free mentoring and exclusive business offers to help them succeed. The loan is unsecured, so there’s no need to put forward any assets or guarantors to support an application.

All owners or partners in a business can individually apply for up to £25,000 each, with a maximum of £100,000 available per business.

To find out more about Runaway Irish Weddings visit . To find out more about Start Up Loans visit