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Rory and Erica wed in Cong’s fairytale castle

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WARM WELCOME Usher Tom Quinn had his best finery on as he welcomed some of the guests at the main gate of Ashford Castle. Pic: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Mark Thornton

Cong

Cong welcomed a galaxy of stars for Rory McIlroy’s wedding at Ashford Castle over the weekend, while proud locals spoke of the benefits of the exposure in terms of showcasing the area.
The golfing superstar, worth an estimated €125 million, wed his American fiancée, Erica Stoll, in St Mary’s Church in the romantic grounds of the luxury 350-acre estate on Saturday evening. A blue vintage Mercedes, which was decked out in white ribbons, is believed to have brought the couple from the historic chapel, which built by Sir Benjamin Guinness in 1855.
The Protestant church lies 1km inside the breathtaking grounds. It was made famous when the exterior of the building featured in ‘The Quiet Man’, starring Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne 65 years ago.
Celebrities jetted into Co Mayo from around the world to witness the ceremony. Over Friday and Saturday, at least 14 helicopters landed at the 800-year-old castle, named the world’s best hotel in 2015. A chopper owned by horse-racing mogul JP McManus was one of the last to arrive.
Guests were treated to a 20-course tasting menu which showcased the best in Irish cuisine. The menu by Ashford Castle’s award-winning executive chef Philippe Farineau included wild Irish salmon, trout, organic beef, venison and lamb.
US Motown legend Stevie Wonder – who was heard performing by local fishermen from Lough Corrib on two consecutive nights – sung ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ as the newlyweds took to the floor for their first romantic dance as a married couple.

Top secret
An massive security operation was in place at the venue from Wednesday until Sunday, with local people describing it as being reminiscent to the visit of US President Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Michael Joyce, who put up a congratulations sign on behalf of Ballinrobe Golf Club at the castle’s main entrance said: “Guys that we know on the gate and inside, they’re all sworn to secrecy. Their mobile phones are taken off them and everything.”
About 300 people from the area who were working in Ashford Castle for the wedding gave up their mobile phones the Tuesday before the event and signed confidentiality agreements. Their phones were returned on Sunday.
Over the weekend, dozens of security guards patrolled the four main entrances, as well as any visible parts of fencing from the surrounding roadways, to ensure that no uninvited guests gained access and spoiled the private party.
Catering vans were routinely checked by security, while hotel staff were required to wear coloured wristbands. Anti-drone technology was used to guarantee that there were no prying eyes spying on proceedings from the south Mayo skies.
Some photographers who hired a boat and tried to get closer to the castle on Lough Corrib were chased away by a security team on the water.

Celebrity affair
Stars from the worlds of sport, music, film and business, including One Direction’s Niall Horan, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke, Shane Lowry, Padraig Harrington, JP McManus and Stevie Wonder attended the wedding, with the latter providing the entertainment.
Rory and Erica were very familiar with Ashford Castle before their wedding, having spent two New Year’s Eves at the award-winning hotel, where they enjoyed candlelit dinners and champagne during intimate getaways.
The privacy that the couple were able to enjoy during their previous visits is believed to be one of the main reasons that they chose to marry at the castle, which renovated at a cost of €67 million in 2015.
It is estimated that the hiring of the 13th-century castle cost the four-time major winner €250,000, while other costs included €100,000 for a specially imported marquee and tens of thousands of euro on the massive security operation. The total cost of the affair has been estimated at close to €500,000.

Local well wishers
There was excitement as former Ryder Cup winning captain Paul McGinley spoke to locals outside the famous Pat Cohan’s bar on Saturday, and one local man said he had seen Manchester United star Ryan Giggs walking through the village.
However, there was some disappointment locally in Cong when a widely rumoured midnight fireworks display, which was reportedly set to cost €50,000, failed to materialise. Throngs of people were gathered the pier at 12am but returned home without seeing so much as a spark in the south Mayo skies.
There were unconfirmed rumours locally on Sunday that Rory made a €50,000 donation to a local charity or club. However, when the golfer’s representatives were contacted by The Mayo News, they refused to make any comment on the wedding or those claims.
Local man Donal Hughes, who walked down to the entrance on Saturday with his son, said: “It’s great for the village and it’s great for the profile of the village to have somebody very famous coming here to get married.
“We just came down for a look, more to see the whole furore than expecting to see anybody famous or that … You have to respect [the grounds] on a day like this.”
Caroline Lydon, in her 40s and from nearby Ballinrobe, said: “Everybody’s dying for a glimpse of the wedding and to spot a famous face. It would be lovely to see them around the village and to make the most of all the area and not just the castle. There’s lovely little spots around the village as well. Some of them might take a stroll; it’s very romantic around Cong.
“He could have got married anywhere in the world, and it’s lovely to see someone like that coming to a small village really.
“I know it’s the top hotel in the world, but it’s fantastic to have it so local. On a regular day when there’s no famous faces around it’s lovely to come out on a Sunday.”
Caroline confided that her daughter, Laura (14), was far more interested in Niall Horan than Rory McIllroy. “It was easier call her this morning put it that way,” she quipped.
Meanwhile, Teresa Horan-Lawless, from Westport, travelled to Cong to wish Rory and his new bride well on Sunday and said she and her husband Pat are big fans.
She said: “I put a holy medal along with the card and I said, ‘Wishing you both a very blessed wedding and a lifetime of happiness together. Have a wonderful stay at Ashford Castle. May Jesus Christ stay with you both forever, Amen’.”
The grandmother of five was left disappointed when the security guards refused to pass on the card to Rory, but moments later a friend of the golf star, who was leaving the venue, agreed to pass it on for her.
It is understood the newlyweds flew out yesterday (Monday) for their no-expenses-spared ten-day honeymoon. Rory and Erica are thought to be honeymooning at the one of the most exclusive resorts in the world – the luxurious Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados, which is co-owned by JP McManus.

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