The Irish have a saying: there's no such thing as a stranger, just a friend you haven't met yet. And one of the nicest aspects of getting married in Ireland is the warmth and friendliness of the Irish people. Even if you are a complete stranger to the emerald isle, you will find yourself feeling surrounded by hosts of new friends. Rightly famed for their hospitality, the Irish love a good party - particularly a wedding party. The warmth of the reception you receive is matched only by the beauty of the landscape and the wealth of culture and ancient history. From breath-taking coastal cliffs to rolling fields filled with fifty shades of green and from dreamy lakeside locations to hip and happening city centres, the country the size of Connecticut has it all. Ireland also has more than its fair share of castles, historic buildings and romantic churches. There are venues to suit every size, shape and budget of wedding and with a little careful planning and preparation you could enjoy an unforgettable day. It is also an ideal place to honeymoon, assuming that you are not in the market for a tan. (Ireland's climate is notoriously moist, which accounts for its ability to produce so many wonderful hues and such lush vegetation.) North and south
The rules governing marriage in Ireland differ greatly north to south. Northern Ireland falls under British law, which means that civil marriages can take place in an enormous range of locations following new rules that came into force on January 1 2004. (You can apply for a temporary approval for a place of your choosing, such as your family home for example.) Religious ceremonies may take place anywhere in Northern Ireland that an officiant, which is someone who has been authorised to solemnise marriage, deems fit. However, in the Republic of Ireland (ROI), civil ceremonies can only take place in register offices and religious services may only be conducted in churches and places registered for worship. Liberalisation of the rules is under discussion, but any proposed changes are unlikely to be adopted and subsumed into law in time to effect this year's or next year's brides. The ROI has residency rules for couples wishing to marry in a civil ceremony, which dictate that one party must live in the area where the marriage is to take place for eight days prior to applying for a Registrar's Certificate (15 days for marriage by Registrar's Licence); the marriage may then take place 21 days after (eight days for marriage by licence). Rules and laws
Anyone can get married in Northern Ireland, regardless of where they live. Both parties must complete a Marriage Notice Form (downloadable from www.groni.gov.uk and submit it with the relevant documentation to the registrar for the district in which the ceremony is to take place a minimum of 14 days before the date of the proposed marriage. However, the General Register Office recommends submitting the forms eight weeks before the marriage so that the application can be checked and cleared in good time and ten weeks before if either party has been previously married. Be warned: if you leave it until a fortnight before your proposed wedding date, you may need to postpone the marriage. If you are planning a church wedding, you must contact your officiant before you complete the forms. In the Republic of Ireland all couples are required to give three months written notice of the intention to marry regardless of whether it is a civil or religious service. For a civil wedding, application for a licence or certificate must be made at the registrar for the district in which it is to take place. At the same time notice must be given to the registrars of the districts both parties live in. Notice must be given in person and proof of residency is required. Religious services are governed by the rules of the church involved, which means your priest or vicar will advise on legal requirements. Regardless of where or what kind of ceremony you seek, the best advice is to make advance bookings as early as possible with register offices or churches and ideally a year before you plan to wed to ensure availability. Church matters
Churches on both sides of the border have a fairly relaxed attitude to conducting marriage for people with no connection to specific churches or parishes. Parish priests are under no obligation to marry you, but suggesting a contribution to the church organ fund may smooth the way. You are never very far away from a church in the emerald isle, so if at first you don't succeed, keep trying. Equally, many couples go for the most hassle-free version, which is to marry under civil law in their own country and have a blessing or exchange of vows in Ireland, which are much easier to arrange. Spoilt for choice
Both Northern and the Republic of Ireland have more than their fair share of fairytale castles, historic houses and stunningly pretty churches. Check out the church in Gougane Barra, an area of outstanding natural beauty in West Cork. Couples travel from around the world to wed there in atmospheric St Finbarr's Oratory. County Tipperary's Holy Cross Abbey, which was founded in 1169, is equally sought after. The National Trust operates a number of historic buildings licensed to hold civil ceremonies in Northern Ireland. Highlights include the Mussenden Temple in Coleraine, and the Temple of the Winds, near Strangford Lough. Both make unique venues for a romantic ceremony as both are perched high on the edge of cliffs giving them magnificent views. The best advice for choosing a venue is to visit the country and let yourself fall in love.