A recent protest, perhaps the world’s smallest that was improperly touted by the media as spontaneous, featured more wedding organisers than brides
By Jed Lonstein
Recently a story appeared in all the major media outlets in Ireland. It was a protest without precedent. There were no marker-scrawled placards or grim-faced anoraks, no barriers or batons. Five beauteous brides, a joy in white, one clutching a bouquet, assembled like a troupe of ballet dancers smiling and simpering for the assembled photographers and press corps which vastly outnumbered the betrothed belligerents who in the end added two lads to make up the numbers. They demanded to be heard. Their demands were simple and atavistic: the right to a big wedding with all their friends and family.
Within hours news reached the government and – fearful of the rising public, emerging from its collective cabin-fever – the government relented and granted their agenda of innocence.
It was a story of triumph over tyranny, five strong women who weren’t going to take it any more. But, like so many Irish marriages, it had a dark side. For it was also a tale of innocence exploited.
Although most of the articles pointed out who the ‘protest’ was organised by – WIPA The Wedding International Professionals Association, they all referred to the lobbyists as brides-to-be and even – amusingly perhaps – bridezillas.
However, with chapters from Atlanta, to New York, from Chicago via Las Vegas to Seattle; and in Ireland, the protest was the opposite of a grassroots eruption.
None of this is new. In late December 2019, The Business Post’s Aaron Rogan ran a story on attempts to reform Ireland’s gambling laws. People were terrified that their winnings would be cut by up to 50%. However little was made of the fact that winnings of €5000 or less would remain untouched. Cue busloads of senior citizens marching on Leinster House with placards declaring, ‘Hands Off Our Balls’. Led by Jack Potts, a seven-foot cat-in-a-hat and mascot for his company which operates four bingo halls in Dublin alone, they were joined by Michael Healy Rae and, within days, the government had backed down. What appeared to be an organic response was in fact organised by the PR guru, Paul Allen.
The wedding ‘protest’, possibly the smallest demo ever staged in Ireland (picture, say, the intensity of a Renua rally), included Brianna Cullen, Orla O’Huadaigh, Orla Hogan, Ali O’Mara and Anna Killen. Brianna Cullen is a wedding planner working for Tara Fay who organised the event and is the founding member and president of WIPA Ireland. Fay features in Harpers’ Bazaar USA as one of the top wedding planners in the world. Orla O’Huadhaigh lists herself as a ‘Talent Acquisition Partner’ at ActiveCampaign, a corporate marketing company. Orla Hogan is a wedding planner – her Linkedin describes her as a final-year student seeking experience in event management. In her own words she has shadowed a wedding planner over the past year. Ali O’Mara may be an actual protestor and for that reason I will not expound on her further.
The story originally appeared on evoke.ie, which has featured some of the participants before and would be well aware of their identities, though it found no reason to point this out.
Pictured in the Irish Examiner is a photo-shoot of Tony Barry – down on one knee before Anna Killen. Tony is a self-professed out-of-work waiter, but as The Times points out, he is the son of Claire Henley who used to cater for high-end weddings, pre-pandemic.
Elsewhere, in the Mirror, a Paudie Herlihy is quoted as showing his support for the cause as his keenly bridal daughter is currently still thwarted due to the restrictions. As a father myself, I felt for him, but was also uneasy about his wedding DVD production which he less endearingly chose not to disclose.
Perhaps this simply does not matter. These are mostly people whose livelihoods have been affected by the lockdown and why shouldn’t they protest?
To me, it’s a case of marketing and self-promotion masquerading as genuine and valid protest. Had they been clear about who they were and what their motives were it would have represented a certain tawdry integrity. But no. This event was utterly fake. What makes it infuriating is that every national publication along with thejournal.ie and joe.ie either didn’t care who the organisations involved were or were simply complicit.
It’s the silly season and, on a sunny day in Dublin five women photographed by
the glossiest of photographers, in snow-white regalia, bouquets in hand and accompanied by tuxedoed gentlemen of endless cheer was just too good to ignore.
However, in the era of fake news where people take their vaccine advice from random strangers who shout the loudest, I feel this is precisely the time for real journalism to differentiate itself in stark contrast – by boosting verifiable sources and diligent background investigation.
After all scruple is the only advantage they have over thirty-character tweets, tin-foil facebook pages and blind, tribal charlatanism.
Mainstream media is brawling for its life right now and when its credibility comes into question it loses a perceived unique selling point of long standing, and – worse – opens the door to the manipulations of the cynics and liars without.