Lord of the Dance creator and star Michael Flatley threw open the doors of his magnificent, historic castle in Cork earlier this month to marry his leading lady, dancer Niamh O’Brien, in front of 250 family members and friends – and anyone else who wanted to wish the couple well.
Chicago-born Flatley, 48, and O’Brien, 32, a native of Co. Meath, were married on Saturday, October 14 by Father Aidan Troy, the noted Belfast-based priest, at St. Patrick’s Church in Fermoy, Co. Cork, just a couple of miles away from Flatley’s fabulous home, Castlehyde.
The newly minted Mr. and Mrs. Flatley were cheered on by hundreds of Fermoy residents both inside and outside the church. The Flatleys, as they have been doing for years — he as the fast-footed innovator who created his own entertainment empire via Lord of the Dance, she as a dancer who has been part of his shows for more than a dozen years – gave their guests exactly what they wanted as they posed for an endless stream of photos, shook dozens of hands and reveled in the glory of all the well-wishers.
“When would we ever get a chance to see something like this again?” one local who lived in Fermoy all her life enthused from her prime seat about 20 rows back from the altar, which was festooned with fresh roses and other colorful floral arrangements. “The one thing about Michael Flatley, he’s a marvelous guy. He knows where he came from.”
The ceremony was set for 2 p.m., but Irish weddings aren’t known for starting on time, and this one didn’t get underway until 2:45. The excitement that preceded it was worth the wait, and one could have been forgiven for thinking that we were witnessing the start of Lord of the Dance as opposed to a Mass.
The groom cruised up to the church behind the wheel of his Mercedes convertible, best man and brother Patrick by his side, hopped out and greeted his fans as he made his way inside, shaking hands and posing for photos along the way.
When he finally made it past the vestibule, the groom was greeted with a wild standing ovation – so much for the gentle admonition from St. Patrick’s parish priest and co-celebrant Father Anthony O’Brien reminding guests beforehand to keep the noise down as they were in God’s house! It took a good 10 minutes before Michael and Patrick made it to the altar, as everyone wanted a piece of the groom, who was clearly thrilled to bearhug and high-five his invited guests who had come from all parts of the globe.
Niamh’s arrival was more understated, but she was the picture-perfect bride who dazzled in a stunning antique lace gown sprinkled with crystals, specially made for her lithe dancer’s body by the American designers Badgley Mischka.
The Mass was a memorable one led by Father Aidan Troy, who has been at the forefront of peace efforts in the North. (Troy and Flatley met up at Irish America’s Top 100 Awards in 2003, when Michael was Irish American of the Year.) The music came courtesy of a full orchestra, specially created pieces by Lord of the Dance composer Ronan Hardiman, a local soprano and last, but certainly not least, the Chieftains, Michael’s old pals from back in the day.
The Flatley and O’Brien families were very much part of the proceedings. Niamh’s two sisters were her chief bridesmaids; Tara Flatley, Michael’s red-haired niece from Chicago, was the flower girl, and two nephews were pageboys. The readings were done by family members as well; all of Michael’s crew traveled from the States, including his Chicago-based parents Michael Senior (originally from Sligo) and Eilish (a native of Cavan), and his three sisters, Annie, Thomasina and Liza.
“I have a feeling that any cardinal or bishop could have been asked to say this Mass, but you shopped local!” said Father Aidan, to the delight of the natives in the church who stood up and applauded for about the seventh time during the Mass. Father Aidan also came bearing gifts – a personalized blessing for the couple from Pope Benedict.
When the ceremony ended, the bride and groom signed the registry, posed for some family photos on the altar and slowly made their way outside.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Michael told the reporters waiting for their quotes. “I married the most beautiful lady in the world today. I’m the luckiest man in the world.”
Niamh, definitely not used to such media attention, stood silently and beamed before making a getaway with her husband in Michael’s Rolls Royce to nearby Castlehyde for the second act, an opulent celebration featuring the finest food and drink money could buy, in a home that is absolutely breathtaking.
Security was tight at the castle, as black-suited men with earpieces roaming the grounds made sure everything at the 200-acre estate was just as it should be. The setting is postcard stunning, with a driveway at least a mile long surrounded by gardens and trees before the home itself, with its lush lawns and fountains, comes into view. Flowing right through the estate is the serene River Blackwater.
Castlehyde was the home of the first Irish President Douglas Hyde, and the mansion was built in the early 19th century. It fell into a state of total neglect until Michael purchased it in 1999 for $3 million and took on a mission to restore it to its former grandeur.
The end result of all that work – and the $50 million tab – is simply awesome. Castlehyde is massive – at least 100,000 square feet spread over four levels and dozens of rooms, and that doesn’t include a separate outdoor gym, garages and swimming pool. Everything in it is custom made, and Michael made a point of restoring everything he could, including the floors (every old wide plank was taken up, refurbished and laid back down), the windows and all the ornate moldings.
Michael was intent on having his guests enjoy just about every bit of his castle. The couple stood in the drawing room to personally greet all of their guests as they came inside, and an army of waiters stood by to offer wines, champagnes, and any other drink desired.
The celebration was spread out over many rooms, and guests were free to explore as they wished. Food and drink came fast and furious – oysters on the half shell, caviar, Irish salmon, and on and on and on. And that was just for starters!
A buffet was laid on later in the evening, featuring filet mignon, venison, lobster, pumpkin risotto, Irish spuds, and more gut-busting delicacies.
Did we mention dessert? There was a separate buffet featuring all kinds of decadent treats – swan-shaped pastries , hot toffee pudding, chocolates, crème brulee, and of course the four-tiered traditional wedding cake decorated with red roses.
There was all kinds of music in the house. The couple did dance, of course, but they kept their Irish shoes in the closet and did a slow dance to the song “Fly Me to the Moon.” The band was excellent – they played a souped-up version of “Danny Boy,” among other classics – and once they finished, the entertainment continued with an impromptu session just outside the fully-stocked mahogany bar featuring the Chieftains and Michael, who brought out his flute for the occasion and played and played and played. The craic, as the Irish say, was mighty!