I WAS at a good wedding last week. It began in a small country chapel, and the celebrant was splendidly merry and friendly while at the same time properly marking the sacramental solemnity of the occasion.

When the bride was making her entrance, for example, he said, "Is she not looking just gorgeous? Let's give her a round of applause.” That set the tone for the service and for the day that followed too.

We may be in a recession, but there was no sign of that on this day. The reception was in an excellent hotel.

It began with champagne for all and one of those chocolate and marshmallow fountains so beloved by the ladies. There was a luscious strawberry at the bottom of every champagne glass too.

The dining tables were kept flowing with wine throughout the meal, good cigars were distributed, there was more champagne for the toasts at the end, the food was brilliant and featured spring lamb and sea bass.

Then a splendid band began playing the music that lasted without a break until the early hours of the next morning, the floor still crammed with dancers. Two well-stocked bars were kept busy throughout.

The families and friends of the bride and groom, from all over the country and beyond, mixed and mingled well from the beginning. It was altogether a wedding in the best tradition of rousingly enjoyable

Irish weddings, and it was a pleasure to be there.

And it was during an evening conversation with another silvered veteran of many weddings that it was pointed out to me how the wedding ritual in modern Ireland has been immensely improved by the omission of one element which was an essential part of the wedding days of the past.

There is no Going Away any more!

Many of you will remember the tragi-comic going aways of the new husband and wife up until about

20 years ago. My friend said, “It happened to you (and indeed it did) and it happened to me, and Lord it was awful." And upon reflection it surely was.

Think about it. The happy couple and/or their families (or both) spent every available shilling on putting on a great day for all they knew and loved and to mark the celebration of their marriage, the biggest day of their lives.

They worked for months to ensure that everything was organized down to the last detail. It invariably went like clockwork 99% of the time.

There came a time in the evening when everybody was chatting and drinking and singing and dancing, when the craic was at its peak.

And at precisely that point, having been absent from the scene for maybe 45 minutes, the bride and groom sheepishly enough appeared again to show that they were Going Away.

She had shed her lovely wedding dress and was invariably wearing an outfit that did not flatter her at all, and revealed that with her hair down she was looking plain exhausted.

He was out of his Sunday suit and clad in a new sports jacket and slacks. He also looked exhausted.

But the ritual had to be observed. The poor bride had been equipped with a much smaller bouquet than she had borne in the chapel or, worse still, about a third of that bouquet which had clearly been gutted for the ritual.

Amidst ribald cheers, the unmarried girls at the wedding were harried and hunted into the area in front of the poor bride, who then turned her back and flung the bouquet into the melee that developed in front of her.

Invariably you saw the disappointment on her face because the best friend she had aimed the flowers at never managed to catch it. It was supposed at the time that the lady who caught it would be the next bride to go to the altar.

Then, again with much fuss and ado, the couple were grabbed up body and bones and thrown up in the air a few times before being hurled out into the night and actually Going Away.

Despite their best efforts, the "boys" had identified the Going Away car in which their suitcases had been waiting all day. It was invariably horrifically daubed with all manner of bawdy messages, and there were items like boots and corsets and rusty pisspots tied to the back.

The couple was shoved inside and the groom was so rattled (it was never his own car) that he jump-started the thing twice before eventually escaping at 70 miles an hour, all the pots and pans clattering, nearly blind because of the smeared windscreen.

And that was the Going Away. It was a dreadful ritual.

They had to stop a mile out the road to clean the windscreen at least and get rid of the clattering rubbish behind. They had to leave all their friends and families and loved ones behind at the height of the merrymaking.

They had to leave a hotel that was jumping with excitement and merrymaking and drive to another one maybe a couple of hours away near the airport.

Here they did not know one soul, and normally the place was like a morgue when they booked in.

They both had headaches after all the excitement and strain of the day. They were both knackered.

They would have loved to have stayed on to the very end of their very own party, but they had to go through the Going Away.

I've discussed the reality of wedding nights after Going Aways like that with many wise men down the years. A fair synopsis would be that they were not very romantic at all. We will leave it at that.

Now, thank God, a honeymoon suite is part of the package provided by the reception hotel. Couples enjoy all the fun of the party and schedule the start of their honeymoon for maybe two days later when they are fully rested and relaxed again.

Going Aways have gone away for good. That is a mighty change for the better.

There is an odd time when we need to say good riddance to traditions. This is a classic example.