Feedback from Fiona and James & new video of their Humanist wedding

January 6th, 2018

Dear Joe, We have been enjoying our first Christmas as a married couple! We were both so happy with your officiating at our ceremony and we got so many positive comments from our guests about it afterwards! Even Fiona’s Dad, who freely admitted that he was dreading the ceremony beforehand, was full of praises afterwards! Thanks again for all your help both in the build up to the day and on the day itself! You were a major part in making our day so special!
– James & Fiona, Humanist marriage ceremony conducted by Joe Armstrong at Cliff at Lyons on 8 August 2017. Video credited to

The present

December 19th, 2017

I was watching an episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys recently and ‘Mrs Brown’ spoke about ‘the present’. She said how the present – now – is, as the other meaning of the word has it, the gift. And that all we have is the present. It’s the same wise insight of that magnificent movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. Living and appreciating the gift of the present moment. It’s all we have. It’s all we ever have. In this moment, all is well. Right now, there is so much to be grateful for. We have, right now, more than we could ever appreciate. More than we could want.

Now is an invitation to re-enter the gratitude attitude, bringing to mind the wonder of now. Being thankful, not to any deity, but cultivating an attitude of gratitude for all that is.



November 30th, 2017

I spoke as a Humanist celebrant and chaplain at a commemoration event today for people who lost loved ones during the year. It is good to take time out to remember the deceased. People who have shaped us for the good; enriched our lives with their love and acceptance and wisdom and joy and affection. Those whose perspectives challenged us to grow and become more ourselves. Characters who etched themselves on the very stuff of our being. People we loved.

Be Happy Now

October 31st, 2017

There’s something about autumn. Beauty, colour and harvest. The farewell glance to summer. Winter biding its time.  Pink misty dawn. Walking the dogs on a moss-strewn stony country path. And glad to be me and happy in myself and grateful for life and love. And the sometime kids now twenty-something and finding their way and taking their chance in the world.

All we have – all I have – is now. Let’s be happy and enjoy.

All great truths begin as blasphemies

September 25th, 2017

Blasphemy Day
Come along to the Humanist Association of Ireland’s World Blasphemy Day Saturday 30 September 2017 event in Foley’s Bar on Merrion Row, where the HAI will be screening a lighthearted ‘blasphemous’ movie for your entertainment. Gather from 5pm onwards. The film will be shown after 6pm and finger food will be provided!
Due to the size of the function room, numbers for the film screening are limited. If you would like to come along to see the film, please RSVP to Selina at blasphemyaware AT

A lovely thank you for a Humanist wedding

August 18th, 2017

A thank you is always welcome, soon or long after a ceremony. This lovely one arrived on 1 August 2017 (uploaded with permission of the bride):

Hi Joe,

I am almost embarrassed how long it has taken me to write this email to you. This is also the hardest thank you as I don’t know where to start and I don’t know how to put it into words just how amazing you made our wedding ceremony. I will give it my best shot though!

Our ceremony was by far our favourite part of our wedding day. It was everything we had dreamed of and more. A relaxed setting and a fun and welcoming atmosphere. Your ability to make people laugh, cry and feel at home still amazes us. The way you pick up on any mistake we or our readers had made and turned it around to make it funny and as if it was supposed to happen was what made the ceremony even more fun.

In our video, after the ceremony the guests are congratulating us, absolutely everyone who approached us made comments on how it was the best service ever, that was the best craic ever, such an emotional ceremony, that was great idea, that Joe lad is some craic, I want to do that for my wedding, I wish I had that for my wedding, I will never have a church ceremony after that…… The list goes on.

We had Thank You cards and endless texts and emails from our guests saying it was the best wedding they had ever been to and their favourite part was the ceremony, this to me says it all as when do you ever hear that? Normally people see the church part as the formal bit you need to get out of the way before you can start having fun, I myself dread going to the church part of a wedding!. As myself and James say, it wasn’t us that made it the best day ever, it was Joe Armstrong and Bellingham Castle. The only thing we done was make the two best decisions, to have Joe Armstrong as our celebrant and to have Bellingham Castle as our venue.

I remember on the day, making my way to the ceremony, forgetting I had to breathe, my mind panicking and feeling like I might just collapse, you came out and cracked a joke and from there I was relaxed and ready for the day!

So Joe, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for giving us the wedding we have always wanted.

– Grainne and James – Humanist wedding conducted at Bellingham Castle 15 April 2016

You can see a video of Grainne and James’s Humanist wedding below. For many more examples of unsolicited praise received for Humanist wedding ceremonies click here.

HUMANIST WEDDING CEREMONY of Grainne and James conducted by Joe Armstrong,  Friday, 15 April 2016, at Bellingham Castle, Co. Louth. Video edited by Liutauras Kepenis ( Email: 0857288202) and John Armstrong (

More Humanist musings

May 25th, 2017

Time passes so quickly! As ever, the challenge is to live in the present. To  savour this moment. To be thankful for all we have and all we are. Being human, all too often we only appreciate things when we’ve lost them.  So enjoy this day. Count your blessings. All you have going for you. Stand back a bit and reflect. Breathe. That heart won’t tick forever. It’s later than you think, and all that. Health, our greatest wealth. The people in our lives. Be thankful too for yourself. I always liked the line from one of the psalms: ‘For the wonder of myself.’ Most of us need to consider that. For each life, ours included, is full of wonder. Sure, we’ve all made mistakes. But we’ve got a lot right too. Made more good decisions than poor ones. We’re survived. We’re reading this. We live. Hope lives. Life exudes all around us. Expel air. Breathe it in. You won’t always be able to do that. Heart ticking. Yours. Mine. For now. So, enjoy this moment.

What is a Humanist or Civil Confirmation?

April 16th, 2017

If you don’t want to be confirmed within a church, or if as a parent you know your son or daughter doesn’t want to go through the motions by being confirmed, there is an alternative: Humanist or civil confirmation.

A dad and good friend of mine asked me if I’d devise a Humanist or civil confirmation for his son. I was happy to do so. I met the parents and their son, I chatted about living a good life without religion and the values and behaviour of wise and conscientious human beings like Socrates and we created the ceremony together and on a later occasion we gathered in their home with close family and friends and held the civil confirmation ceremony.

It went well and they asked me to do the same for their second son. It too went well and I asked the parents to give me feedback and this is what they said:

Madhu, the mother of the young men, said:

Here’s my 2 cents: When I as an adult haven’t decided yet what religion means for me it seems unfair to expect that from my 12 year old. Two years ago we decided to give our eldest son the choice of having a coming of age ceremony instead and it was the best decision he had made. 

Together with Joe we were able to devise his own intimate ceremony which is based around the principles of the humanist beliefs in his own words, with our own family and in our own house. As Joe has children himself he was able to translate the humanist principles at such a level that our eldest son was able to explain to his friends at school and family why he choose this celebration instead of traditional confirmation.
It was such a huge success that our youngest son decided this year to have a humanist celebration too. Again, it was highly personal with his own chosen songs and poems chosen by family. Everybody agrees that the best part is that we all get the chance to write and say something nice about our son, brother, grandchild, godchild; even though it can get quite emotional. At their age everything is being validated by grades and sometimes we forget and should be able to say to them how great they are as a person and this ceremony is the perfect occasion.
Their dad, Evan, wrote:
Reuben, our son, attends the local Catholic (and only) primary school in the area. When Reuben brought home material from school relating to the upcoming Confirmation with his class, it put us in a difficult position. The literature asked Reuben to make a serious commitment to God and the Catholic faith. Furthermore, as his parents it asked us to aid, support and give religious guidance at home to prepare for this ceremony. Given that it was around the time of my own Confirmation that I last believed in God, I was not able to give that guidance. I also felt it asked a lot of a 6th class child to make such a commitment.

That said, we believe it is important that key moments should be marked in a person’s life. Reuben was growing up, preparing for secondary school, and growing into a young man in front of us. We also did not want Reuben to miss out on the “fun” aspects of such a day, the materialistic aspects sure, but also being made a fuss of and having his family around him for a special day.

Joe kindly offered to act as a celebrant in a non-religious “Coming-of-Age” ceremony. The day was special, emotional and invested with real meaning for Reuben and his family. It gave members of the family the opportunity to show Reuben how important he is to them. Joe gave us a wonderful family memory, one I hope will stay with Reuben more than a formulaic, traditional Confirmation. I’d recommend such a ceremony – and Joe as celebrant in particular – to any parent who questions whether a Catholic Confirmation is right for them and their children.

Evan Hughes

A Humanist Ash Wednesday?

March 1st, 2017

Ash Wednesday, 01 March 2017
The Last Word has phoned me and there’s a pre-recorded interview scheduled for 3.45pm today on the theme of Ash Wednesday.
I gave it a bit of thought and rang back agreeing to do the interview.
I feel privileged to have been asked.
I guess it’s exploring a question I’ve been musing on a bit myself. Yes we don’t need the penitence and the guilt.
But it is a day, an opportunity, a moment to ponder our inevitable mortality, the inevitability of our own death.
And it is perhaps an invitation to live this day well.
You never see a hearse with a trailer, so amassing possessions isn’t what life’s about.
Fame is a deceitful and unfulfilling thing.
Winners’ trophies may end up pawned or thrown into skips.
Excessive work can lead to an early grave and an empty home.
Remember man thou art but dust
And unto dust thou shalt return.’
Perhaps it’s forgetfulness of our inevitable mortality that leads us down so many cul de sacs in life.
As a Humanist, I am convinced that this is my one and only life. I do not believe nor do I feel the need to believe in an afterlife.
So Ash Wednesday reminds me, lest I forget it, that I will die.
And I could die before tomorrow’s sunrise, or even before today’s sun has set. Or even before the interview with Matt – partly why I chose to upload this now! The interview might not happen or it might not be broadcast. But now is real. Now I live.
Lessons for me? Don’t worry about tomorrow – I mightn’t even be alive.
Live this moment to the full.
Choose time out to ponder and reflect and to be self-aware.
Be grateful for those who have loved me, and those I love.
Enjoy this moment – it really may be my last one.
Choose moderation rather than excess – there’s enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.
Embrace ‘enough’ as a value and be wary of that seductive word ‘more’
Cultivate the gratitude attitude.
Know thyself. (Socrates)
And do what you are best at for the benefit of others. (Aristotle)

The interview with Matt Cooper was broadcast on Today FM on Ash Wednesday 1 March 2017. Prof Salvador Ryan, Professor of Ecclesiastical History,  St Patrick’s College, Maynooth and Joe Armstrong discussed the significance of Ash Wednesday, for Christians and Humanists. It was a fun, lighthearted and harmonious discussion.

What are Humanist weddings like?

February 25th, 2017

People who have never attended a Humanist wedding often ask me what they are like. Well, best listen to those who have had them! Read feedback post-ceremony from dozens of people whose Humanist marriage ceremonies I have been privileged to help create and conduct by clicking here.