“The pandemic ruined our big white wedding plans – so we eloped”

Sometimes it takes something like a pandemic for us all to realise what’s important.

In the three years we’ve been together, Conor and I haven’t done things by the book. After snowballing into each other’s lives in 2017, we planned to travel the world together just a few weeks after our first date. We temporarily traded teaching for adventures and set off to explore continent after continent. 

Less than a year later, we got engaged in Australia and had our wedding rings made on a trip to India. Our whole relationship had been a whirlwind romance full of plot-twists and unexpected turns. And so, when the coronavirus pandemic sent the world into lockdown, we knew our wedding would be no different.

Throughout the month of March, we found ourselves in wedding limbo, not knowing whether our big white wedding in July would go ahead. With the added complication of it being in Ireland, we knew that getting half of the guests from Wales to County Wicklow was a long shot. More than a long shot, actually. 

Over the coming weeks, flights were cancelled, borders were shut and hotels were closed. The rising daily death toll served as a sombre message: a wedding wouldn’t be safe, responsible or a priority for anyone. And so, on the 2 May, we made the call: we sent our guests confirmation that our wedding was cancelled.

With the time given to us in lockdown, we had plenty of opportunity to reflect on what we wanted. What we really wanted, anyway, when we ignored all the expectations put upon us. And we soon realised we didn’t want a big wedding.

We wanted a marriage.

Organically, our decision to elope was underpinned by a longing to make our commitment to one another, especially in a world that seemed so full of despair. However, love in the time of corona isn’t simple, especially when you want to elope in another country during a global pandemic. There was a lot to do, and so we began liaising with the Foreign Office, our original venue and our registrar for their approval. 

This done, we booked our ferry, praying it would still be running, praying that we’d even be able to drive to the port. And we organised accommodation to comply with Ireland’s 14 day ‘restricted movement’ policy, hoping the country wouldn’t close its borders in the meantime.

Everything was conditional but we had faith it would all work out for us. With just weeks to amend plans, my unaltered dress still in the very closed bridal shop and with no suit for Conor, we searched online for something to wear. 

My original dress was traditionally big and lacy – but far more suited to the ceremony we had planned in the medieval-style hall. Now that we wanted to get married outside instead, I selected a beautiful gown from Needle and Thread, embroidered with pastel flowers and dragonflies. 

I fell completely in love with it because I knew it suited my personality and style even more than the first.

With all the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, it felt incredible to finally drive onto the ferry together in our full-loaded Fiat. Those two weeks of isolation, spent relaxing in the Irish countryside, were over far more quickly than we’d imagined, and we headed to our honeymoon lodge. 

Beautifully rustic, Wicklow’s Ballybeg House, was as remote as the moon… and completely ours for the next four days.

We awoke on the morning of the wedding feeling rested. Better still, the lack of pressure that the elopement brought, knowing that it would be just the two of us, soothed away any and all anxieties. Together, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, and opened cards and presents from one another. 

With clear minds, we spent an hour writing our own vows for the ceremony, before getting ready for the day ahead. I gave Conor’s hair a final cut, and he zipped me into my dress.

At three o’clock, we made our way to the walled garden, flooded with flowers and sunshine. Hand-in-hand, we walked up the aisle and exchanged our personalised vows through laughter and tears. We toasted our marriage with pint after pint of Guinness in our very own private ‘shebeen’, despite all of the pubs in Ireland being closed. 

Then, full of pints of the black stuff (and not much else), we tucked into a picnic on a blanket we had bought on our travels in India and toasted ourselves with a bottle of champagne.

With full stomachs, our incredible elopement photographer, Pedro, took us all over the Sally Gap in the Wicklow Mountains National Park. We tipsily traversed through bogs and hopped over streams for some amazing pictures among the purple heather. And, when we realised our final destination in the hills was the bridge from P.S. I Love You, we were giddy with joy. 

Two overly-excited, hopeless romantics, we suddenly found ourselves twirling our way through an unexpected first dance on the bridge, accompanied only by the sound of us warbling along to the Dire Straits. 

In that moment, I knew that everything had unfolded exactly as it was meant to.

Later that evening, we returned to our middle-of-nowhere lodge and sat down to an amazing meal in front of an open fire. We ate ourselves into oblivion over a bottle of red, reread our vows in our pyjamas, and recalled our favourite moments from the day. Quite honestly, our first day as husband and wife couldn’t have left us any more content.

A week later, when we announced our news, we were overwhelmed by everyone’s joy for us but we also knew that so many of our friends and family were sad to have missed out on sharing our day. 

Our parents, in particular, had mixed feelings about our wedding for two. Understandably, they wished they had been present and experienced a sense of loss at not watching their children get married. Simultaneously, though, they voiced their happiness for us, knowing that we had chosen to prioritise our love above all else.

While I empathise with friends and family, I would never trade in our elopement for the wedding we had planned, but would happily swap centrepieces, table plans and chair coverings for intimacy, picnics and first dances on bridges every time. 

Sometimes it takes something like a pandemic for us all to realise what’s important, and I realised that we weren’t important in our own wedding. Our day had become about the food being served, the music being played and who sat where, at the cost of a house deposit and our own sanity.

When we chose an elopement, we repositioned ourselves at the heart of our wedding and it transformed our day into something serene and magical. The elopement gave us the space to prioritise our love and commitment to one another, space that would otherwise have been taken up with worry and anxiety. And the day was completely ours from start to finish, full of special moments only we shared. 

They always say your wedding day flies by, but with just the two of us, we were able to be fully present and truly savour the day. It really was our best adventure yet.

Photography: Love Like Crazy

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