Belfast Telegraph

Pitch perfect wedding day for former Ulster star Ferris

By Aaron Tinney

Rugby hero Stephen Ferris choked back tears during his wedding speech as he paid tribute to his new bride's late father and the brother he never knew.

The former Ireland international married Laura McNally on Saturday on the 18th anniversary of the Ulster Grand Prix race that claimed the life of her dad.

Guests also heard how Stephen (31) wished his brother Andrew - who died in a car accident aged four - had been alive to see his dream wedding.

A source close to Stephen told the Belfast Telegraph: "It was a really emotional day because everyone knew Stephen and Laura were not only revelling in happiness, but wishing lost loved ones could be there.

"It was especially poignant that Laura's father was not there, and Stephen said during his speech it was a really fitting occasion on which to honour their memories.

"There were a lot of quiet tears among the guests because of the tributes, but there was a lot of joy, food and drink as well."

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Stephen Ferris and wife Laura on a night out in Belfast

Laura's brother Gary walked her down the aisle in the place of her father at Saturday's wedding in Virginia Park Lodge's Lavender Gardens, Co Cavan.

In August 1999, the 28-year-old bride's rising road racing star father Owen McNally died six days after a horror smash at the local event.

Stephen was at the race with a friend, but had left before the crash. Last Thursday, English rider Jamie Hodson died on the same circuit.

Stephen wrote in his autobiography Man And Ball how his brother Andrew's death still haunts him.

He says in the book: "It happened before I was born and had a big impact on my family.

"I could probably count the number of people on my hand who knew about it before I wrote it in the book, but I felt it was an important thing to do because to us Andrew will never be forgotten. It also makes people realise that you haven't had an easy ride and that your family hasn't had an easy ride. It shows that people go through different experiences in their life and not everything is plain sailing."

His rugby pals Chris Henry and Rory Best were also in attendance with their wives.

Stephen and Laura are due to travel to the Maldives next week for their honeymoon.

The couple met five years ago in Kelly's nightclub in Portrush through Laura's bridesmaid and "best friend from the Port" Zoe Sterrett, the girlfriend of Stephen's former Ulster teammate Chris Cochrane.

The newlyweds' ceremony took place at 2pm followed by a drinks reception and music from Ricky Lorimer, a singer at Portrush's Harbour Bar.

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Stephen Ferris and wife Laura in Barcelona after their engagement

Leading chef Richard Corrigan ensured guests were well fed with a five-course meal in Virginia Park Lodge's Pavilion.

The three-time Great British Menu winner works in some of the UK and Ireland's best restaurants, including Corrigan's in Mayfair, London.

There was then live music from the Bentley Boys.

While Laura had Zoe and her other bridesmaid Robyn Collery on-hand for her big day, Stephen's older brother David was his best man.

According to the couple's wedding website, David cracked "some very PC jokes during his speech" which was "fuelled with Bourbon".

His groomsmen were Stephen 'Willy' Williamson, one of his oldest pals, and Laura's younger brother Gary.

Saturday's wedding came almost two years after the Lions flanker popped the question on a romantic trip to Barcelona with a custom-made ring.

The pair had just returned from travelling around the world for three months, following Stephen's retirement.

He is renowned for his time as a player for Ulster, Ireland and the British and Irish Lions and now as a hard-hitting rugby commentator.

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