The brides using their big day to help others

Amy and Stephen Lowry with her mum Shirley and dad Dessy
Amy and Stephen Lowry with her mum Shirley and dad Dessy
Happy times: Lorraine Mullan with fiance John Conlon and their son Finn
Happy times: Lorraine Mullan with fiance John Conlon and their son Finn
Lauren Carleton at Ballymena's Leighinmour Hotel where she will be married next year and instead of giving Favours will instead use the money for local charities.
Lauren Carleton at Ballymena's Leighinmour Hotel where she will be married next year and instead of giving Favours will instead use the money for local charities.

Ahead of The Wedding Journal Show starting tomorrow, three NI women tell Kerry McKittrick why they are donating to charity at their weddings

It's not surprising to see tables at the end of weddings littered with the detrius of the big day. Streamers, napkins, spent candles and of course discarded wedding favours.

The traditional sugared almond gift left for guests by the bride and groom has almost died out. Wedding guests these days are more likely to find lottery scratch cards, packets of sweets or little bottles of drink.

However, couples have discovered a way to make their wedding more meaningful by ignoring the traditional favours and making a donation to a charity of their choice instead. Guests can also contribute.

The trend has grown so much that charities are now exhibiting alongside florists and cake-makers at the Wedding Journal Show, starting at the King's Hall in Belfast tomorrow.

We talk to three brides who all have special reasons for giving to charities at their wedding receptions.

Lauren Carleton (29), a stockroom manager, lives with her fiance Simon McCullough (30), an electrician, and her son Kyle (6) in Ahoghill. She says:

Stephen Lowry was my best friend since we were at school and we stayed close afterwards. Stephen was like a brother to me.

If he wasn't at home then his family knew to call our house because that's where he would be.

We weren't anything more than friends and had our own separate romantic relationships.

Stephen was always quite a sporty type and loved to play football but for a while he had been complaining that he didn't feel quite as fit as he used to.

On November 8, 2011, he came off the football pitch and collapsed. Just like that, he was dead at the age of 27 due to a massive heart attack.

They said afterwards that nothing could have been done to intervene; even if he had been in hospital he couldn't have survived it.

It was a massive shock to me. I don't think I'll ever get over it or get used to not having Stephen around.

After he died I used to think he was standing right behind me sometimes but, of course, when I turned around he wasn't there.

Simon and I also met at school although he’s a year older than me.

He’s an electrician so one day I asked him over to fix my hair straighteners.

He asked me to go to his birthday the next week and things just went from there.

We got engaged in August 2012. Simon took me to the Culloden Hotel for a night and got down on one knee.

We've set the wedding date for April 4, 2014, and our |reception will be at the Leighinmohr House Hotel in Ballymena.

Stephen and I always used to joke that he was going to be my chief bridesmaid when I got married.

He probably would have been an usher anyway but I felt that it would be good to pay tribute to Stephen at the wedding in some way.

I'm still very close to his family.

We decided that instead of wedding favours we would be better off donating money to charity, so we've opted for charity ribbons.

We've decided to buy red ribbons from Northern Ireland Chest, Heart & Stroke and pink ribbons from Breast Cancer Care.

The reds to go the boys in memory of Stephen and the pinks go to the girls in support of Stephen's mum — she has since undergone treatment for breast cancer.

We'll also have gift boxes for both charities that I'll be sending nieces and nephews round with at the reception so people can donate.

I really like the idea that Stephen has a place in our wedding.

Both of the charities have a special meaning to both Simon and I.”

Amy Lowry (28) is a teacher. She lives in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, with her husband Stephen, a quantities surveyor. She says:

Stephen's parents and mine have always been friends so we've known each other more or less since we were born. He was also friendly with my brothers so he was always around. I just didn't think anything about him back then.

My mum actually suggested years ago that Stephen might be the man for me but that didn't even register.

Then one night a big crowd of us were in the pub altogether and Stephen and I ended up together. The timing was really bad as I was about to spend a year in Spain as part of my degree.

 When I came back Stephen said that if we could get through that year then we could get through everything.

We got married last year and instead of wedding favours, every place setting had a kidney research ribbon and a card explaining our story.

My dad has always had problems with his kidneys. He had polycystic kidney disorder and in February 2010 he was really bad. His kidneys failed, he needed dialysis, was hospitalised and could barely walk. At that point we started talking about a kidney transplant.

The best option for a kidney transplant is to find a living donor, probably another relative. The problem with polycystic kidneys though is that it's an hereditary condition so my brothers and I have a mild version of it, leaving us unable to donate. Strangely, the other person to be a match was my mum. That's rather unusual in someone unrelated but my mum didn't think twice about donating a kidney to dad.

If we’d decided to have the operation in Northern Ireland we would have been waiting for a few months.

However, if it was performed in London then it could be done almost straight away. Stephen and I went over to be with mum and dad while they had their operations. We were able to get them home by Christmas Eve.

I remember because it was during the big freeze in December 2010 and we were worried that we wouldn't be able to get home in time.

Thankfully, there were no glitches. Both parents went through the operation absolutely fine.

When Stephen and I were considering our wedding we got in

touch with Kidney Research UK.

We wanted to find a way we could both donate and educate our guests. Through them we decided to give everyone a Kidney Research Ribbon — it's yellow and purple — attached to a little card explaining what we were doing.

We paid for the ribbons so we know at least part of our budget went to the charity.

I felt that donating money to charity instead of having the usual wedding favours stressed the importance of the charity and its relevance to our situation in the run-up to my wedding.

When Stephen and I got engaged Dad was so ill that I wasn't even sure if he would be well enough to walk me down the aisle.

Having the kidney transplant completely changed his life for the better and allowed me to have that special moment that I'd been dreaming about all my life — having him walk me up the aisle to my future husband. We had such a perfect wedding day and I'm thankful that both Mum and Dad were in such good health and able to enjoy it.”

Lorraine Mullan (30) is a nursery assistant and lives in Poleglass with her fiance John Conlon who runs a gymnastics club and their son Finn (six months). She says:

John and I met two-and-a-half years ago at a wedding. He was the best man to his cousin who happened to be my next door neighbour. At the time he was living in Galway as he was serving in the Irish Army. Because we lived so far away from each other we tried to be friends for about six months but were just kidding ourselves really. Eventually he gave up the army and moved to Belfast for me.

I couldn't move to Galway — I have cystic fibrosis. I'm on so many kinds of medication that it would cost thousands of pounds each month without the NHS. Cystic fibrosis has changed a lot in the last five years. It used to be that people with this condition had a life expectancy of about 30-35 years but there have been such huge advances in gene manipulation recently no one knows what my life expectancy is now.

I never thought I could get pregnant because of the complications with CF. It was a huge shock. John and I were supposed to go away for a weekend but I had what I thought was the cold. While John was away I suddenly had a feeling it could be something else. I did two pregnancy tests and even though they both came out positive I was still convinced it was the drugs I'm on playing havoc with my system.

At that point I phoned John — he’d gone to Derry without me but he made it back to Belfast in an hour. My GP is a family friend and lives nearby so in order to put my mind at rest she brought me into the surgery to do a pregnancy test. It was positive.

The first thing on my mind was whether the baby might have CF too. We went to my consultant at the City Hospital who took a blood sample from John to find out if he was a carrier. As he wasn't there was a 50% chance that Finn would be born with cystic fibrosis. At that point I was only about eight weeks pregnant and I was asked if I wanted to consider other options. I just decided we would cope with whatever the outcome was. Thankfully Finn was born a perfectly healthy baby.

I threw a 30th birthday surprise party for John last July — even though I was eight months pregnant. He then took me to Galgorm Manor for a spa day and proposed on my 30th birthday in October last year. I didn't think I would ever get married because of the CF, I certainly didn't think I’d have a family. I thought it would be too difficult with my illness but everything's easy with John. I need physio every day and John's been trained to do it.

We're getting married at the Galgorm Manor in October 2014. It’ll be quite a big wedding — 150 people. We wanted to do something to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. It's a charity that's been so good to me.

They introduce people with CF to each other — we’re the only people who really know what we're going through. The CF Trust produce scratchcards which give you the chance to win spot prizes and we’ve bought 150 of them for our guests. I thought it was a nice thing to do for a charity that has done so much for me.”

Helping brides put on the style

  • The Wedding Journal Show takes place at the King’s Hall in Belfast from tomorrow until Sunday
  •  The Belfast Telegraph Style Stage will feature a host of style and beauty experts for a complete wedding day look. The various tutorials throughout the day will be hosted by Pamela Ballantine.
  • The show will feature more than 300 exhibitors, mostly local suppliers to the wedding industry. Many charities will also be represented at the show.
  • Every exhibitor will offer exclusive packages and discounts on the day of the show.
  • There will be catwalk showcases featuring the latest designs for brides, bridesmaids and mother of the brides. All those attending will have the opportunity to win their own £25,000 wedding.
  • Tickets cost £9 or for £16 a VIP ticket gives you a goody bag, a glass of bubbly and reserved seating at the fashion shows.

For more information go to www.weddingjournalonline.com

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