People whose once-in-a-lifetime experiences were dramatically different because of coronavirus restrictions tell how they still have memories to savour.
Robyn McCue, from Newtownabbey, recently graduated from Queen’s University with a Phd in Psychology. With graduation ceremonies suspended this year due to the pandemic, Queen’s held virtual ones online instead. The 26-year-old, who also attended Queen’s as an undergraduate, achieving a first-class honours in Psychology, explained that after some deliberation she still decided to do something mark the special occasion, even if it was low-key. She had hoped to celebrate the day the same way students have done in previous years, in person with loved ones present.
“At one point I thought I wasn’t going to mark it at all, but then I thought I should given it was for my PhD, so I decided to take my laptop and log on to the virtual ceremony with two of my friends for a socially-distanced graduation celebration in Ormeau Park.
The virtual ceremony was messages from teaching staff, it was lovely and we did have a great day, but I did miss there not being a proper ceremony — you do feel like you’ve missed out on something. It was different than graduating as an undergrad.
“It’s the little things like walking across the stage to get my Phd doctorate, the wearing of the robe, having family there, taking photographs — those moments that you’ve missed out on.
“I think Queen’s have said that they will hold ceremonies for us at some point in the future. It will be great when we can have our ceremonies at some point in the future. I think it’ll be even more special. It’ll be a great day, and I can have family there to see my graduate with my Phd.”
Bill Montgomery retired from Invest NI as director of the Advanced Manufacturing division at the end of June after a 34-year career in economic development, including at Invest NI’s precursor, the IDB. He lives in east Belfast with his wife Alison, a special needs teacher
“The ordinary things of life have changed so much because of Covid-19 and lockdown. But in the context of what’s been happening, there are people who have been impacted way beyond me —people who have faced illness or lost loved ones, and people who have not been able to see their family.
“I’m also very fortunate in that I’ve been able to retire. I’m very aware that at this time, there are many people who have lost their job, have been living on reduced wages and are facing so much uncertainty in the months ahead.
“But it was very different to retire during lockdown, compared to how things are usually done at Invest NI.
“We had been doing Skype calls during lockdown, so many of my colleagues joined a virtual send-off for me. Some of the executive directors like Jeremy Fitch and Brian Dolaghan all said a few words, and they shared a few old photos on slides — which is what we would normally do in the boardroom of Invest NI when people are retiring.
“Typically someone who’s retiring might host coffee and buns in the morning and might go out that evening with colleagues. I’ve missed seeing people face to face but I hope that I can still go in and host coffee and buns, even if it is at Christmas or whenever the phased openings of buildings or offices take place.
“But if we’ve learnt anything in lockdown, it’s to enjoy the simple things that you would normally take very much for granted. I’m just fortunate to be able to retire at this time while I am still in pretty good health.
“Before lockdown I had been trying to talk Alison into going on a cruise to celebrate my retirement as we had never been on one. Initially she was a bit unsure about it and given all that’s happened since Covid-19, I don’t think we will be going on one any time soon.
“For now though, it’s a matter of enjoying the best of Northern Ireland. We love coastal walks and regularly visit the north down and causeway coasts, enjoying picnics and taking in the lovely scenery. On a sunny day you can’t beat it. I’m very grateful just to do that.”
Centenarian Tom Ferret, who shares his birthday with NHS fundraising hero, Captain Sir Tom Moore, celebrated his milestone in May.
Tom’s father, George, had played for Glentoran FC and was part of the team which claimed victory in the 1914 Austrian event which involved all of the major cup winning sides in Europe.
Tom, who is a resident of Palmerston Nursing Home, was presented with a photograph of his father holding his Irish Cup medal from the same year by Glentoran Club director, John Moore. He made sure Tom’s special birthday was marked, thanks to help of supporters and the care home staff.
John said he was grateful the club could do something for Tom during the pandemic.
John said: “I don’t think we could have done any more in the circumstances. One of the supporters baked Tom a cake in the Glentoran colours. We brought the cup round. Tom got photographed and it was in the papers and on our website.
“So there wasn’t much else we could’ve done as a club.
“It would’ve been great, obviously, if we had had a game that weekend, and Tom could have come along as a special guest.
“It’s disappointing, but at the same time we were able to do something.
“It was great that the carers in the home were able to facilitate the celebration.
“They could have easily have said sorry, but nothing can happen.
“So it was great from that point of view that they recognised the occasion as well, and went that wee bit extra as well. Tom’s reaction was brilliant. It was great to have a joke with him and hear him talk about his dad.
“It would have been nice to have brought him down to the ground.
“If it’s possible, maybe for his 101st birthday we’ll do that.”
Co Down couple Ashleigh McCullough and Joshua Kernohan are getting married this Friday at the Clandeboye Estate. They had originally planned to have their wedding in April at the same venue with 130 guests. They managed to rearrange their big day for July 31 with a reduced number of guests. Ashleigh and Joshua said:
“We were due to get married on April 4 at Clandeboye Estate Courtyard. The weekend before the lockdown our venue got in touch to say that this isn’t going to happen and we provisionally booked for the July 31, and also February 27 next year.
“Then just before the end of March we decided on having a couple of people in the back garden and have our wedding there, so we could still get married on our date of April 4, but we couldn’t do it.
“The council phoned us and told us we couldn’t do that as it wouldn’t be legal.” Ashleigh added: “So on what was supposed to be our wedding day, to make the day special, we took the dog for a walk on the beach, and we had a bottle of champagne in house.
“One of the musicians who was to perform at our wedding was doing a live stream and we sat and watched her, and we had a nice meal.
“After that, our hopes were a bit shattered but when the Executive said you could have a wedding with 30 people outdoors, we just jumped at it and decided to go ahead on July 31.
“We’ve been basically planning a new wedding in just two weeks but we’ve had to cut 100 guests out.
“We feel really, really, guilty about that.
“Our venue was very kind in still letting us use their church and we’ve decided to have a garden party at our family home. And we’ll have immediate family there throughout the day and then later on the evening, when people leave, we’ll have friends over.
“We’re excited now. Initially we were gutted because you’ve spent a year planning this big day, and then it didn’t happen. But at this point we’re looking at the main purpose of it, which is to actually be married to each other.
“Hopefully when this all goes away, we can have a celebration with everyone.
“I think next April 4 we’ll probably say ‘Happy Anniversary’ to each other!”
Mark Sykes moved to England in January last year aiming to make a success of his career as a professional footballer.
His performances for Glenavon were impressive enough to earn a move to League One side Oxford United, where he had the opportunity to realise a lifelong dream to play at Wembley in the play-off final earlier this month.
It should have been a moment shared with family and friends but, with the fixture condemned to be played behind closed doors, they were all shut out.
“Walking out on to the pitch, I felt proud more than anything. Proud of where I’d come from and of moving from the Irish League to play at Wembley on such a big occasion.
“I wanted to make sure I enjoyed it because no matter how long your career is, you might never get there again.
“I actually managed to score our goal to make it 1-1, although we went on to lose out 2-1. It was such a high. Unbelievable, even without the crowd there. A few years ago on Facebook I had written ‘imagine playing at Wembley’ and here I was not just playing there but scoring.
“My dad, also called Mark, went to every game when I was a kid right up to every Glenavon match I played in. He was over visiting at the time and watched the match on TV, then the next day I came home and saw my mum Maria and the family. It was really nice to see them after it.
“I’m sure they’re all very proud of the goal and what I achieved but for me, it’s still a bit brutal thinking back on the game and the defeat.
“To go from the high of scoring to the low at the end of the game was so sad.
“For my family’s sake, I’d love to be able to get to play there again so they could be there and maybe we would actually win next time! It wasn’t meant to be but maybe we’ll get to experience it again some day.”