As the coronavirus crisis escalated in early March, couples who had their weddings planned faced a dilemma — postpone or hurriedly bring their ceremony forward. Linda Stewart talks to two brides who managed to get hitched just before the ban on public gatherings.
Bronte Cromie (22), a third year Theology student at Queen's University Belfast, married her fiance Matthew Fitch (26), a software engineer from Belfast, on March 21, just before full lockdown, after rescheduling twice.
The couple first met a year ago - Bronte works for the Bangor branch of a youth organisation called Young Life, while Matthew volunteers for the Belfast branch, and they met at a training conference in Birmingham.
"We met in Birmingham airport, started chatting that weekend, and when we flew back home and got back into Belfast International Airport, he asked me for my number and that was it," Bronte says."
Bronte says it was love at first sight: "We both knew from that weekend that that was it.
"I'd never had a boyfriend before, but I knew exactly what I wanted and Matthew was that. He's so gentle and patient, and also ambitious and driven - but quietly so. I'm loud and bubbly and I need somebody who's going to stabilise me and Matthew is that. It was pretty instant.
"Our first date was brunch at General Merchants restaurant in Belfast and we were meant to go for a walk up at Stomont, but the weather was terrible and we just went for a drive and chatted for a very long time.
"We got engaged four months later. He took me up to the north coast which is my favourite place in the world. He's a musician and he actually wrote a song for me - he took me into the sand dunes, took out his ukulele, sang the song and got down on one knee."
The pair had planned to marry at West Church, Bangor, on June 26 this year. While Bronte had wanted the wedding to be sooner, she had third year finals and her dissertation to write and the couple decided to wait until those were over.
"We were going to get married in my church and we were going to Orange Tree House in Greyabbey for our reception - and that didn't happen," Bronte says.
"As everything started to unfold in Italy, I started to get a little nervous. Weddings were getting cancelled and funerals were close family members only and I was really panicky.
"So I talked to Matthew about it and he said 'we'll just see what happens'. But one night, I was talking to one of my friends who works at A&E in the Ulster Hospital and she said 'this is going to be really bad'. I went home and said we need to move the wedding forward."
The couple moved their wedding date forward to April, and now had only three weeks to prepare - yet they soon found themselves overtaken by events for a second time.
"A few days later it started - the Republic closed the schools and I thought 'we are not going to make it to April 9'," Bronte explains.
On St Patrick's Day, with lockdown looming, they decided to move their wedding date once again to Saturday, March 21 - three days away.
"I knew the Orange Tree was out, and we were not going to have a reception. I phoned my minister and he was amazing - he was so chilled. He said 'we'll get your wedding done, don't worry about it'," Bronte says.
"I told him it was going to be small. We met with him and went through the rehearsal with just me and Matthew and the minister.
"My dad owns a graphic design business and he got a photographer and videographer roped in. He did our orders of service and printed them within 12 hours.
"My dress was falling off me, but the dressmaker fitted me and got my dress altered in 24 hours. And the suit company pulled out all the stops, so we had all our groomsmen suited up."
As for the reception, Bronte's mum stepped in, phoning everyone she could think of to arrange a small meal afterwards. The Guillemot Deli in Bangor agreed to host a three-course meal on the Saturday following the wedding ceremony.
But even at that point the plans went awry, as Bronte explains.
"The day before we were about to get married, Boris Johnson announced that coffee shops and restaurants had to close that night, so we couldn't go anywhere. But the lady from the Guillemot came to my parents' house and she catered there."
The service itself was attended by 50 guests and broadcast to the rest of the guests by live stream. "It's a massive church so everyone was able to socially distance from each other and they were sitting rows apart. It made it feel like there were a lot more people in the church than there actually was," she says.
Unfortunately, Matthew's best friend, a groomsman, couldn't come because he is a doctor and was working. Meanwhile, Bronte's maid of honour was having to self-isolate for 14 days because her dad was infected with coronavirus and couldn't make it to the ceremony either.
"Apart from that, it was the most incredible day. I'd built up a Pinterest board of dreams and we had all our colours picked out. I was so excited and none of it happened," Bronte says. "But because none of that happened, it made it so much more special. It wasn't about a wedding day - it was about Matthew and me getting married. It was so special."
The couple are due to honeymoon in a chalet in the French Alps in August, but are waiting to see what happens.
"We had put down a deposit on the Orange Tree and we're hoping to have a big party with all our friends and family who couldn't make it to the ceremony and that will be lovely," Bronte says.
"I've had three wedding dates, so I can't bring myself to plan another one right now. But it will happen."
Laura Sturgeon (37), an accountant from Belfast, married her fiance Phil (42), from Waringstown and an HR manager with the Salvation Army, at short notice after their plans to wed on Easter Monday were upended.
The couple met via online dating service Bumble in 2017 and hit it off immediately.
"For our first date, we went for cocktails at Muriel's in Belfast and out to Coppi restaurant for dinner and then we went for some fizz in the Bullitt Hotel. I thought I'd kind of got a good one - he was handsome, intelligent, kind of funny. I think we just kind of clicked," Laura says.
"We both liked travelling, we both liked cooking and good food and Nineties music - we had a shared passion for dodgy Nineties tunes."
The couple moved in together after their first holiday to Marrakech, and then got engaged on a trip to Venice.
"We went for a lovely walk round all the canals and bridges and he proposed. He had the ring for six months and had it in the house somewhere - I was worried I hadn't been cleaning enough because I hadn't found it!" Laura laughs.The couple were planning to get married at Lusty Beg island in Co Fermanagh on Easter Monday in a two-day event, with a 130-guest wedding conducted by the registrar, followed by a barbecue the next day and a honeymoon in Japan.
But they realised their plans to wed with their parents present might be in jeopardy if the rumoured orders for over-70s to self-isolate were brought in.
"The weekend before St Patrick's Day, we did wonder if there was any way to bring the legal ceremony forward so that Phil's mum would be in attendance," Laura says. The couple had booked a de-stressing trip to Roscommon for March 16, but called the registrar's office as soon as it opened that morning to see if there was any chance of bringing the wedding date forward.
"We were on the way to Roscommon in the car, when they rang to say they were having a meeting on Wednesday to see about cancelling all registry services going forward and the only available slot was 3.30pm on Wednesday. We were in the car on the way down to our de-stressing trip and we frantically had to organise a wedding in 48 hours - so it was quite stressful," Laura says.
"But I am quite OCD, quite a planner, so we had a lot of stuff already made or done - we'd already picked up the rings and the dress was getting altered. I was able to ring Angel Star bridalwear on the Lisburn Road and they rushed it through.
"I was just thinking it's going to be jeans and a T-shirt for both of us, but we managed to get a suit for Phil.
"In Roscommon on Tuesday, we were ringing around trying to pick things up. I rang my mum and she got flowers, and she got a recording of the music we were using."
The couple ended up wedding in an intimate ceremony at The Grange, the council office in Omagh, with their close family, three bridesmaids and the two best men and their wives - a total of 14.
"We didn't have a photographer - it was all on iPhones. I got beautified that morning in Belfast and the bridesmaids put on breakfast," Laura says.
The bridesmaids phoned ahead to ask if they could get changed into their wedding attire in the toilets of the hotel next door to the registry office, but when they arrived the manager wouldn't hear of it and provided a room where they prepared for the wedding.
After the service the wedding party went to Lusty Beg for a meal.
"It was all so frantic and both of us went to work the next day because we had only booked the one day off," Laura says.
"We got back here about midnight on our wedding night, and found my aunt had come and decorated the front of our house with lanterns, and everybody had contributed things in a basket for a lovely breakfast for the next day."
Laura admits that Easter Monday, when they had originally been due to get married, was an emotional day for her, but her bridesmaids sent a food hamper as a surprise.
"We had a Zoom call with our friends and they were all dressed up in what they were going to wear to the wedding, and we had a wee toast," she says.
The couple have been able to move their reception at Lusty Beg to New Year's Eve instead and a friend will give a blessing at the party.
"We're hoping that when all this clears a wee bit, we'll have a bit of a honeymoon before the party," Laura says.
"I was laughing with Phil, saying 'you love me so much, you had to marry me twice'.
"But without my mum getting the flowers and people rushing and getting all our bits and bobs for us, we couldn't have done it. The main thing was that we just wanted to get married - we wanted to just get it done.
"And it was nice to kind of have time to speak to everyone who was there.
"There was less pressure and you actually got to spend time with people. It was really nice - everyone pulled together and it was lovely."