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Love in the time of Covid-19: How Northern Ireland couples unable to see each other are coping during lockdown


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Kitty O’Hare and Cillian Carville outside their home

Kitty O’Hare and Cillian Carville outside their home

Emmanuel Aliphon and Clare-ann Nelson haven’t seen each other in over a month but are doing all they can to stay in contact using Facetime

Emmanuel Aliphon and Clare-ann Nelson haven’t seen each other in over a month but are doing all they can to stay in contact using Facetime

Kitty O’Hare and Cillian Carville on holiday

Kitty O’Hare and Cillian Carville on holiday

The couple on Cillian’s graduation day

The couple on Cillian’s graduation day

Emmanuel Aliphon and Clare-ann Nelson haven’t seen each other in over a month but are doing all they can to stay in contact using Facetime

Emmanuel Aliphon and Clare-ann Nelson haven’t seen each other in over a month but are doing all they can to stay in contact using Facetime

Emmanuel Aliphon and Clare-ann Nelson haven’t seen each other in over a month but are doing all they can to stay in contact using Facetime

Emmanuel Aliphon and Clare-ann Nelson haven’t seen each other in over a month but are doing all they can to stay in contact using Facetime

Kitty O’Hare and Cillian Carville outside their home

As strict lockdown regulations affect every part of life, Claire O’Boyle asks two couples unable to see each other how they are coping.

‘Staying apart is such a big sacrifice... we’re desperate for this to end and get back to normal’

Sweethearts Kitty O'Hare and her fiance Cillian Carville are due to marry in March next year in Darver Castle, Co Louth. But in a heart-wrenching move, asthma-sufferer Kitty (27) left the couple's Co Down home last weekend to move back home with her parents. Cillian (30) is a staff nurse at the Downe Hospital.

Kitty says: "It was a horrible decision to make, but because of my asthma I'm at greater risk if I catch coronavirus, so we decided to separate.

"I work in retail and had been away to Manchester for training and when I got back I had a bit of a scare that I might have contracted it.

"We talked it through at that point and thought there was no point taking any additional risk, so I moved from our home in Castlewellan back home with my parents in Mayobridge.

"It's been really surreal. Saying goodbye to Cillian was awful. He went to work at 7am and I waved him off. I was sobbing when he was driving away. It was so awful and with him at work then we couldn't talk for the whole day.

"To be honest, at the start it was okay, but the longer it goes on the more upset I feel because I know he's under so much pressure at work and I just want to be there for him when he gets home.

"He told me he doesn't even sleep in our bed at the minute because it's weird to turn around and I'm not there, so he's sleeping on the sofa.

"We talk on Facetime two or three times a day and we text when we can. I've been furloughed from my job, so we're in completely opposite situations.

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Kitty O’Hare and Cillian Carville on holiday

Kitty O’Hare and Cillian Carville on holiday

Kitty O’Hare and Cillian Carville on holiday

"He's so busy and doing so much and I'm struggling a bit to fill my time. I'm not even in my own house so normally I'd be cooking or cleaning for something to do, but my mum is great and is just doing everything she normally does.

"Cillian and I have been together for seven years, we got engaged in January 2017 and we're getting married next year. I'm just desperate for this whole thing to end so we can try to get back to normal.

"The worst thing is not knowing how long it's going to last. I worry that people aren't listening and they're still going out, because the longer they don't listen the longer people like us are going to have our lives completely disrupted.

"I can't wait to see Cillian again properly, and I said that as soon as I get home we'll be organising something really special. A night or weekend away, and we'll book an amazing honeymoon because that's something we hadn't organised yet. I just miss him so much and I really hope we can all pull together to put an end to this thing as soon as we can."

Cillian says: "It's been very emotional. Last week I was on the front line for about seven days straight, so it's a tough time anyway.

"But the fact I'm not getting home to see Kitty is making the usual stuff more difficult than ever, and if I'm honest I'm feeling a bit on my own in all this.

"I'm not seeing my family either because my mum works in community healthcare and my sister works in mental health, so with me potentially coming into contact with sufferers at the hospital, we couldn't risk me passing it on to them.

"Leaving the house was hard, because I knew it would be the last time I'd see Kitty for a while.

"When I went out to work that morning she waved me away from the door and when I came home that night and she wasn't there, it was really upsetting.

"But although it's obviously horrible to leave your partner, it's for her safety so I know it was the right decision. I'd do it again. But I'll be honest and say I've been quite emotional about it.

"The reality is nurses are coming home and crying in their hands because of what we're facing into every day, and in cases like mine, having to stay away from the people we love, we can't even get a hug.

"But there have been really lovely moments, too. On Sunday my neighbours offered to make me my dinner.

"They said they'd make it for me and drop it off, and honestly that brought a tear to my eye because I couldn't believe how considerate they were.

"I'm all right at cooking usually, and we share it a bit, but there have been more microwave meals than there normally would be, unfortunately.

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The couple on Cillian’s graduation day

The couple on Cillian’s graduation day

The couple on Cillian’s graduation day

"You don't want to cook all that much if it's just for yourself. Keeping my spirits up has been hard because the days at the hospital are long and often coming out from a shift all the shops are closed so I can't even pick anything up.

"I'm on my own so I've got to get my uniforms washed and sorted late in the evening when I'm exhausted to be back in first thing. It's difficult.

"I'm doing my best. I'm doing a bit of exercise in the house when I can and watching some box sets and films.

"We're Facetiming a lot too, and texting when we can, which definitely helps.

"But the worst bit is not knowing how long this is going to last.

"At the start when we told people Kitty was moving out to her parents' house they laughed and maybe thought we were overreacting. But we weren't.

"It wasn't an easy decision because we're very close and she's the person I always turn to in hard times. Between not seeing her and not seeing my family it feels like a lot.

"I don't want to complain because hopefully we'll be grand in the end but it's a big sacrifice for us to make, and it's difficult when you see pictures of people crammed into parks or standing in crowds outside a chippy.

"I hope everyone takes the message about staying home seriously, because for people like me and Kitty, we'll have to live like this until there's a real change in this thing.

"And I really want her to come home. It's difficult without her."

'We Facetime all the time but it's so hard... absence really does make the heart grow fonder'

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Emmanuel Aliphon and Clare-ann Nelson haven’t seen each other in over a month but are doing all they can to stay in contact using Facetime

Emmanuel Aliphon and Clare-ann Nelson haven’t seen each other in over a month but are doing all they can to stay in contact using Facetime

Emmanuel Aliphon and Clare-ann Nelson haven’t seen each other in over a month but are doing all they can to stay in contact using Facetime

Queen's University student Clare-ann Nelson, from Bangor, Co Down, hasn't seen her fiance Emmanuel Aliphon in more than a month. Emmanuel, from Dublin, is also a student and after two years together the couple got engaged on a trip to Italy last September. Clare-ann and Emmanuel, both 22, agreed not to see one another for a couple of weeks at the beginning of March after Emmanuel's brother had a baby, who came to live at the family home.

Clare-ann says: "I met Emmanuel at his brother's wedding, where he was the best man. I knew his brother's wife, and we got close very quickly. I lived in Texas until I was 10, and Emmanuel lived in Mauritius as a child before he moved to Dublin around the same age.

"Technically we've had a bit of a long-distance relationship anyway, because I lived in university accommodation in Belfast and Emmanuel is in Dublin.

"But because of our schedules we've always managed to spend a few days of every week together, taking it in turns to travel up and down to see each other.

"Then, at the start of March, this whole thing started. Emmanuel's brother had a baby, and because they all live in the family home they were a bit worried about it all, and I said I'd stay away for a couple of weeks just to be on the safe side when the baby was still so little.

"Then the situation just seemed to spiral really quickly. The South completely closed down and he couldn't come up, and then before we could really figure out what to do the lockdown came in here as well.

"Initially we thought it would be this really brief period, but already it's been over a month and it's the longest time we've ever spent apart. Now there's the prospect it could go on for months and it's just horrible. It's very distressing.

"Our wedding is booked for Riddel Hall at Queen's in September 2021, so hopefully by then things will be far behind us and we can get on with getting married. I know we're lucky in a way, because so many couples have had their plans completely ruined by all of this.

"It's still hard, though. I'm taking it hard and absence really does make the heart grow fonder. I spend a lot of time just wondering what he's doing and if he's missing me. But I guess at least I know he's not out partying without me!

"We Facetime all the time. Even if we're not talking all that much, we'll study together or watch a movie at the same time. He's just got Disney+ and he's trying to convert me to the Marvel movies, so we'll see how that goes.

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Emmanuel Aliphon and Clare-ann Nelson haven’t seen each other in over a month but are doing all they can to stay in contact using Facetime

Emmanuel Aliphon and Clare-ann Nelson haven’t seen each other in over a month but are doing all they can to stay in contact using Facetime

Emmanuel Aliphon and Clare-ann Nelson haven’t seen each other in over a month but are doing all they can to stay in contact using Facetime

"It's hard to go through it all, but I've moved home from student accommodation with my family in Bangor, so at least I'm not on my own, and I know he has his family there, too.

"It's very different, though. All of my siblings are home as well, there are five of us as well as my parents, so it's a packed house. I work part-time at Tesco, so at least that is something I have that means I'm helping out a bit in all of this, and it keeps me busy.

"I don't know what it will be like when we finally get to see each other again, but I really can't wait. Emmanuel says he's got things planned - I guess we've both got time to plan for that."

Emmanuel says: "I know a lot of guys would act like they weren't really missing their other halves, but the truth is I am. I do miss her. We haven't seen each other in over a month and we usually see each other every week.

"We alternate weekends to get up and down to each other on the bus and we love spending time together.

"We both work on Saturdays so if it's Clare-ann's turn she'll get the bus after work, or on my week I'll get the earliest one on a Sunday.

"We've never gone longer than a week without seeing each other in all the time we've been together.

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Emmanuel Aliphon and Clare-ann Nelson haven’t seen each other in over a month but are doing all they can to stay in contact using Facetime

Emmanuel Aliphon and Clare-ann Nelson haven’t seen each other in over a month but are doing all they can to stay in contact using Facetime

Emmanuel Aliphon and Clare-ann Nelson haven’t seen each other in over a month but are doing all they can to stay in contact using Facetime

"It was a hard decision to make, but I've got asthma and with my brother's little baby in the house we thought at the start we'd take proper precautions. And at the start we didn't think it would be for that long.

"When the lockdown started in the South I planned to get the bus up to Belfast, even to see her one last time. But my family weren't happy about it with my asthma, and as things seemed to get more serious I worried if I went up I might get stuck and not be able to get back - or that if I did I could carry something with me to my family.

"Now one of the hardest things is not knowing how long it's going to go on and it's tough not to be able to give her a hug when she's feeling a bit down.

"At the end of last year she had a bereavement in the family and I was able to get off work and get the bus straight up to see her, which is what I wish I could do right now.

"But I know things could be worse. Clare-ann is with her family, and I am too, and while we're both in pretty busy houses - as well as me there's my mum, sister, brother, sister-in-law and the baby - that means we're keeping busy.

"We're able to Facetime a lot and I'm getting the chance to introduce her to the Marvel films on Disney+. And that's a game-changer - I'm not sure I can marry her if she doesn't get on board!

"But all joking aside, we know there's a lot to look forward to with the wedding coming up next year. I'm keeping busy with my studies - I'm at college studying sport therapy - and I'm carrying on with my training as an MMA fighter.

"It's not the same as getting to the gym, but I'm out for an early run every day, which really helps.

"We just want to get through all of this as soon as we can, so we can start to make more plans for our wedding next year, and for our life afterwards.

"I'm planning to move to Northern Ireland as Clare-ann carries on with her studies, and then she will support me in pursuing my plans after that.

"It's a difficult time for everyone, but hopefully we'll all get through it okay and can start building our lives again once it's settled down."

Belfast Telegraph