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Meet the Northern Ireland couples who prove it's never too late to fall in love


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Common ground: Colm and Mercia Flanagan relaxing at home in Bangor

Common ground: Colm and Mercia Flanagan relaxing at home in Bangor

Colm and Mercia Flanagan on their wedding day

Colm and Mercia Flanagan on their wedding day

Wedding date: Sheila Edwards and Arthur Kealey, are tying the knot this Easter

Wedding date: Sheila Edwards and Arthur Kealey, are tying the knot this Easter

Wedding date: Sheila Edwards and Arthur Kealey, are tying the knot this Easter

Wedding date: Sheila Edwards and Arthur Kealey, are tying the knot this Easter

Happy couple: Cathy and Mark on their wedding day

Happy couple: Cathy and Mark on their wedding day

Solid bond: Cathy and Mark O’Donnell

Solid bond: Cathy and Mark O’Donnell

Common ground: Colm and Mercia Flanagan relaxing at home in Bangor

Getting married isn't just the preserve of younger folk, as these three NI couples tell Leona O'Neill.

‘I had given up on finding love but it happened out of the blue and I was married at 63’

Colm Flanagan (68), a sound consultant originally from Ballywalter and his wife, retired Church of Ireland vicar Mercia (65), live in Bangor. They married, both for the first time, two years ago. Mercia says that she had given up on finding love until her future husband came into her life.

"I have an interest in CS Lewis and had done a sabbatical project at Lewis' home in Oxford in 2012," she says. "I ended up doing a project on his relationship with Tolkien and how that challenged the sectarianism he had been brought up with in Belfast. I was asked to do lots of little talks around the country and Colm heard one of these talks.

"He was doing some work with Premier Christian Radio, doing interviews with a Northern Ireland slant. He thought that I might make a good piece to do. He tracked down my number and came to interview me. We just clicked from that day.

"Normally the interviews take about an hour. But we spent five hours together that day.

"We took it a bit slowly at first, because we had both been hurt in the past. But then when we decided that there might be something in this, everything went very fast indeed.

"We started going out properly in February 2017, got engaged in May and were married in September."

Mercia, who was vicar at Carnmoney and Ballyholme Parish churches before retiring, says that Colm shocked all their friends with a romantic proposal.

"We had talked about getting married," she says. "Getting married was a huge change and would mean major upheaval in both of our lives. At that stage in life you wonder if it is really worth it. But we just wanted to be together, we enjoyed each other's company immensely. We had been talking about what the future might look like.

"I had a house up on the north coast and I used to go there on my day off. So he drove me up one day. I had planned to go to lunch at a particular place and he drove past it. I wondered why. He took me to a viewpoint, up Bishop's Road, which looks across to the Scottish islands.

"It was an amazing view and was quite chilly, but he proposed there. It was beautiful. And driving back down he played me the Moody Blues song Heaven on Earth with the lyrics 'It's heaven on earth when you're close to me', and I was just in bits. He astonished all his friends because nobody thought he would have that in him. But he does."

Mercia says that at her age she had all but given up on finding love.

"I got married at 63 years old," she says. "I never expected to find 'the one' then. I had not ruled it out, but I think I had got to the stage when I thought it wouldn't happen and I was resigned to carrying on, albeit perfectly contentedly, with a very busy life and lots of friends. By that stage in life you don't really think love is going to happen, but it can.

"We are very settled in Bangor and are very happy. We are very compatible. We enjoy each other's company and we enjoy being together. I think we bring out the best in each other. Our life is just lovely.

"I would say to others, never give up on love. For both of us, this was something out of the blue. It can happen to others too."

‘At our first encounter we had an argument, now we’re looking forward to our wedding’

Retired florist Sheila Edwards (62), from Londonderry, is set to marry her Dungiven beau Arthur Kealey (52), a former steel joiner, on Easter Monday. The couple have seven children and 15 grandchildren between them.

"The first time we met we fell out about flowers," Sheila says. "I was passing through the town and I called into one of the bars on the Main Street.

"We struck up a conversation about flowers and I happened to mention that I had taught the man who owned the florists across the street. Arthur said that the man was his nephew and that I didn't teach him, that his aunt taught him.

"Eventually we marched around to the florist and asked him who taught him, and he said I did. So that was the argument over.

"A few days later I wrote a letter and asked him for directions to a certain place, and he said he would come with me and show me the way. So that is how it started."

Sheila says that, despite their unpromising first meeting, she knew that they were well suited.

"We just knew straight away that we were made for each other," she says.

"We clicked and got on so well. We are together now eight-and-a-half years.

"We got engaged two years after we met.

"We were in Derry one day and were passing a jewellery store. Arthur said we should go in. He said he wanted to buy me a ring and make me his.

"We are getting married in the Belfray Arms on the Glenshane Road on Easter Monday.

"It's going to be a huge wedding - there are around 260 people coming.

"Country music star John McNicholl is going to sing me down the aisle. It is going to be beautiful."

Sheila says that it's never too late to find love.

"I didn't expect to find love at my age," she says. "I thought I was over the hill. I am so happy to find love again. It's great. I'd recommend it to everyone. There is always light at the end of the tunnel.

"Our life together is just great. I couldn't ask for anything better.

"I would say to others who think it's too late. Remember that life goes on and love goes on."

‘I was quite content on my own but my life with Mark is lovely’

Londonderry couple Cathy (56) and Mark O'Donnell (58) were friends from childhood who met again later in life after both their marriages broke up. The couple, who have seven children and 14 grandchildren between them, had a rather rocky start after Mark suffered a stroke just before they had planned to get engaged.

"We met when we were young because his cousins lived beside me," she says. "We have been friends since we were children. When the very first Rocky film came out I was about 12 years old and Mark took me and his cousin to see it. He was 15 at that time and he said he was too old for me.

"We would always run into each other over the years. Mark got married and had a family and so did I. Both our marriages, for different reasons, didn't work out.

"Mark was a taxi driver and I just seemed to run into him more often because I didn't have a car. Every time I got a taxi it was Mark. I used to say to him that he must be sitting at the top of my street waiting for me to call.

"My mum sadly passed away and a few months after that I got a card from the Foyle Hospice to say that a donation had been made in mum's name from Rosemount Taxis. I thought it was lovely and rang them. The guy on the phone told me that Mark had collected money in the taxi rank and donated it to them in memory of my mum. I was out that weekend with some of my friends and ran into him. I thanked him and that was that, I couldn't get rid of him! That was 14 years ago."

Cathy and Mark's world was rocked when he took a stroke and was left disabled just two years into the relationship. However, this only served to make their relationship stronger.

"When we were together for about two years Mark bought me a ring when we were on holiday in Turkey," Cathy says.

"One of my daughters was getting married and we said we would wait, that we would give them their big day. But when we came back from holiday Mark had a very severe stroke which left him with a lot of disabilities. He is in a wheelchair and needs full-time care. So I became his carer.

"He was in hospital for eight months. When he started to come round a bit he said to me, in his own way because his speech was affected, that he didn't want to be a burden to me. He gave me a chance to go if I wanted to go. And I said no way, I was staying. And another day I went over to visit him, he said 'you and me forever', and that was that.

"Three years after he had the stroke we got married. I was in my late 40s by then and just wanted a small wedding but our children wanted a big celebration, especially after all Mark had been through. The funny thing was that our registrar had a double booking and the only date we could work with was Friday, May 13. She asked me was I superstitious, but I told her about what had happened to us already.

"We had a brilliant night, a great big party."

Cathy says she thought she would never find happiness and love again after her first marriage broke down.

"I didn't expect to find love later in life," she says. "When my first marriage dissolved I thought, never again. I was 36 years old and had four children when that happened and I was quite content on my own. I didn't have time and I didn't think it would happen. But then every time I looked around, Mark was there. He was just so nice and good to me.

"Between us we have seven children and they were all very happy for us finding love. They knew that we were happy. The kids were all adults themselves and by the time we got married we were grandparents. I think they were just happy that their parents wouldn't be growing old on their own."

Cathy says that despite the challenges she and Mark have faced, their love has seen them through.

"Our life together is lovely," she says. "It's no different than anyone else's life, we just have a little bit more pressure because Mark needs the care that he does.

"We are very happy. A lot of people who come to see us say they love to visit because of the banter between myself and Mark. We just have fun.

"I try to stay positive all the time. I am not one to sit and cry because we have had a bit of bad luck. We might have had bad luck but we are still here.

"Life has thrown its challenges at us, but love is stronger than that."

Belfast Telegraph