Emma Blint and Gavin Callaghan's Irish wedding paid homage to both the bride and groom's families and celebrated the New Year in style with 100 guests
How did you meet?
Gavin and I met working for a disability charity in Cambridge in January 2016. I had recently moved back to the UK after four years of NGO work in Cambodia, and he had left his former role as a political speech writer in Parliament.
Gavin had been working at the charity for a few months and was looking to hand in his resignation, but decided not to leave once we started to get to know each other. After months of secret dates in Cambridge and trying not to cause a scandal in the office, we officially became a couple in August 2016 when we couldn’t keep it quiet anymore.
Tell us about the proposal
We travelled to Cape Town, South Africa in January 2019, supposedly to 'celebrate our birthdays', as Gavin was turning the big 3-0. Little did I know that he had planned an epic proposal on the top of Table Mountain early on January 8th, the day between our two birthdays.
He told me that we were going up there to capture the sunrise. Once we had finished arguing about the position of the video camera, he got down on one knee. We had never spoken about marriage before, so my complete shock is evident from the video that he captured.
How was your wedding affected by Covid-19?
After almost three years of planning our wedding in the Republic of Ireland (a nod to our family heritages from both Sligo and Foxford), we had everything on track until the events of December 2021.
We booked our wedding in March 2019 and secured the date of 21st December, 2020. We wanted a winter wedding and wanted it to be close to Christmas. In May 2019 Gavin became the elected leader of Basildon Council in South Essex, so when the COVID pandemic hit six months later in March 2020, he quickly became aware that our wedding wasn’t going to be able to go ahead.
Telling our guests in April 2020 that we were postponing was hard because lots of people had already booked flights and accommodation and they believed the pandemic would be over by the summer. For us to cancel our wedding so early was a bit of a shock to them. However, it gave us time to reflect on the wedding and decide what we really wanted.
I had always dreamed of getting married on New Year’s Eve, so we contacted Adare Manor and asked if 31st December 2021 was available. As soon as they came back to us and told us that we could secure the date, we booked it in immediately.
By the autumn of 2021, everything was on track. All of our suppliers were in place. We went to visit Adare Manor twice to undertake the food tasting and finalise the itinerary. We even booked the honeymoon to South Africa. Then out of nowhere, a new word became part of our lives…Omicron.
The emergence of the new Omicron variant threatened to derail everything. Suddenly, travel bans were being imposed, PCR testing for travellers was re-introduced, restrictions were coming back, caps on guests at weddings were touted and even a full-scale lockdown was looking more and more likely.
Throughout the month of December, we spent hours and hours each day, scrolling through Twitter to check on the latest updates from the Irish Government. We also needed to keep all of our guests informed, almost on a daily basis throughout December on what the new rules meant for the wedding and their travel plans.
For many of our guests, they cancelled their Christmas parties, reduced their Christmas Day plans and, in some cases, completely self-isolated over Christmas so that they would test negative and be able to come to our wedding. It was a huge sacrifice for people to lose out on a second Christmas in a row, so we wanted to make sure we threw a great party on New Year’s Eve to thank them.
What was the theme for the day, and did you have a colour scheme?
The theme of our wedding was New Year’s Eve with a colour scheme of green, white and gold to celebrate Ireland as a special place to both of our families.
What venue did you choose and why did you choose it?
Both of our families have strong Irish heritages and we knew that the Emerald Isle wouldn’t let us down with a great party atmosphere. In March 2019 we travelled to the West Coast of Ireland with around 10 venues lined up, but we saw Adare Manor in Co. Limerick first and quickly made up our minds that it was our ideal wedding venue.
Adare Manor had recently been renovated and its wedding facilities were by far the most impressive we saw. The ballroom, reception suite, bedrooms, great hall and friendly staff were second to none. The attention to detail and the manner in which all of our guests were treated by the staff showed the best of the world famous Irish hospitality.
We immediately fell in love with the quaint village of Adare, the people and the atmosphere. We loved Adare so much that we even hired the local pub the day after the wedding for an after party. Adare wasn’t just a wedding venue, it became a place we will always carry in our hearts.
How did you know you’d found ‘the’ dress?
I originally set up a dress fitting in London, but was visiting my mum and we decided to travel to Harrogate just to see what was out there. I tried on three dresses before Hayley at the Harrogate Wedding Lounge decided she knew exactly what I was looking for.
She showed me how they could create a bespoke Suzanne Neville dress, combining the Orianna style with an A-line crepe skirt with pockets. My mum and I had 'the moment' of excitement and tears when I tried it on with a classic tulle veil.
A woman with two young daughters was walking past the boutique and held up her girls to see me through the window. When they all gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up of approval, there was no denying that this was 'the dress' and I loved wearing it on the day.
Who were the bridesmaids and what did they wear?
I had five bridesmaids who have been my best friends for more than 15 years. We all lived together at Glasgow University and although we have moved to different places across the UK and Ireland, we message each other most days. They wore mix-and-match styles of deep emerald green gowns from TH&TH Bridesmaids with gold accessories, green and gold Mulberry bags and bouquets of ivory roses.
What did the mother of the bride wear?
My mum, who walked me down the aisle, wore a stunning green Veni Infantino classic tailored skirt suit that she bought from Snooty Frox of Harrogate. She also had two different fascinators, one for the day and one for the evening party.
What did you choose for the suits?
The groom had his suit tailor-made by Jack Davison Bespoke in London.
Often the aspect that makes a wedding original to the couple is the detail – tell us about the details of the day
Having a winter wedding in Ireland meant we couldn’t rely on the weather. We expected rain, so we wanted to make sure that there was a spectacular feature inside for photos, and the staircase leading to the ballroom in Adare Manor provided the perfect backdrop.
We hired Harris & Wilkinson to manage our florals as they are experienced in working with Adare Manor. We used Instagram to review their work and they create spectacular moments at all kinds of events and are led by two hilarious, dynamic and creative women. We used gilded clusters of ivory roses, asparagus fern and ivy in-keeping with the colour theme, lanterns to warm up the church and cascading florals and candlelight additions to decorate the elaborate staircase leading to the reception room at Adare Manor. We also wanted to utilise the Christmas theme across the manor so incorporated Christmas trees into our ballroom layout.
Our wedding favours included a gold Charlie Bell alarm clock at every table place, which were all set to ring at midnight as well as sparklers and bespoke matchboxes. Every guest also got a personalised Cadbury’s chocolate bar. We set up a buffet of sweets for the children alongside our memorial table, and instead of a guest book, we provided a Polaroid camera for guests to take their own photos, write a little note on the picture and drop it into a glass box for us to keep. This was placed alongside a replica of an Irish post-box for cards and gifts.
In a nod to the trials and tribulations of the Covid-19 pandemic, which had become a large part of our wedding story, our table names were well-known phrases such as “You’re on Mute!”, “Next Slide, Please”, “Omicron”, “Booster”, “Herd Immunity”, “Hands, Face, Space”, “Hotel Quarantine” and “Downing Street Briefing” among others.
We also organised a spectacular balloon drop at midnight which took all of our guests by surprise.
How did you feel as you walked down the aisle?
I felt so proud to have my mum walk me down the aisle as my dad passed away in 2017. I made an effort to walk slowly and take in the faces of all our guests as I felt like it was such an incredible moment in time that I wanted to remember forever. When I got to Gavin at the top of the aisle, I was shaking and my heart was racing so much I grabbed his hands to calm myself down.
How did you make the ceremony personal to you?
The ceremony was incredibly important to us. Our priest and friend, Father Dominic, flew over from where we live in the UK to celebrate the mass with us.
We knew Dominic would be able to talk personally about knowing us and understand what the day meant for us. Similarly, we wanted to make sure the ceremony reflected our personalities and included as many people as possible. That is why we had performances from the Shannon Gospel Choir and Irish wedding singer Naomi Laide.
We had readings from Gavin’s sisters and my uncle, but the star of the show was our seven-year-old nephew, Ethan, who stole everyone’s hearts with his bidding prayers. Our mums lit a unity candle together at the close of the ceremony to symbolise the joining of our two families and my step-dad and Gavin’s dad acted as witnesses.
The whole church was awash with music, candles and smiling faces. It was an incredibly welcoming and loving atmosphere in the church and we were both overwhelmed by how many people – particularly those who are not regular church-goers – were moved by the ceremony and commented that it was a great reflection of our personalities.
What was your most memorable moment?
Bursting into tears immediately after being pronounced husband and wife from sheer happiness and relief at officially becoming part of Gavin’s family, after facing so many challenges to make the wedding happen.
What was the most challenging aspect of planning this wedding?
One word, Covid. Weddings are stressful to plan and organise, especially when they are in a different country. However, when you add the unpredictability of Covid and restrictions, the stress levels took on a whole new level.
As we made our way to Ireland, we were still googling alternative suppliers as our band, photographer and videographers were all coming from the UK and Italy. We couldn’t relax until 7pm the night before the wedding when we held a drinks reception at Adare Manor, looked around and saw all 100 of our guests there, ready for the wedding.
It was a regret that we didn’t get to enjoy the build-up to the wedding, but it probably made the day of the wedding an even bigger high for us and for all of our guests.
What was the most important investment for you?
The attention to detail. Covid gave us an additional 12 months to really plan and think through what we wanted. The extra touches with the choir and wedding singer at the church, and the flowers on the staircase and balloon drop at midnight all added to the wedding. In truth, we might have missed these off if we had stuck to our original date.
The fact so many people commented that they saw this wedding as a personification of us as a couple and that everything went to plan was the best return on investment we could ask for.
What song did you choose for your first dance, and why?
Never Too Much by Luther Vandross, because we felt it tells the story of our secret office romance from when we first met and you can’t help but dance to it.
Did you have any evening entertainment?
City Sounds Band put on an unforgettable show for our guests and created some brilliant dance floor moments to take us up to midnight. The lead singer of the band was incredible and had quickly changed her outfit after playing as part of a string quartet during the ceremony and reception.
Tell us about your wedding cake
We had a 5-tier wedding cake covered with white fondant and a bas-relief pattern with flecks of gold leaf. It had layers of red velvet, luscious lemon, chocolate heaven, sublime caramel and a top layer of fruit cake.
If you could go back and change anything, what would it be?
I would have made sure our guests ate more cake, as we went home with way too much of it.
Did anything go wrong on the day?
I didn’t realise that I was actually very late to the ceremony, late enough that the Shannon Gospel Choir had to improvise with a number of Christmas carols to keep our guests entertained. The Adare Manor staff had opted to keep me calm and reassure me that I was right on time, so I had no idea and wondered why my seven-minute long entrance music had been played multiple times before the doors opened. Needless to say, Gavin felt the stress of the wait while I was oblivious.
Where did you go on honeymoon?
We came back for a few weeks before travelling to South Africa.
Do you have any advice for couples in the planning stages?
Make as many decisions as you can about the wedding as a team to ensure your special day is a reflection of you both as a couple. Just go for it with suppliers and use Instagram to check them all out. You won’t regret it.
Steal their style:
Venue: The Adare Manor
Wedding co-ordinator: Sandra Flavin
Photography: Stephen Walker Photography
Videography: Dolce Vita Wedding Cinema
Dress: Suzanne Neville by Harrogate Wedding Lounge
Bridesmaids' dresses: TH&TH Bridesmaids
Mother of the bride dress: Snooty Frox of Harrogate
Hair: Beauty Atelier Ireland and Hair Wedding Limerick
Make-up: Stevie Rose Beauty
Flowers: Harris and Wilkinson
Cake: MM Cookies
Entertainment: Kudos Functions, Shannon Gospel Choir and Naomi Laide Music