Gay groom from Camp village gets ready for big day
'When I started going to gay bars, I told everyone I was just from outside Tralee," says Stevie O'Driscoll. "What else could I say?"
Stevie is 31, and he comes from a famous Kerry football family. Indeed, he played full back for the local club, Annascaul. But he's not from Annascaul. He's from Camp.
Camp is a village and a parish. Half of it is on the high road to Dingle and the other half is on the low road to Dingle. The high rugged mountains of the west interlock like sets in a maths book. The low road skirts the azure sea with golden beaches and infinite skies that would make the Bedouin envious. High or low, there's no more beautiful place.
Calvin Hayes is 23 and from the big housing estate of Southill in Limerick, which has its share of problems. Most of the people try hard to be good. And most succeed.
Calvin met Stevie in a gay bar in Limerick. Calvin excused himself on that first night and headed for the gents.
"I googled like mad to make sure there was such a place," he says. "I couldn't get over the fact – I was already falling in love with a gay man from Camp."
They became an item and were engaged a few weeks ago. Calvin had "Don't lose it" inscribed on Stevie's engagement ring.
"I never really told my parents I was gay," says Calvin. "I think they sort of guessed it when I arrived home with a Louis Vuitton man bag on my arm and a white Mini Cooper under my bum."
It's dusk. The rolling lawns and greens of the Adare Manor gardens and golf course, with the fastest stretch of the River Maigue running through it, are sfumato in a Leonardo landscape. Very boy band is Calvin, with the skinny jeans and neat hair. He's trendy, as in whatever he's wearing is probably in this month's men's magazines. I forget what Stevie had on, but it was very nice too. Gay men are better groomed.
"I love Southill, and my nana told me to always be proud of where I came from. I was never picked on. I was always one of their own. Southill made me tough, but fair," says Calvin.
But then he recalls his first year in secondary school when he left the safety of Southill. He was bullied, but there was salvation in St Enda's, near enough his home, "where I was set up for life".
Calvin even managed to get a scholarship to LIT, "but I gave it up because I needed a job to get money for clothes".
His mother, Sandra, "always wanted to live in a field with cows". Now she has her dream house in the middle of a field, with cows looking in the window. She probably wants to wash the cows, though.
"My mother washes everything," says Calvin. "She's a worker. My dad is gas. They enjoy me."
The wedding planner is a gorgeous six-footer even before she gets into heels. Sharon McMeel is an event organiser, and Ireland's only qualified gay wedding planner.
So what's the difference between planning a gay wedding as opposed to a straight wedding?
"Well," she says, "you can hardly expect the band to play 'When a Man Loves a Woman' for the first dance."
I ask the boys if it's okay to write about their love story. "No bother," they say in unison. "Once you mention Sharon. She's been brilliant. We'd do anything for her."
There might be a backlash, I warn, from the homophobes.
"That's their problem," says Stevie, whose mother died when he was seven, leaving his father, Patcheen, to bring up a family of six.
"Patcheen doesn't mind. His wife, Geraldine, broke the news for me," says Stevie. "Both of our families just want to see us getting on."
You'd worry a bit for the naive young couple. There are still those who are dangerously anti-gay. Are they bitter about not being able to marry in the same way as a straight couple?
"It's just a word," says Stevie, and Calvin describes the civil partnership as a start. "Ten years ago we couldn't do this," he says.
"We'll see how we get on with Pugsy first," says Calvin. "We were blessed with a new puppy."
"Is he a poodle? With a perm and a gay walk?" I ask. Oops. But the boys laugh it off.
I HAVE to ask how a Catholic baby from Southill came to be called Calvin. "I'm named after my dad. When he was being christened, the priest said, 'You can't call the child Calvin', and his mum, my nana Breda, said, 'No Calvin, no christening'."
Are they happy? Do they have big huge fights with tantrums.
"We don't do drama," says Stevie.
It's time to leave the library in Adare Manor where hairdresser Stevie is a key member of staff. He recommends a potion for my bald spot. Calvin smooths the sitting-down wrinkles from his jeans. Again I ask if they are comfortable with my writing about their wedding.
"Of course we are," says Calvin.
"Why wouldn't we be?" says Stevie. "We're just another couple getting married."