Wednesday 22 November 2017

Following the path of true love

Newlyweds Umberto Di Venosa and Susan McMonagle met while organising people's Camino holidays

Umberto Di Venosa and Susan McMonagle got married recently in France: Photo: David Conachy
Umberto Di Venosa and Susan McMonagle got married recently in France: Photo: David Conachy
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

They only got married seven weeks ago in France, and Susan McMonagle still finds it fun to call Umberto Di Venosa her husband. She made a speech at their wedding in which she discussed the Frenchman's strengths, because he is not only physically fit. "He is strong in his values around family too," she says. "Umberto is also great fun, and is not afraid to do something silly in public to make me laugh."

Umberto (36), grew up in Drancy in Paris as the younger of Ciriaco and the late Fulvia's two sons. His Italian dad still lives there and he is close to him, but his non-smoking, teetotal mum sadly passed away aged 50 from lung cancer. He was talented at rugby and went on to study business and marketing at a sports university in Paris. He had a friend, Fabien, in Dublin so he came here to improve his English one summer and loved it so much he returned after completing college in 2003.

Umberto held some sales and telemarketing positions, and the idea for his business came about when he was lamenting with friends that there was no walking holiday businesses in Ireland. This conversation led to the establishment of One Foot Abroad in 2008, and as it took off, they developed the brand Follow the Camino. The trips they organise cover tranches of El Camino de Santiago, a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St James in Santiago de Compostela. It has become extremely popular to walk or cycle the various routes that originate from Spain, France and Portugal, and a certificate of accomplishment is given to those who walk a minimum of 100km or cycle 200km. The advantage of booking with Follow the Camino is that they handle all of the arrangements and give brilliant advice, whether you're booking individually or as a group. Aside from the regular trips that can be done on foot, horseback or by bike, they have some fabulous signature trips, such as Camino Romantico, suitable for couples, Camino Zen for yoga enthusiasts, Camino Extravaganza, which takes in incredible events and festivals, and Camino Literary, which celebrates Hemingway and his love for Pamplona. They also organise Camino walking holidays for schools, which have been very successful.

Umberto and Susan (33), met when she got a job at his company in 2010. She's the youngest of Mary and Stephen's three children, and says her parents have always been extremely loving and supportive. Susan studied applied languages at DCU, followed by a diploma in legal studies at DIT, and after working with Dublin Tourism she got a job in customer service with One Foot Abroad, eventually becoming assistant operations manager.

"Umberto was one of my three bosses and I probably had less contact with him than some of the others with the role I was in," she says. "There was nothing romantic between us as both of us were in other relationships. If you had told me at that point that we would be married a number of years later, I would have laughed in your face."

After a couple of years of working together, Umberto and Susan began playing on the same tag rugby team. As they got to know each other outside work, feelings began to develop between them, taking them both by surprise. Both were single at the time as their respective relationships had ended some time before, but even though they were free to enter into a relationship, they took it slowly. They were mindful that Umberto had two children, Eva (8), and Theo (6), from his previous relationship - and they were still working together. So what attracted them to each other?

"Susan is very beautiful and nice, and I saw how determined and hard-working she was," says Umberto. "I love her smile, and she also liked other languages and cultures and is very open-minded."

Susan thought Umberto was handsome and hard-working and she also found him very funny. At the time she was doing a part-time master's in international relations, and they only told their colleagues that they were dating when Susan resigned to take up an internship with the United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR.

"It's a small company and we were afraid it would make things awkward, but we made a big announcement at the Christmas party and nobody cared," she laughs.

She and Umberto waited a while before he introduced her to his children.

He proposed while they were visiting Chateau de Fenelon in Dordogne, and they got married in Saint-Jean-d'Angely in August.

Umberto's brother Lorenzo was best man and Eva and Theo were flower girl and page boy. They had 115 French, Irish and Italian guests, and held a big barbecue for them at Umberto's family home the next day.

They went to San Sebastian on honeymoon, and have now returned to normal life. Susan's internship at UNHCR turned into a full-time job and she's also training to be a barrister at King's Inns. With the added pressure of studying, Umberto is good at keeping her calm as she likes everything to be done well. "For example, we were camping recently, and she took out wipes to clean the inside of the tent, even though we were going for a walk and would be mucky coming back," he laughs.

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