Monday 20 November 2017

Here comes the bride... again

With second marriages becoming more popular, we examine the etiquette and emotions involved with walking down the aisle again

Betty was 70 when she married her second husband, Hugh.
Betty was 70 when she married her second husband, Hugh.
Conrad Jones and Ellen Kavanagh are currently planning their Dublin-based wedding. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Vicki Notaro

Vicki Notaro

Now that we're facing into the marriage equality referendum and heading to the polls to decide whether same-sex couples can legally wed, it's easy to forget that just 18 years ago, divorce wasn't an option in Ireland. Since then, however, there have been more than 90,000 legal unions dissolved and that figure looks likely to hit the 100,000 mark by the spring.

According to data from the last census, 50pc of divorcees have gone on to remarry. Second weddings are so popular that wedding expert Tom Grealy of the Abbey Hotel in Roscommon is dealing with remarrying couples in one third of the weddings he helps to organise.

"I love second weddings," says Tom. "There's something magical about two people being brave enough to risk it all again - that can be very touching and emotional."

Of course, not all second marriages are the result of divorce.

"A second wedding could be happening because of a bereavement," says Tom. "In this instance, admittedly, it can be emotional, especially when children see mum or dad moving on with another partner."

Indeed, it's important to note the difficulties that may arise from such an event, from the politics of having children involved to the inability to get married in a church.

"I find most often the problems arise from couples trying too hard to please everyone else," says Tom. "Very often when couples are second-time lucky, as we like to call them, they have children from their previous marriages to take into account.

"Between worrying about not upsetting the children, their ex-husbands and wives or their former-in-laws, they forget that it's supposed to be their special day. Other problems can arise because guests just don't know what to do - here in Ireland we just don't have the second-wedding culture yet."

Ellen Kavanagh, 34, is beginning to plan her second wedding to Conrad Jones, 52, after the birth of their son Cooper 21 months ago.

"My ex and I separated suddenly in 2009, and the divorce came through this time last year," says Ellen.

"I met my fiance about nine months into being single, but we were just friends. Then we fell in love around five months after that. Neither of us expected it to happen. Obviously there's an age gap but more so, neither of us were really planning to meet someone special and settle down so quickly.

"Waiting the four years to be able to get divorced really drags when you want to be planning a wedding, so we had a baby in between. Now that we're finally in a position to start planning, the options are a bit overwhelming. One day we want a tiny wedding with just our parents, and the next we want a huge party - so I think it'll have to combine both elements. We adore Dublin so we want to celebrate it here."

Ellen's previous wedding is relatively recent, and the details still fresh in her mind.

"My first wedding was abroad. We had a civil ceremony in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. It was in a hotel once owned by Frank Sinatra and it was very different and really cool. Lots of close family and friends came all the way over and made it a holiday. So it's totally awkward and embarrassing when then you split up a couple of years later. I felt really, really guilty."

Picking a new wedding gown so soon after the last is tricky, too.

"I absolutely loved my first dress, a Julien MacDonald ivory strapless fishtail gown. Very 1950s glamour; it was perfect. Now I don't know whether to go with something different or the same type of style."

However, more than anything Ellen and Conrad are beyond excited to plan their wedding.

"We purposely waited until Cooper was able to walk and be involved with it. Now he's nearly two it's perfect and he'll be super cute. I think it's really special to have the children involved. It's a union of not only us as a couple, but us as a family, so it's very important.

"Conrad's children, who range in age from 14 to 21, knew about the proposal before I did.

"I didn't get married in a church the first time around and now and I'm 'not allowed', so that upsets me. It would mean a lot to me to have a Catholic ceremony and being excluded from that is pretty harsh, but we'll work around it.

"Falling in love with Conrad has been the most wonderful thing in my life and I feel so blessed. We both know we're made for each other."

Ellen's sadness at the lack of religious aspect in her wedding is something that Tom encounters often. "There are still a lot of people who love the idea of a traditional, white wedding. Religion does play a part and with most civil ceremonies a blessing signifies a unity and a bond second time round outside the traditional church ceremony."

Betty and Hugh: a love story

Betty Mallon, 73, was 70 when she married her second husband, Hugh.

"I am of the generation that when you got married, it was for life. I never thought that divorce would come into my life, or that I would be on the shelf. My husband was a good man and a good father, but our marriage had broken up; our son died 15 years ago and I think that was the straw that broke the camel's back.

"I wasn't divorced for a long time, but I was single. My ex-husband is into boats and he was living away on them in France. He wanted his freedom and I was happy to give it to him, but I never thought I'd be married to someone else."

However, love struck Betty when she least expected it.

"Hugh's wife was a friend of mine, we were neighbours. I hadn't spoken to Hugh in years because I worked odd hours in a nursing home as a carer. When she died I called to give my condolences. He was feeling lost, and I knew what it was like, after the death of my son. Because I knew his wife very well, I said if you ever feel very bad, and want to talk about her, please do.

"Months later, I met him and he asked if I meant it. So we went out for a drink and spoke a lot. Then he rang me up and said, 'I'd a wonderful time, I'd like to see more of you.'

"It was a while before romance blossomed. I didn't let him stay over, I'm the old-fashioned type. But then after a few years we were very comfortable and happy, and getting married seemed the logical thing to do."

Hugh has four children from his first marriage, but they accepted his relationship with Betty and welcomed her into their family.

"Our families weren't surprised - we were facing into old age and we wanted to make our lives easier. Working in a nursing home I realise that we've only got today, yesterday is gone and tomorrow isn't promised. We had a beautiful wedding, the best day of my life, in the Shelbourne with our closest friends and family."

Betty's two daughters, Linda and author Amanda Brunker, were thrilled when their mother got married again. Amanda was instrumental in getting Betty kitted out for her big day, taking her mum out to Dundrum Town Centre to find the perfect outfit.

"I got married at 20 years of age in 1961 the first time around; money was short, times were tough. At that age, you don't appreciate it. This time it was such a wonderful day. I never remember feeling quite so happy, lucky or fulfilled. I had no qualms about saying yes - I knew my life would be good with this kind, perfect man."

Betty has some good advice for couples thinking of tying the knot for the second time.

"Be sensitive and careful where children are involved. You have to remember that you are marrying their dad, and he was married to their mum, and at all times respect that situation. I am very aware that I'm their step-mum, but I am very fair and give to them what I do my own.

For Betty, it was all about being sure about Hugh.

"If you feel in your heart and soul that this is the person for you; if you're easy with them and know that person is going to be there for you, then that's what matters. We were two lonely people that came together, and I don't remember ever feeling quite so young or quite so happy as I did on my wedding day to Hugh."

Irish Independent

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