Monday 16 September 2019

Meet the people who married their childhood sweethearts as they reveal the secret to their relationship success

Kevin and Claire
Kevin and Claire

Kathy Donaghy

Most of us will never forget our first love, but few of us end up actually marrying our childhood sweetheart. As Ed Sheeran prepares to wed the girl he first fell for in school, Kathy Donaghy asks real-life couples who met in their teens about the secret to their relationship success...

We all remember that feeling of falling head-over-heels in love with someone for the first time and look back with nostalgia on our first forays into the world of romance. When Ed Sheeran announced to his 18 million Instagram followers that he was engaged to his long-term girlfriend Cherry Seaborn, there was a rush to find out just who was this young woman who had inspired his hit song Perfect.

In fact the pair first met at Thomas Mills High School in Framlingham, Suffolk, where Sheeran supposedly had a crush on his classmate. It’s understood they developed a close friendship even though Seaborn was in a relationship with someone else.

After school they went their separate ways – Sheeran to pursue his music career and Seaborn to continue her studies at Duke University in North Carolina in the US.

Ed Sheeran and Cherry Seaborn

In 2015 they reunited and the following year, Sheeran took a year off music to travel the world with his girlfriend.

Sheeran isn’t the only music star to have found his true love early in life: Bono met his future wife Ali Stewart when they were both attending Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin. They married in August 1982 when Bono was 22 and Ali was 21. All these years later, they still appear to be one of most solid couples in showbiz and have four children together.

Bono and Ali

Fellow rocker Jon bon Jovi met his future wife, Dorothea Hurley, while they were both in high school. The couple now have four children together after eloping to Las Vegas to marry in 1989.


Away from the bright lights of celebrity, we talk to some couples who met while still in their teens and are now measuring their love in decades.

• Pauline and Edward

HF Pauline Harley14391005_.jpg
Pauline and Edward

Pauline Harley (42) from Dublin’s Marino was just days shy of her 17th birthday when her eyes fell on the man, who would become her husband, in Quinn’s landmark pub in Drumcondra in the north of the city.

Edward, from Artane, was a year ahead of her in school, but Pauline recalls an instant connection between them.

“He was just different from the other lads at the time. He was very respectful and loyal to his friends. I saw that in him from the start. He let me be me — he’s been like that in all the years I’ve known him,” says Pauline, who now runs her own business as a life coach.

Just two years later, at the age of 19, Pauline found out she was pregnant. As all their friends prepared to go to travelling, Pauline and Edward prepared for parenthood. Edward was doing his final exams in engineering as Pauline went into labour.

“He headed off to his final exam after our son Ian was born. I remember him being just blown away by the fact he was a dad. We were so young — so many of our friends couldn’t get their heads around the concept of us being parents,” says Pauline.

When Ian was two-years-old, her relationship with Edward broke down, something Pauline now describes as the “making of them”.

“I think we had to grow apart to grow together. I remember Edward would come round to pick up Ian and after they’d left, I’d just slide down the back of the hall door in tears. I realised I didn’t want this life without Edward in it. I think I was just so overwhelmed with everything at the time. Edward was so compassionate. We decided that we had this beautiful child and we were going to give it another go,” she says.

In 2003, when Ian was seven-years-old, Pauline and Edward got married. They’ve been through job losses, ill health and recurrent miscarriage — weathering many storms of life together.

While Pauline says she and her husband are very different to one another, she credits her husband’s compassion as a person and his being a good listener as powerful influences in their relationship.

“My husband grounds me. I feel safe with him. I feel safe when I step into that space where we’re together. He’s loyal and he says it as it is, which sometimes I need to hear,” she says.

With their son Ian now finishing his studies in science at Trinity College, Pauline is about to embark on the life of a student at Trinity herself. In this, like so many other adventures in life, she credits Edward as being her rock.

“He’s a tower of strength. He told me to just do it and asked me what did I have to lose?”

• Jonnie and Fiona

hfJonathan nolanimage1.jpg
Jonnie and Fiona

When she was 16, Fiona Clarke Nolan (35) from Dublin’s inner city went on a life-changing trip to Gran Canaria with her mum and older sister. She had no interest in boys or in meeting them on holiday, but her sister had different ideas and begged Fiona to go along when she went out on a date with an Irish boy on holiday with his family.

Fiona laughs now as she recalls her first meeting with Jonnie, a friend of her sister’s date. She clicked with Jonnie, who is from Kells in Co Meath, immediately and the two enjoyed hanging out together. When they got back to Ireland, they continued to see one another and every second Saturday, they’d meet in Dublin City to go to the cinema.

They went to one another’s debs, but Fiona laughs that it was all really innocent and that their relationship grew slowly over time.

“It was very natural — I know that sounds really soppy. We just stayed together. That’s not to say we didn’t argue,” says Fiona.

In 2012, Fiona and Jonnie got married and are now parents to a three-year-old son, Eli, and a 13-month-old daughter, Rei.

Fiona jokes now that when she looks back on it, she wasn’t having a great time on that holiday in Gran Canaria. “I was 16 — all I wanted to do was go off and smoke in secret, but there was no chance of that with my mum there. I wasn’t interested in boyfriends. I remember my sister met this guy — Jonnie and I were supposed to be the support act,” she says.

Now living in Kells where she’s getting her own hand-painted stationery business going, Fiona says her husband is just a really good person and a really good dad who everybody loves.

“We just get on really well — he puts up with all my nonsense,” she says.

• Claire and Kevin

hfClaire Kevin Flanne (3).jpg
Kevin and Claire

Claire Flannery (38) from Tallaght in Dublin was 15-years-old, working a part-time job in the Coockoo’s Nest Pub in Tallaght when she met her husband-to-be, Kevin. While they were friendly, it wasn’t until two years later, the summer they finished school, that they had their first official date.

Claire says she wasn’t looking for a relationship at the time but that she and Kevin loved spending time together. While they both went to college — Claire to study psychology at UCD and Kevin to take on IT at DIT Kevin Street — they stayed together, despite people telling them they’d probably grow apart.

They managed to keep their relationship going when Claire moved to Belfast to do a master’s degree in business psychology, and they continued going out when Claire moved back to Dublin.

“It’s hard to tell when I knew he was ‘The One’. I suppose by the time we moved in together, we knew we were in a long-term situation. We were just really enjoying one another’s company and we loved spending time together,” says Claire.

“In your early 20s, you do think you might grow apart, but we never did. We regularly checked in with one another to make sure we were going in the same direction. As we got older, we became more on the ‘same page’, even though we’re both very independent,” she says.

On August 31, 2011, the anniversary of their first kiss, Claire and Kevin got married on a beach in Fiji, the magical island country in the south pacific when they were travelling the world.

“We didn’t tell anyone we were engaged. It was gorgeous — all the planning with just the two of us was very romantic,” she says of their idyllic beach wedding.

After 22 years together, seven as a married couple, Claire and Kevin are now parents to two sons, Vaughan (1) and Séamus (3). Claire, who runs her own life and business coaching service, says communication is key to success in any relationship.

“We’ve had bumpy years, but we’ve grown together. We have different things we are interested in, but we have a lot of common interests too. Our perspective in life is the same and we have shared values. I think we’ve just always enjoyed spending time with one another,” says Claire.


Editors Choice

Also in Life