As Ireland adjusts to its new normal, we examine the real-life ramifications for brides, couples and the dating landscape in our new series. Here, Dearbhla Toal speaks to Caitlin McBride about cancelling her wedding
For childhood sweethearts Dearbhla Toal and Harrison Silke, their big day was 12 years in the making.
The engaged couple, both from Meath, first met as teenagers and have navigated their adult lives together; including the heartbreaking decision to cancel their wedding amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the last two years since becoming engaged, no expense was spared in ensuring their big day was one to remember.
Ms Toal (28), a digital marketing executive at Google, and Mr Silke (29), an investment banker, made the decision to postpone their wedding to 2021 when it became clear that their dream wedding was not to be.
They were scheduled to wed on May 2 and celebrate at Lough Eske Castle in Donegal.
“One of the key things we kept throughout our decision-making was perspective,” Ms Toal told the Irish Independent. “I went on auto pilot because I’m an organised person by nature: as soon as I meet a problem, I think of solutions.”
Ms Toal said she “saw red flags” about the plausibility of their wedding going ahead after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressed the nation for the first time, during which he advised social distancing at the earlier stages of the pandemic when indoor groups were limited to 100 (groups are now limited to four people).
“Harry wanted to wait two weeks to hear more information, but by that time, we were on a seven-week countdown and we wanted to keep informed, but also be realistic. During the week it was announced gatherings of more than 100 people were banned, we had sent invitations to our 300 guests," she said.
“A wedding is such a luxury to us. It’s a celebration with all our loved ones. We didn’t want to put pressure on them to come and potentially put themselves in danger, or not come and feel bad. We wanted to be able to celebrate with everyone, and with that in mind we decided to postpone.”
Ms Toal, ever the pragmatist, started working through her ‘postponing checklist’ which required re-planning a second wedding for 2021 and trying to align with as many of the same suppliers as possible.
They contacted both the venue and the church and were given three available dates for next year, and after liaising with their original suppliers were able to decide on a final date of March 12, 2021 – a move which also allowed them to save their deposits.
Amidst the re-organisation was a period of grief and the importance of addressing such an emotional decision, which would result in the loss of significant financial and sentimental investments.
Dearbhla had just returned from her hen party in Miami, and Harrison, who was due to celebrate his stag in March, bought a PlayStation with the money he would have spent over the weekend as a kind gesture to himself. They threw themselves a “pity party” over the course of two days, during which they allowed themselves to cry and grieve and indulge.
Ms Toal emphasised the importance of acknowledging your grief, but not allowing it to consume you. “I would never want to take away from someone else’s sadness, but my advice is to sit with your emotions and feel it, then pick yourself up and think of the bigger picture,” she explained.
“It’s a guessing game as to when we think it will subside pandemic-wise and for other couples, there is no right or wrong answer. It’s about doing what sits well with them. Some people are in a rush to get married for various reasons. I was dying to get married as well - my mam suffers from health issues and I want that special day for her.”
“The beauty of it, and please excuse my choice of words, is that everyone had a common understanding when we reached out to them to tell them our decision. We’re not cancelling because of personal bereavement or sickness; this is such a shared extraordinary time that we’re all going through and everyone was so supportive.”
There are still details to be worked out when the quarantine is lifted - her dress is still undergoing alterations; Harrison’s suit is still with his tailor, and they lost out on the cost of their invitations. But in the grand scheme of things, both remain grateful for their health during a global crisis.
Their American honeymoon, which was scheduled to begin the day after their wedding with flights from Dublin to Los Angeles, was also cancelled. But they found comfort in committing to rescheduling for a better time.
“The relief when we both decided to cancel was incredible,” she said. “I found added stress in monitoring the news waiting to make a decision and now, we can move on with their lives.
“We’re trying to see the positive in all this. We gave ourselves two years to save for the wedding, and now we’re adding on another year, but your health is your wealth. The health and safety of our guests is our number one priority. I have Chron’s disease, so health is a big priority for me anyway, and this just confirmed that.
“Me being a bride-to-be for another year holds no negatives for me. It’s important to have the perspective to remember that people are working tirelessly to combat this, and it completely outweighs the fact that we have to wait another year to get married.”
Dearbhla, known as Belle Azzure on Instagram, has become something of a digital agony aunt on social media; responding to other brides under pressure, whom she advises to have a contingency plan in place for the coming months.
“I know there are others who aren’t as fortunate. My advice to brides who are planning weddings in July, August and September would be to still have a plan B.”
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