Patrick Donovan, from Wexford, met Stephen Jacques, from Sheffield, when they were both on a weekend holiday in Blackpool in 2003. It was one of those strangers-across-acrowded-room moments in a gay haunt called The Flying Handbag.
“We were with our own groups, and we kept smiling over at each other,” says Steve. “I hadn’t the courage to speak to him, and he didn’t come speak to me, and then noticed he was leaving. was like, ‘Oh my God, this is a missed opportunity’.”
Just as Pat was about to exit, Steve caught a hold of his arm and said: “You’re not going are you?” Pat said he’d be back at The Flying Handbag the following night. He made good on the promise, and the two got chatting.
“I know what people say about the Irish accent, that there’s something very seductive about it, but it totally had me from the moment he opened his mouth,” says Steve.
“It was his face,” Pat says when asked what attracted him to Steve. “He had a very handsome face, and that smile…”
Back at Pat’s hotel the two talked for hours, swapped phone numbers, shared a kiss on the cheek and called it a night. Steve flew back to Sheffield and Pat flew back to Ireland.
“On the Sunday my friend popped around and said’I met a lovely Irish man in Blackpool, but don’t think he’ll call me, and at that exact moment my phone rang, and it was an Irish number,” Steve remembers. “I was like, ‘It’s him!’ After that we spoke every day for nearly three months. said to my friends, ‘I think I’m falling in love with a man over the phone.”
“I think it was a good way,” says Pat. “We got to know each other by speaking on the phone.”
When the pair met again, with Steve travelling to Dublin, they were both nervous. “I suppose was anxious about seeing him physically,” says Pat. “About whether that attraction would still be there.”
“I asked him, do you still like what you see?” says Steve. “He said yes, and then he kissed me.”
So began what was at first a long-distance relationship. Reaping the benefits of Ryanair’s five-pound flights, they would travel between Ireland and the UK twice a month during the first two years, before they started seriously considering their future and whether Steve might move to Ireland. Serendipitously, Steve’s employer asked if he would like to lead operations in the company’s office in Dublin.
Four years in, Pat proposed on Steve’s birthday. “I gave him a watch for a present,” Pat says. “I didn’t want to give him a ring because thought if wanted to give him a ring, it’d be a wedding ring. On the top of the box it said, ‘Will you marry me?’. It turned out to be a very long engagement, ten years to be exact, which included a five-year stint in Australia.
When they came back to Ireland, the marriage equality campaign began to gain momentum. Steve, a board member with GCN’s publishers, National LGBT Federation, was involved. After the referendum passed, Steve was on the phone to his mother. “She said, ‘So are you getting married? Because don’t know if it’s right that you’re living together without being married’. think she was joking, of course, but she’s very traditional.”
Joking aside, Mrs Jacques had to buy a hat this year for Steve and Pat’s long-anticipated wedding at Dublin City Hall. She and Mrs Donovan had the honour of walking each of their sons down the aisle.
Two other special guests were a couple of childhood friends from the Christian evangelical community Steve grew up in.
“Steve and Joe are both professional singers and when we were children, used to joke with them, saying ‘I want you to sing at my wedding’. So, they sang us down the aisle – ‘The First Time Ever Saw Your Face’.
“When we walked in all could hear was their singing. was just a blubbering mess. It was the significance of it all for me because I’d been brought up in a world where being gay was a grave sin, and here we were getting married. My mum there, my childhood friends singing, all our worlds colliding in this place. found it really powerful.”
“I was overwhelmed,” says Pat. “People say it’s the happiest day of your life, and it probably was. was getting married to another man, having grown up in Ireland in the 1980’s thinking I’d never end up in a relationship or get married. As things progress over the years, you take it for granted, but then you’re doing it and you realise it is actually so significant.”
“There was something profoundly spiritual about the experience for me,” says Steve. “I didn’t think I’d feel different but did, something felt different. It’s hard to describe.”
The pair wrote their own vows and included a marriage tradition from Cyprus, where half of Steve’s family comes from. “It’s a crowning ceremony,” he explains. “You have family and friends exchanging crowns and then you walk round in a circle representing your first steps together as a married couple.”
Pat gave a speech, which he’d memorised. “I was so blown away by it,” says Steve. “It was a poem that told the story of our relationship from the start. still have the recording to listen to.”
After the City Hall celebrations, two double-decker buses took guests to the Odeon, while Steve and Pat arrived on foot, touched by the congratulations of passers-by. They hired the Bourbon Lounge where they opted for food bowls and cocktails. The Swingcats performed and the couple danced to ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, before drag diva, Davina Devine took over on the decks.
The party went on until 4:30 am, but they were up at 12:30 pm for lunch again at the Odeon. It was then onto Pantibar before they finished the night at Daddi. The pair concluded their four-day celebration the next day in Bow Lane for Drag Brunch.
“I feel married,” says Steve, reflecting on the aftermath of their big day. “I feel that marriage gave us the identity of being a proper family, feel like I’ve got the justification to say ‘we’re a family”.
“I never felt needed to get married to be valued,” says Pat. “But if you think about it, we were all either living in countries where it was still illegal to have sex with each other, or in countries that banned any sort of promotion of the idea that gay people had any value.
“Sometimes you take it for granted, and you think every country has the same rights as us, but they don’t. It’s not over really.”
Catering: The Right Catering Company
Chairs and Decoration: Wow-Weddings
Party Venues: The Odeon Group (The Loft Bar on Dame Lane & The Odeon, Harcourt St.)
Wedding Venue: City Hall Dublin
Photographer: Sasson Haviv
Suits: Magee, South Ann Street
Wedding Band: The Swing Cats
Cake: Aungier Danger Donut Tower aungierdanger.ie
Rings: Diamond World, Brisbane, Australia
DJ: Davina Devine