Couple met, got engaged and married in Lourdes!
Dorothy and Paul Coyle sit giggling in their spacious kitchen just outside Roscommon town. They’re slowly leafing through two wedding albums. Smiling, glamorous people look out from the pages as the newly-weds reminisce about how they first met.
It all began in a Basilica in Lourdes after Dorothy and Paul had travelled to France in 2006 as part of the Elphin Diocesan Lourdes Pilgrimage.
Dorothy, who was born with Spina Bifida and is confined to a wheelchair, was there with her sister Bridget, while Paul, who eventually worked as a Brancardier, was there with his mother.
Dorothy takes up the story.
“My sister Bridget was doing a reading at Mass and so was Paul.”
“I got caught that time!” laughs Paul.
Following the readings, Bridget brought Paul over to meet her sister.
Asked whether there was an initial ‘wow factor’, Dorothy and Paul laugh.
“No,” she says.
Love works in mysterious ways.
It may not have been love at first sight, but a friendship blossomed during the remainder of the Pilgrimage.
“You gravitate towards certain people. There are usually about 300 people on the Pilgrimage but you might gravitate towards ten or twelve. It wasn’t intentional, we just got talking,” says Dorothy.
The pilgrims returned to Roscommon but an act of kindness kept them in touch, as Paul explains.
“There was a young Brazilian girl called Victoria and she kept us in touch.”
Victoria, who is blind, was a neighbour of Paul’s in Weekfield near Ballyleague and Dorothy and Paul had decided to see if there was anything they could do to help the young woman.
“Victoria was in the group that year and Paul was watching out for her,” says Dorothy.
According to Paul, his kindness in France was mirrored by Dorothy back on Irish soil.
“I remember Dorothy asking ‘should we try and do something to see if we can help her?’
“She went straight on the computer the night we all came home looking for details about how we could help Victoria. That kept us in touch and we got to know each other and then of course feelings came into it.”
While Dorothy checked online for ways to help the young woman, something else clicked.
“We were looking up doctors and things like that to see if there was anything we could do. At the same time I was looking at Paul and the way he was looking out for her and I thought to myself how nice he was. I knew he was genuine.”
A mutual attraction had developed but both had erected walls that would need to come down before any courtship could commence.
Paul provided an honest assessment on how the relationship progressed.
“I knew for a long time that she was, how do you put it, interested? I wasn’t letting on for the simple reason that I hadn’t gone out with anyone in 17 years.
“It took me a long time to get used to the kindness that was being shown to me. It did take me a while.”
“I kept chipping away at him,” laughs Dorothy.
“She never backed off!” comes the riposte.
They’re now both laughing across the table before Paul finishes his train of thought. “I was just glad I met her,” he says.
A Lourdes Pilgrimage in 2006 may have been the first face-to-face meeting but they had been on each other’s radar for a while.
It was through Paul’s job in SuperValu that the now happily married couple almost had their first “confrontation.”
“Dorothy used to give a book of tickets to a mutual friend of ours who also worked in SuperValu and this person would sell the tickets. Of course, I was also selling these tickets and she was losing customers…little did I know at the time that she was selling tickets for Dorothy!”
Dorothy hadn’t forgotten.
“That’s how I knew his name for a few years before we met. My friend told me that there was a certain gentleman on the staff in there and he was getting to people before her with the tickets!”
All was forgiven however following their personal conclave in the Basilica in 2006. They started dating in 2011 and Roscommon town was the setting for their first official date or Italian restaurant, La Trattoria, to be precise. “Natural” is the word used to describe the evening as wry smiles are exchanged.
It was unexpected, as love often is, and Dorothy was slightly bowled over by this turn of events.
She explained how a romantic relationship was something she hadn’t experienced before.
“It was new to me because I never knew what it was like to have a boyfriend before and I was kind of cagey. Afraid of being rejected, let’s say, like if I said too much or too little or whatever. I didn’t know that that was normal. I don’t know…maybe I’m over-compensating for my disability. I suppose it’s a shield that I’ve built around myself.”
The couple went from strength to strength over the next few years and in 2015, marriage was discussed.
They travelled to Lourdes with the Pilgrimage that year and while a Lourdes engagement had been mentioned, it still came as a shock to Dorothy.
“It was still a surprise because you talk about that stuff but it seems out there,” she gestures to a distant point out the window.
“We had planned to get engaged in the Rosary Basilica where we met,” says Paul, “but there was a Mass going on at the time so I said to myself ‘Leave it for a while and we’ll come back’.
“We went around the corner to St. Bernadette’s Altar and I proposed to her there,” he adds.
“I was so shocked,” Dorothy interjects.
Paul continues: “We sat down at the seat at St. Bernadette’s Altar, which is outside…”
“Yeah, then he starts mooching in his pocket,” adds Dorothy to more laughter.
There were tears on their return to the rest of the group. Friends had been “egging them on” throughout the courtship.
“They were all very happy for us,” says Paul.
The happy couple enjoyed a civil ceremony in the Abbey Hotel with their family and friends on June 23rd of this year before returning to Lourdes for a wedding ceremony on August 29th. They are deeply grateful to family and friends for making both days so special and to organisers such as Dorothy’s sister Bridget, Abbey Hotel wedding co-ordinator Lisa Mullally, Anya Grealy and the staff at the Abbey Hotel as well as Molloy’s for the beautiful wedding cake and all those involved in the Lourdes ceremony too.
“We had two weddings,” beams Dorothy, “We’re like the Kardashians!”
Two weddings also meant two honeymoons and the Coyles spent theirs in Galway and Westport before returning home to live together on the outskirts of the county town.
“Most people have second honeymoons after 40 years of marriage, we had our second honeymoon within two months!” Dorothy’s smiling again before her voice takes on a more serious tone.
“I found my second half.”
As for her other half…“I know she’s my wife,” says Paul “but she’s a great friend and great companion too.”
Shy glances are exchanged and it’s clear that walls have come tumbling down in the eleven years since they first met. Theirs is a house of warmth and understanding, a relationship based on seeing and appreciating each other’s strengths.
Through readings at the Rosary Basilica in Lourdes and turf wars in SuperValu over tickets, it has become clear that what was meant for both Dorothy and Paul hasn’t been allowed to pass either of them by. He describes his wife as having “a heart of gold” but it was Paul Coyle’s kind and selfless nature that sparked a friendship, which eventually led to evenings spent laughing and smiling at each other across their kitchen table.