How Cork couples keep their 'spark alive'

For the day that’s in it, EMMA CONNOLLY asked some popular Cork couples for a sneak peek into their relationships; what keeps them together; what drives them nuts, and most importantly how they keep that elusive ‘spark’ alive
How Cork couples keep their 'spark alive'
Peter and Debbie Stringer

Today is Valentine's day... so for the day that's in it, we asked some popular Cork couples for a sneak peek into their relationships; what keeps them together; what drives them nuts, and most importantly how they keep that elusive ‘spark’ alive

Debbie and Peter Stringer and son Noah.
Debbie and Peter Stringer and son Noah.

Debbie and Peter Stringer, who wed in 2015 and had baby Noah in 2017.

LIKE lots of Cork couples, Debbie and Peter Stringer first met in the Bodega. But unlike most other couples, they had their first official date in Rome.

The pair met in the Cork city centre bar 10 and a half years ago, having being introduced by a mutual friend.

Debbie remembers: “We laughed a lot the night we met which is always a good sign. Peter actually went on tour with Ireland for five weeks a few days after we met and we ended up speaking to each other every day on the phone.

“I think that is really how we got to know each other and realised pretty quickly we had great chemistry. We went to Rome the day Peter came back and had our first date there.”

They got married in Spain back in 2015 and welcomed baby Noah in April, 2017.

With Peter based in Dublin while he’s starring in RTÉ’s hugely popular Dancing With The Stars (DWTS), suffice to say things are busy for the young family.

“We have a lot going on separately and together. Peter works away a lot which we are very used to and we make the time we do have together count,” says Debbie.

Like any couple, she acknowledges they work at their relationship.

“We’ve realised that we are a great team and that together we can get through most hurdles. Every couple needs to work at their relationship and we are no different. Life is very busy for both of us and especially now that we have Noah so we make sure we listen to each other always and still make time for dates and laughing,” she says.

Although Peter’s snoring has been a challenge in recent years!

“He never used to snore but got a knock on the nose when he was playing for Sale, and the snoring started which absolutely drove me crazy. But Noah arrived soon after as did the sleep deprivation so now I’d sleep through anything,” joked Debbie.

“For us it’s the little things, knowing you have a best friend to share everything with and that you’re being listened to. Showing appreciation for things and being affectionate is so important. We are planning a get-away for a night, just the two of us which we haven’t been able to do yet since we’ve had Noah, but we always try and schedule regular date nights which is lovely.”

Peter is also clearly a romantic, if dancing to his wedding song, A Thousand Years by Christine Perri, in a recent DWTS show is anything to go by.

“The words he said in the VT were very special,” admits Debbie. “We’re not big on Valentine’s though but we might go for dinner if we are in the same city!”

Their tips for a good relationship?

“Communication for us is so important and not holding anything in if there’s something on our mind. If there is something one of us wants to do we always work to try and fit it into our lives. Also, just spending quality time together as a family and laughing,” said Debbie.

Cliona O’Connor, Leanmeanmomma, married to DO.
Cliona O’Connor, Leanmeanmomma, married to DO.

Cliona O’Connor, Leanmeanmomma, married to DO

ACCEPT the annoying habits and remember you have some too. That’s the advice from award-winning blogger Cliona O’Connor, who enjoys an enormous following on social media where she shares lifestyle, health and fitness tips in her likeable, non-preachy way.

Originally from Kilworth and living in Douglas, she married Kerry man DO 10 years ago in the former Sheraton Fota.

“Randomly he is O’Connor and so was I before marriage (and obviously after too!). Now this is where it gets funny — his mum and dad were O’Connor too. And now the scary turn — his brother Dan married an O’Connor also! He is one of nine siblings so I guess chances are one would marry an O’Connor but still — what are the chances?”

Her followers rarely catch a glimpse of DO on camera (Cliona explains it stands for Dermot Oliver — ‘his parents shortened it to DO as Dermot was his Dad’s name too’), and as parents of four, she says they’ve a lot going on.

“Our relationship is busy — I supposed anyone with young kids would say the same. Plus my husband works long days and is away quite a bit. It’s always all go in our house,” she says.

The couple have been together for 17 years in total, dating for seven before getting married, and Cliona says they’ve ‘mellowed over the years.’

“We can quite happily sit in silence now — comfortable together but not even bothering to chat if we are tired. Not because we have nothing to say to each other but because we just know when the other needs to zone out.”

But obviously, like all couples they each have little habits that annoy the other.

“I drive him insane with my epic dishwasher stacking skills — I’ve become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy in that department now though. I’ve just given up so I fling stuff in as I know he will rearrange the whole lot anyway, so why drive myself mad trying? But he cannot turn off a light switch ever — it drives me insane.”

She says they’ve less time for each other over the past few years but they do make a conscious effort to pencil in some time to go out together and do something.

“We definitely make an effort to get out together every so often. We go to Orso in town or sometimes we walk two minutes down the hill to the Maryborough Hotel for a drink. Any night we are both home we always end up sitting on the sofa with a cuppa at the end of the day too. I hate talking on the phone so it’s good to spend some time having a catch up in real life.”

And her relationship tips?

“Have a good babysitter — they are worth their weight in gold! Not even for nights out either but get someone to come in so you can even grab a coffee some time.”

Cliona admits that she doesn’t even know what day Valentine’s is this year.

“We generally don’t go out especially for Valentine’s. We went to a fabulous evening in the Maryborough Hotel last year that coincidentally was the night before Valentine’s so DO announced that he was off the hook. I’ll get him a card — assuming he’s not away!”

Lucy Wolfe and husband Alan.
Lucy Wolfe and husband Alan.

Lucy Wolfe, one of the country’s best known paediatric sleep consultants, married to Alan Burke

AS a teen she served him half cooked chips to get rid of him when he came in to the chippers where she worked — now, 20 years and four children later, the pair say they’re best friends.

“We met in the summer of 1993 when we were both 17, Alan had done his Leaving Cert and I was going into 6th year,” Lucy recalls. “We met in The An Brog on Oliver Plunkett Street. One of my friends was going out with one of his friends, we had a laugh that night and Alan asked to see me again. I worked in a chip shop on the Grand Parade and told him he could pop in. I wasn’t that sure about him and when he did pop in the next day I served him half cooked chips to get rid of him (or perhaps as a test!) but he was persistent — waited to walk me home after work and then that was it from then on.”

She admits that initially she thought he was very funny and might just be a ‘good distraction for the summer,’ but Alan says for him it was ‘love at first sight’.

Amother of four children, aged 16, 14, 11 and 8, Lucy, who lives on the South Douglas Road, says their relationship is easy-going for the most part.

“We jog along. It doesn’t feel like hard work, just comfortable, and intuitive. Don’t get me wrong we have our moments, but mostly we are relaxed with each other and we know each other very well.”

Alan jokes: “We do have our moments but then Lucy reminds me that she is right!”

Lucy acknowledges that getting older has helped them mellow and realise not to sweat the small stuff.

“I think that when the kids were really young, it’s easy to lose yourself in that busy-ness and tiredness — it is just full-on and unrelenting, in those first few years. But now it seems less intense, although challenging in different ways as teenagers are hard!

“Now, though, I think we see the wood for the trees and are keen to ensure that we are intact as the kids grow up — that we still enjoy each other’s company and have the same goals and interests.”

Alan added: ‘The best thing about the two of us is that we are best friends, we get along together and like the same things. We have even mastered working together, from different rooms.”

The couple share the load whenever they can.

Lucy says: “My job takes me away from home frequently and he does everything to make that easier. Each person pitches in with the cooking, washing, bedtimes, etc. That way for us there is no resentment.”

But of course they do have their annoying habits.

“Alan has the worst memory and can never remember things that I have told him or where he has put something. It drives me mad as I cannot fathom how you can move something and not know where you put it… or completely deny that I told you I was going out on such and such a night or the kids need to be somewhere at 6pm… he does snore too!”

Alan quipped: “I’m sure something drives me crazy… but I can’t remember.”

The couple renewed their marriage vows five years ago in Vegas.

“The kids were with us, Elvis married us, it was fun, but then I think that sums us up,” said Lucy.

Their top relationship tips are to be kind to each other and to do small things like buying a bar of chocolate, filling the tank with petrol for each other, sending a text to say thanks or to find time to relax without kids — easier said than done, they admit.

Lucy says: “Also, never make the task more important that the relationship — yes, it helps if you can draft in support, a cleaner, a babysitter and have time out for yourself and well as together. But we are happiest watching TV and eating a packet of biscuits!”

For Valentine’s, Lucy says she always says ‘no’ flowers — but Alan insists.

“I’ll leave it to the last minute — he’ll definitely get a card and maybe a box of Maltesers!”

Sarah Lucey and Maxime.
Sarah Lucey and Maxime.

Sarah Lucey, from Mallow, manages celebrities for a high profile club in Miami and is married to Maxime.

Sarah Lucey and her husband Maxime are hoping they’ll get to spend this Valentine’s Day at home with a McDonalds and Netflix.

“A cosy pyjamas evening as we don’t get many of them,” said Sarah, who is originally from Mallow and is now living in Miami with her Paris-born husband.

Considering the two of them have been key figures in running the exclusive club STORY on South Beach for the past eight years, it’s not surprising that they long for something more domestic. She’s the director of talent, scouting for DJs and celebrities; while Maxime is technical director, managing sound, lighting, etc, and effectively they work side by side.

The couple met in Miami on Christmas Eve back in 2011.

Sarah remembers: “My visa was up a few weeks after so I had to go back to Ireland. I never dreamt we would have remained seeing each other long distance but we did. I summer, 2012, he decided to leave Miami so we could be together. We worked that summer in Ibiza together. Looking back, working and living together so fast was outrageous but we did it.”

They moved back to Miami in November, 2012, and have been there ever since.

“He proposed after nine months and we were married within two years of meeting, in a small fishing village in France where he spent his childhood summers,” said Sarah.

Sarah Lucey and Maxime.
Sarah Lucey and Maxime.

What attracted them to each other, she thinks, is the fact that they had a similar upbringing.

“Living abroad, you meet so many characters and personalities from different backgrounds. However, when looking for love, especially abroad or even maybe at home, you seek a partner with similar life values, sense of humour, religious beliefs, etc.

“We would have had a very similar upbringing. Sense of humour is important to both of us as well, we love to laugh (even if it’s at each other) and so too is having an ambitious work ethic.”

Sarah says their relationship is ‘very Irish, if that’s a thing’.

“It’s very normal. Maxime thinks he’s Irish. Both our parents are married for over 40 years so they taught us a lot.”

The pair look on their marriage as being like a business.

“You need to be smart if you want it to last. Laugh daily, look after each other. Just be kind. Compliment each other every day,” says Sarah.

“Even if his top is ugly, tell him he looks like Brad Pitt. Treat others how you want to be treated. But that’s not just marriage. That applies to everyone.

“Compassion is vital. He may be stressing over something that wouldn’t phase me but it’s important to always be kind. Trust is also key in our game, communication and living each day as it comes. We don’t stress about the future. We nip negativity in the bud. Positivity is vital.”

Regarding habits that drive each other crazy — do they have any?

“Yes, but we don’t bicker. Don’t bark at them for leaving dirty clothes on the floor, etc. Life’s too short.

Trevor and Jennifer Ryan, with daughter Annabel.
Trevor and Jennifer Ryan, with daughter Annabel.

Jennifer Ryan is married to Trevor Ryan, director of the Montfort College of Performing Arts

THERE’S possibly such a thing as peaking too soon in a relationship and it’s hard to imagine topping a proposal on the Opera House stage before a packed audience!

But since Trevor Ryan popped the question to Jennifer O’Sullivan in that very way, and baby Annabel arrived six months ago, it’s become all about the simple things in life for the popular pair who live in Grange, Douglas.

“Naturally, the biggest and most romantic gesture was the surprise proposal on the Opera House stage during the last night of the pantomime! But these days it is definitely about the little things — a coffee in bed after a restless night with the baby, dinner handed to you and some TLC after a long day,” said Jennifer.

A quality scientist who was involved in amateur shows, Jennifer met Trevor during a production of Sweeney Todd in the Opera House in 2010.

“Trevor directed and we got on really well. We took the long way round then but eventually got married in 2017!”

What was the attraction?

“Trevor is hilarious and still makes me laugh like I did when I first met him. Laughter and humour is a huge part of our relationship and keeps us going on the tougher days.”

But she says their outlook on life is not to sweat the small stuff.

“We’ve gone through a lot in the last few years, Trevor changing career, getting married, having a baby — but it has made us really appreciate what’s important in life and how lucky we are. We try to make the most of every day.

“Our lives are super busy! Trevor runs the Montfort College of Performing Arts and as anyone with their own business knows, the hours you have to do are endless and unpredictable. He’s so passionate about what he does though and works extremely hard. We make sure to try to balance out the long hours with quality time as a family and as a couple (when my mum and sister, chief babysitters, oblige!).” Talking and listening are essential in their relationship, says Jennifer.

“It’s so important to keep the everyday constants in your relationship, even during the testing times — making sure to talk to each other, ask how each other’s day was, putting the phones away and just listening.

“Sundays have always been our date night from the very start and we try to keep that for proper time together — even if it’s just an evening at home with a movie and a takeaway. We go to London once a year for a weekend of shows so we always have that on the horizon as our thing to look forward to.

“My parents taught me never to let the sun go down on an argument and it’s very good advice. Talking things out is so important and just getting something off your chest can help hugely without letting it fester and you can move on then.

“Life is so precious and each day is a gift so we try not to over- think things and enjoy every minute of life as much as we can. And just laugh and have fun wherever possible!”

Valentine’s is nothing too special for the pair.

“Valentine’s Day is just one day — treat every day like it’s Valentine’s Day!” says Jennifer.

Shane Casey and fiancee Honor Carroll
Shane Casey and fiancee Honor Carroll

Shane Casey, who plays Billy Murphy in The Young

Offenders, is engaged to Honor Carroll

HE may play a macho criminal in the hugely popular The Young Offenders, but Shane Murphy said he had no problem with his fiancée recently teaching him to drive.

“She even bought me flowers when I passed my test and was probably more delighted about it than I was,” said the Cork actor, who is living in the capital with Honor.

Also from Cork, she’s a drama therapist currently completing her doctorate in psychotherapy. The couple have been in a relationship for four years and engaged for two, and haven’t set a date yet for their ‘big day’.

“We’re waiting for someone to sponsor it,” joked Shane.

The two were friends for years having met through drama circles in Cork. And Shane said they are very conscious of ‘working’ on their relationship, and even have an arranged ‘check in’ every few weeks.

“We go for a coffee, put our phones way and have a conversation about what’s going well and what’s not going so well, and what we need to fix.”

As an actor, Shane acknowledged that his job can bring a variety of pressures to the relationship.

“The best way to test a relationship would be to be out of work for a while. My work is seasonal and comes in fits and bursts but we always support each other going through new things.”

In the relationship he said it was important, in the words of comedian Chris Rock, to know when to play tambourine and realise that not everyone can be the lead singer.

Having enjoyed major success in The Young Offenders, Shane now enjoys a certain profile.

“I find myself being recognised, which is a strange phenomenon. We were way on a break recently and someone came up to me to have a picture taken. But I am very grounded and know that none of that is real and they just want a picture of the guy in the show and not me.”

They also divide the house into different zones, playing to each other’s strengths.

“I look after the kitchen and the cooking while Honor takes care of the bedroom, even though that sounds dodgy! It’s not a very traditional set up, we let each other do what we’re good at, although it took a while to figure out.”

Regarding Valentine’s, Shane said while they were ‘foodies,’ he couldn’t think of a worse night in the year to go out.

“We’re not romantic in the traditional sense but we know how to create a comfortable environment for each other and how to make the mundane special like lighting candles while watching Netflix.”

Outside of tying the knot, next up for the pair is to collaborate and write children’s books in the near future when Honor has completed her studies.

“We’re very supportive of each other and see other as a unit,” said Shane.

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