How I met my partner: Romance takes centre stage, starring Irene and Denis

Irene Kelleher, from Ovens, and her now husband, Denis O’Sullivan, had both been cast in Kilmeen Drama Group’s production of A Whistle in the Dark when they first locked eyes.
How I met my partner: Romance takes centre stage, starring Irene and Denis

Irene O'Sullivan and Denis O'Sullivan on their mini moon in Venice.

A CORK couple recalled how their on-stage chemistry sparked rumours among co-stars who were happy to have played a part in their touching love story.

Irene Kelleher, from Ovens, and her now husband, Denis O’Sullivan, had both been cast in Kilmeen Drama Group’s production of A Whistle in the Dark when they first locked eyes.

However, Denis confessed he had first fallen for Irene after seeing her in another play. The actor was likely disappointed when she had to rush away after he attempted to congratulate her and strike up conversation.

Irene Kelleher celebrating her wedding with Denis O'Sullivan. The couple met through their mutual love of acting
Irene Kelleher celebrating her wedding with Denis O'Sullivan. The couple met through their mutual love of acting

Irene, who shares a daughter, Marie, with Denis, let The Echo in on how their love story began.

“Denis and I first met when we were both cast in Kilmeen Drama Group’s production of A Whistle in the Dark, directed by the late great Tim Coffey,” she said. “Denis had seen me in a play earlier that year and apparently came up to me afterward to say ‘well done.’ He had hoped to start a chat but I said a quick ‘thanks’ and toddled off! ‘She didn’t even break her stride,’ he said in the wedding speech!”

Denis remembers that night well: “The first time I ever saw Irene was on stage back in 2010,” Denis said. “I was blown away by her talent and still am to this day. After the show, I plucked up the courage to approach her in the theatre bar, but she, ever-so-politely, blanked me. Years later she claims she was rushing out because her dad was waiting in the car, but that didn’t help my confidence back in 2010.”

Luckily, Denis was to get a second chance at love.

Irene Kelleher and Denis O'Sullivan while on honeymoon in Iceland. 
Irene Kelleher and Denis O'Sullivan while on honeymoon in Iceland. 

“A few months later when we were cast in the same play, we got to know each other as Denis had offered to drive me to rehearsals,” Irene said. “Through many, many months, on dark, winter nights, driving down to the depths of West Cork, we got to know each other and became good friends. It wasn’t until six months later while on tour, we sealed the deal with our first kiss in one of the most romantic places of all, The Coachman’s Inn in Roscommon. We went on to do a second play together later that year, Disco Pigs, in 2011 and by then we were already inseparable. There was certainly plenty of chemistry on and off stage.”

The Cork IT professional was initially nervous about revealing his true feelings to Irene.

“Over the next few months we shared the car journeys up and down to rehearsals,” Denis said. “We hit it off immediately and became really good friends. To be honest, I was besotted with her from the moment she sat into the car, but I was willing to play ‘the long game’ – the car journeys would have been very awkward if I told her how I felt and got shot down.”

Denis claimed it was Irene who made the first move.

“As it turns out, I played ‘the too long game’ and it was Irene, probably frustrated by my inactivity, who eventually made the first move,” he said. “In hindsight, our exchanges had become flirtier over the weeks, and I’m surprised I hadn’t spotted the signals.”

Irene outlined the qualities that attracted her to Denis.

“The first day I sat in the car I thought he had the most fabulous smile and his laugh is so infectious. 

"He was funny, really friendly, and I recognised straight away that he was someone who had a quiet confidence, really natural and at ease. I think now, having been together 11 years, that I have never met anyone who is more comfortable in his own skin than Denis. As I got to know him more, I realised Denis is the kindest person I have ever met and I am the luckiest woman in the world. ‘Be Kind’ is a phrase that is all too casually bandied around now but Denis has that inner kindness that can’t be taught and it shines through to all who know him.”

Irene and Denis have stuck together through thick and thin.

“When I lost my beloved Daddy in 2017 after a long battle with cancer, Denis was by my side and his strength and endless love helped me and allowed me to grieve. I think one of the things that make us work as a couple is we are very much an equal partnership. We are incredibly close but we always make time for our friends and when one of us is working, the other accommodates and vice-versa. I think it helps too that we both don’t work in the arts, Denis works in IT and has a huge interest in the arts, especially theatre. We have so much in common, but also have our own interests too. I have zero interest in sports and Denis hasn’t too much interest in spa days.”

Irene is looking forward to a bright future with Denis and their daughter Marie.

“We got married in 2016 and have travelled many places together: Iceland was one of the highlights; Mexico; island hopping in West Cork during lockdown was another; and we have had many adventures.

“Our biggest one yet came last December in the form of our wonderful daughter Marie. She took a while to get here, but when she did she was more than worth the wait. She is our little miracle and our greatest treasure. Here’s to many more adventures to come.”

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