In the summer of 2011, Eilís visited the Earthsong festival in Ireland, a small off-grid gathering with lots of singing and music. “There was no electricity, and we were all cooking on an open fire,” she remembers. “I spotted Sam a few times but didn’t speak to him.”
Sam, who is originally from England but was living near Belfast at the time, had a free ticket to the festival.
“I was friends with the woman who ran the cafe and she offered me a free ticket to work there,” he says. Although he was officially a member of festival staff, everyone else pitched in to help, too. “As soon as you arrive, you put your name on the volunteer list. I had offered to wash up in the cafe,” says Eilís.
Although she thought Sam was “lovely”, she was too shy to talk to him. Other than exchanging pleasantries, they barely spoke during the festival. On the last day, she decided to take the plunge. “I wrote my name and number on a piece of paper as there were no electronics permitted. I didn’t even know where he was from – it could have been the other side of the world,” she says.
Sam was surprised but flattered. “She went bright red and then ran off. I remember thinking she had a nice big smile. I thought she was courageous to do it.”
He sent a text message the next day and asked for her email address. “We started sending each other long emails every day,” says Eilís. “I couldn’t believe how straightforward he was, so open and honest. He told me he wanted to settle down in a wooden house and have kids. It was really refreshing.”
Two weeks later, they arranged a date: a hike in the Mourne mountains in Northern Ireland, near where Sam was living. “It was a three-hour trip from Kilkenny and I took my dog,” she says. “We had separate rooms in a hostel overnight.” She arrived to discover that Sam had planned a picnic lunch. He led her down to a large slab of rock overlooking a picturesque river.
“I went to the toilet and when I came back, she’d disappeared,” he says. He soon discovered Eilís and her dog in the water below. “The dog had slid off the rock into the river and when I went to get him, it was too steep, and I fell in, too! It was absolutely baltic and Sam had to rescue both of us.” After changing into some dry camping gear, they went back to Sam’s house so she could shower. “I had a beautiful sheepskin rug and her dog pooed all over it,” says Sam. “It was a busy first date.”
They met again over the next few weekends and soon became an official couple. In October 2011, Sam’s mum died unexpectedly and Eilís offered to fly back to England with him to see his family. “We’d known each other less than three months but it felt right,” he says.
They moved in together in Kilkenny in 2012 and married the following year. Eilís is a youth worker, while Sam is a paramedic, and the couple have four children together.
“I love that Sam has always been open to change,” says Eilís. “When he retrained as a paramedic, it was really hard because he was away in Dublin a lot of the time. He did it because he wants what’s best for his family. It’s what he always wanted and he gives 100%.”
Sam admires his wife’s ability to keep her sense of humour, even when he loses his. “I’m the more grumpy one but we balance each other out. From the time I first met her, I loved how Eilís just takes life as it comes and makes the most of everything.”
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