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Toni and Chris
Toni and Chris met in middle school, because Toni's brother and Chris became best friends. But it wasn't until a decade later, in 2009, when they returned to their hometown post-college, that they started dating. Seven years after that, the St. Petersburg, Florida (she's an assistant brand manager and he works for a sporting goods retailer), pair were hiking at Bok Tower Gardens, when Chris asked Toni to smell the flowers so he could take a photo of her. When she turned around, he was on bended knee, and she was totally surprised. But it was a resounding "yes" and the couple set a date seven months out, for September 8, 2016.
Talks of honeymoon ideas before the actual engagement had spurred the idea of an elopement. "Ireland came up as it was a bucket list trip for us," Toni says. "And a dream of mine since I was a little girl had always been a wedding on a cliff near the water." So the idea was hatched. Chris had also recently researched his family tree, with a lot of information pointing back to County Galway and the Aran Islands of Ireland. While looking at photos at the islands, the couple was in awe. "The small, secluded feeling with the vast image of the landscape speaks for itself," Toni says.
They got in touch with Michelle Johnstone Clark of Waterlily Weddings LLC, who got them started on the legal stuff and pointed them in the direction of their Celtic priest officiant. Once they spoke to him, there was no doubt that it was the right decision, and so once the proposal took place, the couple expressed their plans to family and friends. A few people asked to come, and Toni and Chris turned them town. But eventually, two of their best friends basically said they'd be in London and then at the wedding after. So there it went. Toni's parents were next, then her brother, then her uncle and cousin and so on. "We literally didn't invite anyone," Toni says. "They essentially invited themselves, but it wouldn't have been the same without any of them. That group of people has always looked out for us and knew that they should be a part of our wedding. And they were right."
So with a dozen loved ones in tow, the duo journeyed across the ocean to the small island of Inishmore, so pertinent to Chris’s heritage, and so key in fulfilling the bride’s childhood dream, for a tradition-filled ceremony in a historic temple followed by a low-key celebration.
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The west coast of Ireland can be very wet and foggy in September, and a heavy storm was threatening the afternoon of the wedding day, so the couple moved the ceremony up an hour in hopes that it would help. Miraculously, the rain held off an it turned out to be a picture perfect, overcast Irish day. The skies opened just as the couple and their guests walked in to their reception.
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Chris picked Toni's engagement ring all on his own—with just a little guidance from Toni as far as the cut of stone she prefers. One night, Chris was showing Toni images of rings just to see which one she liked. "When he showed me my ring, I jumped out of my chair and said 'I’ll say yes right now!,'" Toni recalls. Little did she know, he'd already purchased that very ring. And in that moment, he knew he'd done an awesome job.
For their wedding bands, the bride and groom picked out their own rings—picking something that represented them individually instead of opting for anything that matched. Chris went with a white gold band that was half frosted and half polished. Toni chose a Rebecca Overmann pavé feather band.
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Chris wore a three-piece suit from ASOS, and Toni donned a Maria Luisa Rabell dress and cape. Before she was engaged, Toni was browsing online and saw a story featuring a stunning wedding dress photographed by D'Arcy Benincosa. Toni reached out to the photographer to find out the gown's designer, and in talking to the designer, discovered the caped number. "I wasn't too into the idea of wearing a traditional veil over my head," says the bride. "So when I saw the cape, I was instantly in awe. It was different, timeless, and suited my personality."
Also to her surprise, that initial inquiry to D'Arcy evolved, and Toni and Chris ended up booking her to document their wedding abroad! "Not only did I get connected to the designer I had my eye on for more than a year, but I scored an exceptional fine art photographer," Toni says of the fortuitous events!
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A Mignonne Handmade headpiece adorned Toni's loose updo. It could be worn in the front or the back, and the bride chose the latter. Made of raw brass, and hand-assembled, wired, and soldered in the south of France, the piece also boasted rhinestones, glass rhinestone chain, and gold-plated alligator clips to keep it in place
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"I was sitting on the bus waiting to leave for the ceremony and Toni's older brother and his girlfriend walked on. She handed me an envelope and small box. It was a beautiful card from Toni and when I opened the box I saw the locked with my parents' wedding photo in it," Chris says. "My parents passed away when I was younger so this was immeasurably special. It was unexpected and literally took my breath away."
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A Moment with Mom
"One particular favorite moment was the morning of our special day, when my mom knocked on my bedroom door and asked me to come with her as she had a surprise," Toni says. "So I took her hand as she led me to the double French doors of the entrance of our bed and breakfast to view the mega rainbow that was gleaming outside. It was such a special moment. I remember telling myself that Chris's parents were there with us and that the day was going to be magical."
Here, Toni and her mom share a sweet embrace.
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An Old-School Arrival
The bed and breakfast the couple stayed at helped arrange for a horse and carriage to transport the bride and her parents to the ceremony.
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Toni was escorted up the hill and down the aisle by her father, David, and mother, Jo.
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A Ritual-Filled Ceremony
The ceremony began outside of St. Ciaran's Monastery, where the groom circled the bride (just as the sun circles the earth every day) and then Toni placed her hands in water from a nearby well as they prayed for fertility, womanhood, and for the bride as a wife and mother. The service was led by Celtic priest and monk, Dara Molloy, who tailored it to the couple. "He did an incredible job of linking our spiritual connection to the world around us to the Christian roots of our families," Chris says. Overall, it was a natural and peaceful service, with genuine feelings of connectedness, love, and enlightenment, not just between the couple, but with the everyone there.
Later, the group moved on to the standing stone, which symbolizes male fertility and power. Here, the couple celebrated the man getting married. The groom then places his hands on the stone, and they pray for virility, manhood, and for the groom as a husband and father.
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Tying One On
The couple tied a piece ribbon to an old tree to bring them good luck.
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The group ventured into the historic monastery for the next phase of the service.
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The Old Monastery
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Inside, at the altar that had been used by monks for over a thousand years, Toni and Chris stood facing each other and made their vows, exchanged rings, and had their hands tied in a Celtic hand-fasting, before receiving a blessing of the four elements from the priest.
"Standing inside the monastery the moments after I read my vows was an intense feeling," Chris says. "I worked really hard on them, writing and re-writing until they expressed exactly how I felt. I choked myself up a little bit, but I think I got through pretty decently and once I made those promises to Toni out loud, I was never surer of them and I felt the responsibility to the commitment I was making."
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Help from Friends
After the couple touched fingers through the hole in the sundial to finalize the contract of marriage and passed a silk scarf through an ancient sundial while making wishes, two friends passed it through three times while giving a blessing for the pair out loud.
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A Wedding Bell
"There was a group of workers using equipment down the hill from the monastery and they stopped working out of respect for our ceremony," Toni says. "The bell symbolized the end of the ceremony and the men went back to work. It speaks to the character of the island and just a small detail that helped make the wedding special."
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All Together Now
Twelve of the couple's loved ones joined them, wearing colors that matched the landscape and played off the lushness. Guys were asked to wear black suits and white button-up shirts, and the ladies were asked to wear flowy maxi dresses in the gray family. The group was made of mostly family members, with four long-time friends in the mix.
Of the intimate size of the guest list, Toni says, "If I had to give advice to a couple embarking to get married, the biggest thing I'd suggest is to only surround yourself with those closest and dearest. And who truly understand you as individuals and your perspective of life."
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The party eventually moved out to the main area of the pub where a local musician played.
After the newlyweds' time in Ireland (they stayed a week for their honeymoon) they returned to the D.C. area and kept the celebration going—with about 70 people joining them for food and drinks and cake and speeches at where else? An Irish pub!
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Photography, D'Arcy Benincosa
Ceremony Location, St. Ciaran's Monastery
Reception location and catering, Joe Watty's Bar
Event planning, Waterlily Weddings, LLC
Flowers, Mulqueens Florists
Videography, Luke Lindgren Cinematography
Officiant, Dara Molloy
Calligraphy, Corsivo Calligraphy
Bride's gown and cape, Maria Luisa Rabell
Groom's suit, Asos
Horse and buggy, Thomas Faherty Tours