As husbands they remain platonic friends. They were stunned by the reaction

Love comes in many guises. It can start at birth, or can be for people we’ve never met. As Valentine's Day approaches we look at love in all its forms

 Learning to love: Deborah Somorin
"I'd start to fall in love with a foster family's dog or something, and then I'd have to move"

For Deborah Somorin, whose childhood was spent in and out of care, love is something she had to learn to accept. "My whole childhood, I never wanted to relax or feel like I was home, because there was so much chaos. I'd start to fall in love with a foster family's dog or something, and then I'd have to move, so I shut myself off from that."

Somorin’s mother, who had suffered from depression, died by suicide when Somorin was a teenager. “I miss her every day. I think we would have had a much better relationship now,” she says.

Somorin ended up in emergency accommodation for homeless people, before finding a place in residential care in Dún na nÓg in North Dublin, which is run by Ciara Marjoram and Alan Buckley. "I arrived like this typical 14-year-old, with my arms crossed. At first, I completely refused their parenting. But eventually, through seeing the things they were doing for me, I thawed. Love is something I had to learn to accept, and it was an amazing thing for me to feel secure for the first time in my life."


Somorin became pregnant, and gave birth to her son, Liam, when she was 15. All through the pregnancy, she worried that she wouldn’t bond with the baby. “I just did not know how it was going to go. I’d never even babysat before. But I just took to it, and everything in my life was around him.”

Now 24, Somorin recently passed her chartered accountancy exams, and will qualify in October when she finishes her training contract. She is campaigning for the establishment of student accommodation for young parents from disadvantaged backgrounds. “I want people to be able to get to a place where they can stand on their own two feet, and break the cycle.”

What does love mean to her now? “Liam,” she says instantly. “He’s my definition of love. When I think of love, I think of my son.”

– JO’C

Love between friends: Matt Murphy and Michael O'Sullivan
A love story that captured hearts and headlines last year was that of friends Matt Murphy (85) and Michael O'Sullivan (58), who married in December so that they could avoid paying inheritance tax. They are now gearing up for their first Valentine's Day as a married couple.

“We’re getting on fine,” Murphy says, “It’s the perfect situation . . . I’m treated like royalty. I have the car door open for me, I have help getting into a car.” O’Sullivan is happy with the arrangement: “he was treated like royalty before as well”.

Their story came to light when Murphy rang Liveline on RTÉ Radio 1 to praise the Mater hospital. He didn't intend to reveal his upcoming nuptials, but mentioned it to whoever took the initial call, "and when I got on to Joe, he already had it on his screen," Murphy says. As husbands, they remain platonic friends, and were stunned by the reaction their wedding received, "It's been unbelievable," O'Sullivan says, "The story has gone as far as China, Turkey, Russia. There was a TV station from Berlin at the wedding."

Living in Stoneybatter, Dublin, Murphy and O’Sullivan deal with a steady number of people recognising them, and congratulating them, “I was working in London recently,” O’Sullivan says “and this guy – an Irish guy – came up to me saying ‘fair play’. He had been badly burned in the recession,” O’Sullivan says, and perhaps liked seeing someone beating the system in their own small way.

O’Sullivan was recently tidying the house and found two Valentine cards from two different years sent by his youngest daughter to Matt. O’Sullivan uses this as an example of how powerful and meaningful platonic love can be. “There is no sexual relationship, obviously, between my daughter and Matt, but there is love. My daughter is the most empathetic character you will ever meet. How you love someone doesn’t have to be through the conventions of what we’re told love is. Love is not just sexual, there is so much more to love than those conventions of relationships . . . If you love someone, send them a card. If you’re not in a sexual relationship, it doesn’t matter.”

Murphy concurs, “Every human being should appreciate another human being. Where there’s love, appreciate it. The world is full of malice and hate. There is so much anger and aggression. We should be there to help each other.”

– UM

Love at first sight: Alastair and Casandra Liddell
"There was a sense of inevitability about it from the start"

"It was like I'd known her for 20 years. Half of my brain felt like it was the most natural thing in the world. And the other half of my brain was going, 'what's going on?' There was a sense of inevitability about it from the start," says Alastair Liddell of his first meeting with his now wife, Casandra.

They met in Transylvania in January 2012. Alastair Liddell – who is from the UK – and a friend had flown there on whim, and planned to stay three days. "We went to the airport and got the first flight out. That flight happened to be to Cluj Napoca", the fourth biggest city in Romania, and the unofficial capital of Transylvania.

On the first morning, Liddell went to a café, looking for wifi and shelter from the temperature of minus 21. “I saw a beautiful woman sitting at the table next to me. She was wearing black leather pants and a black top, and drinking a cappuccino.”

Neither can remember who spoke first, but they struck up a conversation about the weather. Eight hours later, they were still talking, having discovered a shared love of theatre. Three days later, Liddell found himself unable to leave.

“I felt that I was falling in love that first day, after we’d been talking for hours,” says Casandra. “It’s hard to believe, but it just happens. It was like meeting somebody who was an extension of myself.”

He stayed, and within a month, they had moved in together. "Four years later I proposed to her at a performance of Giselle, the ballet, in Bucharest."

Now, they live in Waterford, with their two-year-old daughter, Giselle. "We took a trip to Waterford in February 2017 for Casandra's birthday and for the second time in our lives, we both felt that connection at first sight. We knew instantly it was where we wanted to raise our family."

– JO’C

Saving lives, loving others: Mark McGibney, RNLI Volunteer
"When we get the job done and we bring the people safely ashore, you can see the love for what they do in all the volunteers' faces"

A love of the sea is the first thing any RNLI volunteer should have, says Mark McGibney. “With that love goes respect. They go in tandem,” he says.

McGibney – who is the coxswain of the Dún Laoghaire lifeboat – uses the word 'love' often when he's talking about the life of a volunteer. "There are 28 crew members in our panel in Dún Laoghaire, and when that pager goes off, you've no idea what you're facing. It might be something routine, or it might be a major catastrophe in Dublin Bay. When the training comes together, and we get the job done and bring the people safely ashore, you can see the love for what they do in all the volunteers' faces."

Carrying that pager 24 hours a day, 365 days a year is a huge commitment, which affects all aspects of your family life and your working life, he says. “You can’t just throw the kids in the car and go to the top of Killiney Hill, because you know you won’t make it back down and on the water in eight minutes. So even to do something like that, you’ve got to get someone to stand in for you.”

There's huge love, respect and empathy between the RNLI volunteers and their rescue partners in the Irish Coastguard, the HSE, Dublin Fire Brigade and the helicopter teams operating Rescue 116. The four members of 116 who lost their lives are never far from the volunteers' minds. "We have the greatest of love and respect for all our colleagues in Rescue 116 – they're our umbrella and our back up, and we are theirs. There's a few of them we miss working with hugely."

Becoming a volunteer means putting “your heart and soul into it” he says. “It all comes back to a love of the sea, and a love of what we do.”

Respect the Water, the RNLI's drowning prevention campaign, is being run for the second year in partnership with the GAA – JO'C

Love found on TV: Shannon Whelan and Ciara Smyth
Shannon Whelan, from Dublin, was convinced to sign up to First Dates on RTÉ by her friends, who thought she'd be hilarious on it.

The format of the television show is simple and brilliant. Two people who (presumably) have never met, grab a pre-dinner drink, have a date in a restaurant, and then see what happens. “I thought ‘I’ve nothing to lose, I’ll go for a bit of fun.’” Her date was Ciara Smyth, from Monaghan, “Ciara felt the same way I did about the whole thing. The fact is we only went on to have a good night and a good time. Six months later we’re still together.”

Waiting at the bar on the date, Ciara strolled in and ordered two baby Guinness. A sign of things to come. “There were definitely a lot of nerves. We were just laughing together,” Whelan says, “We didn’t get to know each other that night. We were both very drunk as well. Half the bill went on alcohol. She came up to Dublin the next weekend, so we got to know each other a bit more.”

Six months on, they see each other about twice a month. “It’s all a bit surreal,” Smyth says, “I wasn’t desperate or anything. I went for it for the sheer craic, and the experience of being on a show. It worked out obviously great, like. We’re mad about each other.”

Beginning a relationship on television has the added element of that relationship being somewhat public. Smyth says people approach them frequently, recognising them from television. “We never thought it would blow up so much. It was probably my accent that pulled people in; you probably wouldn’t hear an accent like it on the telly too often. I’ve a bit a farmer head on me.”

Back in Dublin, the recognition continues, "Last night, I was in The George," Whelan says, "and I saw one of the resident drag queens, Regina George, at the bar. I went up to ask her for a picture, and she turned around going 'Oh my God, I loved you on First Dates!' I was like, 'This is not happening!' That was definitely the most starstruck moment I've had."

Recently, in Sligo for the weekend, the couple were in a local nightclub when Maniac 2000 came on, a song they bonded over during their First Dates appearance. Plenty of people in the crowd in the club recognised them from television, and when the song played, Whelan says, "it was like the whole place was dancing with us." – UM

Love after loss: Benji Bennett
"My love for Adam is my love of life"

When you lose someone you have loved greatly, the love doesn’t go away – it just finds other ways to express itself, says Benji Bennett.

Bennett describes a gorgeous summer's evening in Brittas Bay, Co Wicklow, ten years ago, when his four-year-old son Adam was playing outside with his two brothers, Harry and Robbie, as the day the sun shone on Adam for the last time.

Later that night, Adam began complaining of a headache. Three days later, he was dead, from a previously undiagnosed, aggressive vascular brain tumour. “Everyone will tell you that time is a healer. And it is. But you have to wind your own watch. You can’t just stand at the bus stop, waiting for the bus to take you away from grief. You have to walk to the bus, and you have to get on the bus,” he says.

Even a decade on, the loss still cleaves Bennett in two. But right from the beginning, he had a strong instinct to turn the love he and his wife Jackie felt for Adam into a positive message for other parents. After Adam’s death, Bennett had a desire “to let the world know how special he was. I turned to Jackie and I said, ‘We will get through this, we love each other, and we have no regrets’. But we have to remind other parents to make sure they never have any guilt or regret about time not spent with their kids.”

Bennett began writing books for children, as a way of keeping Adam’s memory alive, and reminding parents to spend time at the end of each day with their children. His message is simple: tell your kids you love them, and bring them outside in nature.

“My love for Adam will never change. He’s in the sun, he’s in the water I swim in, he’s everywhere, he’s in every part of nature. So that’s why I love nature. My love for Adam is my love of life.”

Adam Saves the Seasons by Benji Bennett is on sale now. – JO'C

A single parent's love: June Devaney and Nathan
"However we get there, we will have a good and joy-filled life"

When June was 18 her son Nathan was born and “the volcanic burst of love was indescribable”. The future petrified her: ‘How am I going to get us through this? Inside I was a scared child grasping on to my own mother, wanting her to never leave my side.”

But she made a promise to her newborn baby: “My heart to yours. However we get there, we will have a good and joy-filled life. I promise to do my absolute damnedest to provide you with everything you need, and with opportunities to grow up feeling happy and loved.” Today, “I still hold on dearly to that promise.”

Because it’s just the two of them, the relationship is more intense than in a larger family. There was a feeling from the beginning that they were in this together.

They moved 40 minutes away from friends and family when Nathan was four so June could start a degree. “That certainly intensifies the presence in each other’s lives. When things go well, or go wrong, during the week, it’s just the two of us to support or celebrate the other person in their misfortunes or achievements.”

She says people placed bets on how long it would be before she dropped out of school after having a baby, but Nathan slept on her chest as she studied and sat her Leaving Cert. Today Nathan is nine and a half and in third class, and June has finally got a first class honours degree. “We got through it together, hand in hand. And now we are both embarking on new and great things.”

Nathan has brought her “more joy than I could ever have imagined”.

“I teach him about nature, people, science and academia. I try to show him the world. But he teaches me about love, life and laughter – the things I sometimes overlook and forget. He helps me remember the most important things,” says June.

“Last night as he held my face and kissed each of my eyelids before he went to sleep, I knew for sure that no matter what happens, we will be okay.” – DF

The love of an organ donor: Vivienne Traynor and her nephew Martin Traynor
"I promised him he would be there next year with his new kidney"

Vivienne Traynor’s nephew Martin, her brother’s son, is just nine years younger than her, so “it was never the traditional aunt-nephew relationship”. The age gap seems even smaller now they both have young children.

In his mid-20s, Martin’s kidneys failed suddenly; he had been living with a kidney condition, IgA, which escalated rapidly. She was a healthcare advocate for him, while he concentrated on staying well and coping with dialysis. A number of people in the family went forward for transplant but Vivienne was chosen, and it went ahead in 2009 in Coventry.

“Without trying to play it down, it just seemed like the practical thing to do, to donate my kidney. I had researched it as much as I could and I knew doctors would not do it if they did not think it was worth it. I could see how miserable life on dialysis was for Martin. I remember in particular one weekend when all his friends were at a music festival and he was too unwell. I promised him then that he would be there next year with his new kidney,” says Vivienne.

"It happened, and we celebrated together at Electric Picnic the next year! We were only seven weeks post op but it was the best feeling in the world to see him so happy and healthy and living life to the full."

But the donated kidney lasted just over four years, and Martin went back on dialysis. He had another transplant and has been very well since. “It’s not something we talk about much. We have an unspoken bond and I think that will always be there. He makes sure I’m getting my annual check-ups and will always be looking out for me, as I will for him.”

Donating a part of yourself to another is a significant act of love. “The process of donation was a wonderful experience and one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was a privilege to be part of it.” – DF

Love between identical twins: Anne-Marie Tomchak and Sinead Ranalow
"I don't know what it's like not to have someone who was with you since before you entered the world"

“My identical twin Sinead just rang me on Facetime and we realised we were wearing almost exactly the same thing,” says Anne-Marie Tomchak. “Sometimes we do things the same without realising it.”

Identical twins Anne-Marie and Sinead McNerney grew up in Longford, and dressed alike as children. Now adults, they live very different lives, Sinead in Dublin with three young children, and Anne-Marie in London, heading a global media company. But although separated, "we still lean on each other for support in what is going on in our lives, without judgment, and share each other's experiences".

When she was doing wedding invitations Anne-Marie realised she could trace friends back only to age 17. “At school we had each other and were always together,” and only at different universities did they start building friendships beyond each other.

The depth of feeling with twins is greater, compared with anyone else, says Anne-Marie. “The empathy and feeling are on a different scale,” though she stresses “that is not to diminish how we feel about our other siblings”.

“When I had my heart broken, the effect on her was quite grave. The other person is part of you; you have the same DNA. And she physically looks like me as well.”

When Sinead married at 26, “I felt I should have been giving her away, not our Dad. I realised it was a new chapter in her life; she would have new priorities. [She changed her name and entered a new family.] At the time I was finding my way and there was no stability in my life. We were on different paths.” That was exacerbated when Sinead had children and “the bond had to loosen. It was emotional for me. I was extraordinarily happy for her as well.”

“Being a twin is a huge point of identity. I don’t know what it’s like not to be an identical twin, not to have someone who was with you since before you entered the world,” says Anne-Marie. They have a “profound and emotional involvement” with each other, and when one is going through a difficult time, it affects the other’s wellbeing; they feel each other’s trauma. – DF