The stories of the kisses that changed lives

There are kisses, and there are kisses – and then there are the ones that change everything. On St Valentine’s weekend, we hear about the kisses that won’t be forgotten


A kiss can change your life. In that arresting second your heart can soar with joy, race with passion, sear with pain, exhale forgiveness and sing with hope. This simple human connection of lips to lips, forehead or cheek can transform a friendship or a flirtation, reaffirm a familial tie, end a relationship or ignite a fire to recast the future.

It can destroy and heal, punish and soothe. From the moment we are born and held by our mothers until we die, a kiss will begin and end a thousand stories, and sometimes start them all over again.

There are the daily kisses with a morning goodbye or a child’s bedtime story, which let us know we love and are loved. Then there are those that stand out like your favourite lyrics in a song, etched into technicolour memories.

It may have been when that boy became Burton to your Taylor, or when you painfully closed the chapter with the person you thought was your forever. It may have been the knee-buckler outside the school disco, the one that was like an advert for a Zanussi super spin cycle, or the one with the person when you just knew.

Kisses are daily and ordinary and magical and transformative. They are a language all of their own, the inarticulate speech of the heart. No matter how old you are, where you come from, kisses are a truth that unite us all . . . And the best one is always yet to come.

Karyn Moynihan: The first kiss

“I remember this kiss so vividly because, technically, I was tricked into it. I was on my first date with my boyfriend, Aengus, and everything was going really well."

“He looked at me and asked: ‘Are you wearing fake eyelashes?’ Looking back, it was so obviously a line, but being a naive culchie in my early 20s, I fell for it and said no.

“He asked me to close my eyes, then leaned in and kissed me. It was a very sweet, light kiss and I burst out laughing and called him a ‘cheeky fecker’. I found out later he heard this line from a guy called ‘Sleazy Tom’, and I’ve never let him forget that.

“We met online almost eight years ago when the landscape of online dating was quite different. I lost count of the amount of times I saw the phrase: ‘If anyone asks, we met in a club!’ Aengus and I started emailing back and forth and eventually arranged to meet in Mulligan’s on Poolbeg Street. Luckily, that date led to great things and we are still together seven years later, so I’m glad he took a shot with a cheesy line.

“Aengus is just my favourite person to be around. He is caring, makes me laugh, and despite looking like a Viking lumberjack, he gets emotional at anything second World War-related, which I find adorable.

“You never know what a first kiss can lead to. It could even be a silly chat-up line that turns into an excellent evening, a long-term relationship and buying a house together.”

Karyn Moynihan, 31, is from Waterford and works as a graphic designer in Dublin. She believes the ultimate couple are Gomez and Morticia Addams.

Martin Dwyer: The French kiss

“My first experience of the French kiss happened shortly after my wife, Síle, and I moved to the Languedoc." 

I am a chef and together we ran Dwyers restaurant in Waterford for 15 years. In 2004 we got an offer for it and we bought a French presbytery to run as a chambre d’hôte. I always loved France for its culture, food and climate, and after years of holidays here, we made our dream come true.

“Adjusting to the culture meant learning the rules of the French kiss. The French are a much more physical race than the Irish. I never hugged my own father – well, I’m sure I did as a child – but here everyone is more tactile.

“My first ‘French kiss’ lesson came from our neighbours and friends Dani and Serge. At the end of their first visit, my life changed forever. Dani put up her cheek and with great clumsiness I kissed it.

“‘Non non nontrois foisen Normandie, nous sommes gourmands.’

“She required three kisses, and so began my introduction to the minefield of kissing in France. Problem one: how many? Here in the south, it is normally two; three in Normandy; and sometimes four in Paris.

“Problem two: do you actually kiss their cheek or just make the sound?

“Problem three: when? Normally, when you meet a friend and again when you part, but if they do something special you give another top-up thank-you kiss.

“Problem four: do you kiss children? Yes. One day I met a grandmother and granddaughter and, having kissed Mamie, I went to kiss the petite and she turned away. The wrath of Mamie’s hand on her ear meant I got a tearful kiss.

“Problem five: do you kiss neighbours who are not special friends? Yes, but only at New Year or special occasions. Ireland still has an awkwardness about men being affectionate, but thankfully it’s changing because I am a great believer in the benefits of a good hug.”

Cork-born Martin Dwyer, 66, is proprietor and chef at Le Presbytère Chambre d’Hôte in Languedoc, France, which he runs with his wife, Síle. They have been happily married for 43 years, so reckon they must be doing something right.

Antoin Beag Ó Colla: My first proper gay kiss

“The reason I remember this kiss so vividly is because it was the first time I truly I felt like me. This man wasn’t my first-ever gay kiss, the difference was it meant so much; this kiss was a pivotal moment in my life."

“I grew up in northwest Donegal and the other guys I had kissed were not out and actively tried to hide any trace of their sexuality. Growing up there definitely had a detrimental effect on my sexuality. It was religious, conservative and rural, and there was nowhere to go if you were gay, no outreach and no hangouts. There were no gay people, and if it was mentioned, it was always in derogatory terms. You grow up gay, thinking that it is the worst thing of all.

“All I wanted was to escape to Dublin. The kiss that night showed me that everyone was wrong. It felt so right, so sexy and, most importantly, so natural.

“It was 2003, in the George in Dublin, and I noticed a cute guy staring at me, so I went over and said hello. After some small talk, I just went for it. We had this long, lingering kiss and I never felt anything like it before. It was amazing.

“I realised I was gay when I was about 11. I struggled with it and became quite detached from everyone and everything. I was holding out for this new life in Dublin and assumed that when I came out my family would want nothing more to do with me. Luckily, that was not the case at all.

“This man had no idea of how significant this kiss was to me and, in a way, I wouldn’t like him to know. It was the normalcy of it that gave it its importance. In that moment, I went from being afraid of being who I really was to accepting it. It just felt right.”

Antoin Beag Ó Colla, 32, is a screenwriter from Donegal. He hopes to find his Mr Right in the modern Dublin dating landscape.

Angeline Ball: The first kisses to my children

“The kisses I planted all over my newborn babies’ faces were ones I will never forget. My first was my daughter, Katie, now 12; and then there was my son, Maxime, now seven."

“Those first kisses were like kissing the softest warm velvet. I could not have imagined the overwhelming love that I felt after they were born. All your atoms align for one moment, and all the love was pouring out of me on to these little bundles. It is mindblowing and very scary, meeting this little human that you helped to make.

“That surge of pure love is why people keep doing it, I guess. I waited for nine months to meet these little people – talked to them, sang to them, rubbed my belly, and that moment was the cherry on top. The floor goes from beneath you and you are suspended by this incredibly strong urge to love and take care of this little beauty.

“Before becoming a mother I dreamed it would be Disney-like and stress-free. Of course, all mums know it is really not like that. But like all of nature’s gifts, it is wonderfully balanced. There are days I want to tear my hair out or cry with frustration because maybe your child is crying because they didn’t get invited to a birthday party. You want to take that pain away, but sometimes we have to watch from the sidelines as they learn life’s lessons. Then there are days when they say something so beautiful and profound in absolute innocence that it makes you smile, and for that it is totally worthwhile.”

Angeline Ball is a Dublin-born actor and singer. She lives in London and is mother to Katie and Maxime. She likes to play the guitar and sometimes the fool.

Sarah Kearns: The first kiss as newlyweds

“We didn’t actually get the ‘you may now kiss the bride’ kiss inside the church on our wedding day, so that first kiss I shared with my husband, Robbie, as newlyweds was so special and euphoric. I remember thinking, ‘I am so lucky to have married this great guy’.

“We had a bit of serendipity when we met in 2010. I grew up in 27 Annesley Park in Ranelagh, my grandparents lived in 29, and I met Robbie at a party in 25, where he was then living. He opened the door and I knew that second he was the guy for me.

“Our first date was appalling: he took me to a horrifically boring book launch, which we laugh about now. We are total opposites and have 100 per cent nothing in common, but we fell deeply in love and work well together.

“Our wedding day was so chilled and all we hoped it would be. After the church we had a drinks reception in our house and hopped on the Luas for the reception in Fallon and Byrne, which was just brilliant.

“In my wedding speech I said thank you to Robbie for loving me for who I am and the way he does. I love being married. It is a symbol of unity and really cemented us and our baby girl, Charlotte, together as a family. I think the key to a happy relationship is liking each other. Robbie and I still go on dates that last for hours, and I love that we are great pals as well as husband and wife.” Sarah Kearns, 31, is a nurse and lives in Ranelagh with her husband, Robbie, and their daughter, Charlotte. Her idea of romance is home-made sandwiches and tea on top of a mountain.

Emily O’Callaghan: The Absence- makes-the- heart-grow- fonder kiss

“My girlfriend, Aoife, was arriving home from visiting her brother in Vancouver, and I was really excited. We hadn’t been together that long and I remember I was making her a Jamie Oliver soup as a wholesome antidote to plane food. As she walked in the door my heart was fluttering and we were almost shy with each other, but before she had even put her bags down we shared a long, gorgeous kiss." 

"We missed each other so much, and although we were already falling in love, that first kiss after time apart and all the texts felt so natural and like we had known each other years."

“We met last year when I won an Easter egg competition at her workplace and Aoife rang me to come and collect it. We hit it off immediately and talked about the upcoming marriage referendum, which was really important to us. We laughed about whether I could wear my ‘Tá’ badge in the photo for me receiving the egg, and she said I could. A few months later we finally got together and fell in love.

“Aoife impresses me every day. Kisses are magic because they are a very close experience with another human; they can say more than sex sometimes. You can lose yourself in a kiss and never want it to end. They are one of the best things about life.”

Emily O’Callaghan (34) is a massage therapist and photographer, originally from Blanchardstown. She once met Bill Clinton and has worked as a cobbler’s apprentice.

Brendan James: The when-you-know-you-know kiss

“It was a Saturday afternoon in 1971 at a golf event in Zambia when I first met my wife, Moya. I still remember the outfit she wore, a jumper and tartan miniskirt." 

I played dreadfully, but I did get to meet the woman who would become my wife. I was born in Belfast and she was from Sligo, and we were both working there, me as a teacher, Moya as a midwife. I knew she was something different. She was always thinking of everyone else, and still does.

“There was a kiss a few weeks after we met when I just knew. It was that real kiss, which many people know about, when two people know they are meant for each other and can make a go of it. You think: ‘That’s it, we can really have a future here.’

“We married in 1974 in Sligo. Zambia had become unsafe, and after our daughter Sonia was born, our priorities changed, so we moved to Belfast. Unfortunately, the Troubles had erupted there.

“Sadly, we lost our baby Anne-Marie in 1976 to pneumonia when she was 16 days old, but we got through it together. We went on to have our son Seán, but Belfast was very bad, so I changed jobs and we moved to Sligo in 1981. We later moved to Galway. Our son Ciarán was born in 1985.

“Money never motivated Moya and I. All we wanted was to look after our children and have enough to live. I’m now 75, and after I got cancer in 2010 I realised I had to make the most of life, which we do, and we have eight lovely grandchildren. All her life, my wife gave to everyone around her. I’m very lucky to have her.”

Brendan James, 75, was born in Belfast. He is retired and lives with his wife, Moya, in Galway, where they love spending time with their grandchildren. 

Carmen Bryce: the break-up kiss and the make-up kiss

“I will never forget the parting kiss with Dáire who was, for a time, my ex-boyfriend. It was a cold, miserable Tuesday, and we met for a stroll by the sea in Clontarf for what we knew was going to be our break-up." 

There were joggers and cyclists and everything seemed normal, but here we were and it was ending. The kiss was the hardest part because I thought it was the last kiss we would ever have. I knew that once it ended, we were over.

“We were together for around a year before we broke up. I had been badly hurt before we met and didn’t want anything serious. Looking back, I kept him at arm’s length and didn’t feel I could make him happy. The break-up floored me. It was very painful, but I felt I didn’t deserve to be heartbroken because I ended it.

“The hardest part was not keeping in touch. The not knowing how they are, if they’re hurting as much as you, or if they moved on. A year-and-a-half after we broke up, I was still thinking about him a lot, so I called him. I remember shaking like a leaf and it seemed like forever before he answered.

“He was warm and friendly, which was a huge relief, and we agreed to meet for a chat. I knew when I saw him I made the right decision picking up that phone. After a lot of talking, we decided to give it another shot. It was a big risk, but luckily it paid off.

“I will remember the kiss when we reunited forever. It was pretty unromantic, in a drizzly, rainy car park. I had a cold and was a bit snotty, and in the excitement there was some clashing of teeth. Hardly The Notebook, but it was us. The relationship is great, not perfect by any means, but we’ve learnt from the bumps.

“Parting kisses and reuniting kisses have so much meaning. You feel those butterflies and realise your vulnerability, how a person can potentially hurt you or make you the happiest you have ever been. It is worth it, though; it is what life is all about.”

Carmen Bryce, 31, is from Down and works as a communications officer in Dublin. She feels she is a true romantic.

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