Where we’re at: I’m recapping my travels in 2019, including this trip to Ireland in June.
Well, I never expected this post to be a memorial one.
I’ve struggled greatly with how to share the wedding I attended in Ireland in June. It was a trip overflowing with happiness and joy — the epicenter radiating from Gemma and Tommy, a couple who found love on a Banyan barstool. And it is now a memory that seems more precious than ever given the shocking, heart-wrenching and sudden news of Tommy’s passing in the final days of 2019.
As the months have passed, grief and memories have flowed through our Koh Tao community, and as I reached this point in coverage of my 2019 travels, I asked Gemma how she’d like to me to proceed.
She replied bravely that she wants Tommy to be remembered always, that she wants his story forever told, and that she wants our love for him to be eternal. While it went against my first instinct, upon reflection I realized I relate so deeply. Having said so many heart-wrenching goodbyes in 2019, I too know that the only true death is to be forgotten. And Tommy never will be. We will be sure of that.
So I want to share this wedding day the way we lived it — full of anticipation, joy and goodwill.
I first met Gemma, I believe, in 2009, on my very first trip to the small island in Thailand that would become my home. Over girl’s nights, Banyan conversations, sunset happy hours, flying trapeze lessons, hikes through the jungle and crafternoons, our friendship grew. I can’t quite recall when I really got to know Tommy — he just seems like one of those characters that was in your life forever. I think probably Ian, who he was dear friends with, first introduced us at Banyan.
I knew something was up when suddenly everywhere I turned it seemed Gemma was there, beaming. I’d never seen her quite so happy. It turned out she had a good reason to be — she was dating Tommy on the sly. Soon the secret was out, and after an entire adult lifetime as an expat in Thailand, Gemma was packing her bags and selling her businesses to move to Dublin with her Irish love.
I was thrilled when they announced their wedding for at the Farnham Estate in Cavan, a scenic hamlet in Ireland straight out of a movie. I knew, despite my own delicate circumstances at the time as a caregiver for my terminally ill mother, that I had to be there. It’s a testament to their friendship that so many people came together from around the world to celebrate for them. It was nice to have such a personal, love-filled reason to visit Ireland, my 41st country.
The trip consisted of a few days in Cavan for the wedding and a few days in Dublin playing tourist. From the moment our ferry from Wales pulled into the Emerald Isle port, we were overwhelmed by Irish hospitality. From our cab driver who had not a clue where we were going but was absolutely determined to give us advice to the jolly waiter at the cafes we stopped through warning us about the pace of Irish weddings, I’ve rarely felt more welcomed. I could see how Tommy became, well, Tommy.
I’d driven to Cavan with Ian and our friends Janine, Ben, and Kathryn. Gemma had asked me to teach a yoga class the morning of the wedding but when rain threatened to alter all our outdoor plans, Janine and I had an ace backup plan: take advantage of the estate’s expansive spa. We spent the day working out, wandering through various saunas and steam rooms, splashing around in the pool, experimenting with mud masks, and getting excited about the evening ahead.
We simply couldn’t wait to see our reprobate friends all dressed up in their Irish wedding finery.
And soon, it was time to head to the magical manor for “I do’s.”
This photo, of us seeing the exuberant groom for the first time, has become one of my most cherished of the day. It captures every ounce of the sheer joy we felt.
And soon, we were all seated for the ceremony.
While Irish Catholic weddings are somewhat formally structured, the bride and groom still managed to make it their own.
And Gemma, the girl so gorgeous we nicknamed her Lady Gemma, had never been more radiant.
After the ultimate kiss, the real celebrations began.
How amazing that these two brought together so many people from all across the world?
I loved seeing all of Gemma’s beautifully crafted details around every corner. This girl managed to get creative and craft even from a remote tiny island in Thailand — no wonder she made her wedding so personal, too.
And, well, it wouldn’t be a Banyan wedding without a tribute to our old favorite bar…
Needless to say, the guest of honor was Gemma and Tommy’s beloved dog Marc, who had made the journey from Koh Tao to Dublin and was clearly adjusting well to life as an expat.
That suit! I just couldn’t get over the level of cute.
I cannot tell a lie — after attending a Scottish wedding years ago and making the horrible mistake of choosing not to wear a fascinator, I couldn’t have been more grateful to Gemma and Tommy for choosing to get married on Irish soil, as tempting as a Koh Tao beach wedding may have been. I can’t imagine a better way to see Ireland than to celebrate the wedding of one of its finest residents, and I can’t imagine a more fun way to notate the excitement of a wedding day than to wear feathers and flowers upon one’s head.
And gosh, did us forever flip-flop wearing girls love getting the chance to gussy up. I can’t remember the last time I took so many smiling photos (and that’s saying a lot for a blogger.)
We weren’t the only ones doing so. I swooned when I saw these photos from the official wedding photographer. What an incredible love they captured.
With the sun setting, it was time to kick off that part of the Irish wedding everyone kept winking at us about — the party. Yes, the Irish know how to have a good time!
Speeches — and bubbles, of course — are one of my favorite parts of any wedding, and I loved hearing Gemma and Tommy’s family and friends share stories that alternated between heart-warmingly familiar and delightfully brand new. The Banyan table’s highlight was a tribute from Tommy’s lifelong best friend Billy, an infamous pair from island to island.
Another classic Gemma touch? The cake was made of cheese. No, not cheese cake — just various rounds of good old cheese, with homemade jams of old secret family recipes. I adored it.
Once the toasts were made and tables were cleared, we hit the dance floor. And in true Koh Tao style, we hit it hard.
It was a night to remember.
And Tommy’s is a life to remember. Though bittersweet, I love looking back on this day, and all the many years the people in it shared in so many small special islands around the world. Sadly, now, we will always be united by the loss of this great man, a loss no one feels more poignantly than his wife and family.
Tommy taught all of us something. As someone who can quite easily get wrapped up in her to-do list or retreat into her own mind, I want to be inspired by Tommy’s gift for making any occasion joyful, for making every person he spoke to feel like the most fascinating, important human in the room, and for demonstrating such fierce loyalty and friendship, from every corner of the globe.
We miss you, Tommy with a T.
rest in peace <3