Celebrating a dream Italian wedding – at a safe distance

July 8th, 2020 2:25 PM

By Southern Star Team

Last week, despite social distancing, Emer married her Italian partner, part of a ‘virtual’ ceremony that was shared with her parents and friends in West Cork

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Last year Skibbereen woman Emer Downing had organised a dream wedding in Bergamo for this June. Little did she know back then the tragedy that was to befall her adopted home town. Last week, despite social distancing, she married her Italian partner, part of a ‘virtual’ ceremony that was shared with her parents and friends in West Cork

LAST week, my Italian partner and I tied the knot in our beloved hometown of Bergamo. When I was back in my native Skibbereen over February mid-term, I hugged my family goodbye, expecting to see them again for our dream wedding in Italy. We had planned to nip to the City Hall to do the legal part and then, two days later, have a symbolic ceremony and say our vows in front of our friends and family with Lake Iseo as the backdrop. You all know what happened next in Lombardy.

When Bergamo was in a very bad way, our thoughts were far from weddings. As things began to improve, we decided to get legally married when it was safe. At the start of June we were given an appointment at City Hall to book our civil ceremony. Meanwhile, we had a good laugh at the jewellers when asked if we wanted our wedding date engraved on our rings. Less than three weeks before our wedding, we didn’t even know when it would be!

Preparations were most unique – we had fun putting together our wedding favours – little jars of Ballymaloe Relish with a bag of confetti (traditional sweets eaten at Italian celebrations). I had fashioned some face masks out of a lace top and some ribbon during lockdown. However, mine didn’t quite match my cream and gold graduation dress. When shops reopened, I searched for something I could use to make a new bridal mask. Lo and behold, I found exactly what I was looking for – a pair of lacy knickers, which I fashioned into a stylish face mask (see photos, right)! It was tough knowing that I would not be saying ‘I do’ in front of my family and Irish friends and that my father would not yet get to walk me down the aisle. To ease the homesickness and include everyone, we created a Facebook group to share a live stream of the ceremony and post photo updates of the afters.

We decided to make the most of it, so started the day, masks on, getting primped up by our hairdresser friends. We had a quick video chat with my parents who had got suited and booted, ready to toast us from the laptop. After the ceremony, we took to a restaurant in the medieval part of Bergamo followed by a few drinks in the piazza with a small group of friends. Finally, we had a toast over video with my parents and my brothers to recount all the details.

Further down the line, I’ll finally get to slip into ‘the’ dress, celebrate with and embrace all of our loved ones when the world has healed. I’m proud to finally be married to my other half and we have had such fun and excitement during this rollercoaster journey. And, as us Irish love to say, ‘Sure doesn’t it make for a great story to tell!’

To read Emer’s blog post about her post-lockdown wedding day, see


So, it turns out I HAD Covid-19 – at some point

By Emer Downing

LAST week, my husband and I went for two of the 50,000 free serological (antibody) tests that Bergamo’s local government is offering. So far it has been reported that around half of people tested have been positive for coronavirus antibodies.

Our two-person household reflected that statistic with me being positive for antibodies and my husband testing negative.

To be honest, I wasn’t surprised. From mid-March to the end of April, I had respiratory problems. Being prone to allergies and only having registered a very slight temperature once, a doctor told me over the phone that I didn’t warrant a test. He told me that I should stay isolated, check my temperature and alert them if my symptoms changed or worsened. I was also pretty wiped out but I put this down to being incredibly busy with work while getting used to the demands of teaching remotely.

Just before my symptoms started, my partner and I decided to self-isolate as a precaution. This in-house social distancing may well have been the reason he didn’t contract coronavirus.

By mid-April, all the allergy-like symptoms were still there along with some breathing difficulties. I would get out of breath just speaking to people on the phone and I couldn’t exercise.

I went to the pharmacy who advised me to ring my GP. Neither my doctor nor his substitute were contactable so I rang the out-of-hours service. They called me in straight away (only on the condition that I wore gloves and a mask). There, a doctor dressed head to toe in PPE told me to double up on my antihistamines and prescribed me a Ventolin inhaler. This was the first time I’d needed an inhaler in about 15 years! Sure enough, a few weeks later I was able to take the inhaler less and less, cut back on the antihistamines and feel normal again.

I did wonder at the time if it could have been Covid-19 but I went with the doctors’ diagnosis of ‘allergic asthma.’

I didn’t think about it too much more until this past weekend when I found out that I had Covid-19 antibodies. It’s quite possible that those symptoms in March and April were caused by the coronavirus.

It’s also possible that I was positive but asymptomatic at an earlier or later point. I’ll never know this for sure. If those symptoms were Covid-related, it means that I caught it during the two-week period where Lombardy had shut schools but not yet closed bars/cafés/restaurants or ordered people to stay home.

I just hope I contained it in isolation and didn’t pass it on to anybody else.

The antibody test was a simple blood test. Less than 24 hours later I logged in to see my results and, a few hours’ later, received a text prompting me to book my nasal swab on the site.

Today, much to my relief, I logged on and discovered that I have tested negative for Covid-19. I am once again a free woman, delighted to get back to enjoying life safely out and about again!

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