Your Big Day

Real Wedding: Childhood sweethearts Leah and Kenneth tie the knot in Virginia Park Lodge

Leah and Kenneth met when they were thirteen years old.

Kenneth had overheard rumours that “Leah Sexton has a big crush on Kenneth Arkins”! Their friendship grew over the years and they officially became ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’ when they were eighteen.

Kenneth's proposal was as romantic as they come. He sent a bouquet of flowers to Leah in work, and the same day when she arrived home, he had a suitcase laid out for her with a list of what she should pack. It wasn't till they boarded the flight that she found out they were going to Rome.


When in Rome (!) the surprises kept coming. Kenneth had arranged a car to pick them up at the airport, driving them straight out for a romantic dinner with a special view point over the Spanish Steps of Rome where he finally popped the question and she said yes (more on that below!).

The couple planned a wedding that centred on music, love, great food and laughter, choosing Virginia Park Lodge as their setting. "We are big foodies so having Richard Corrigan in charge of the food, we knew it was a winner," said Leah.

There photos are by Berit Alits.

The Engagement

Kenneth proposed to Leah during dinner on a surprise trip to Rome "As the sun was setting I brought him over for a selfie," said Leah, "then I looked down and he was down on one knee with the most beautiful ring which he had designed himself." Kenneth had arranged for a secret photographer to be in the background to catch the special moment, which they did, before he whisked Leah off again in to see the sites of Rome from a private limo. "It's safe to say Kenneth planned the perfect proposal and it was a magical weekend!"

The Wedding

The couple tied the knot in Virginia Park Lodge in Cavan, where Leah's did is originally from. They fell for the venue on their first visit. "For us we really wanted to ensure that our wedding would be the only wedding in our venue on our special day," said Leah, "and having Virginia Park Lodge exclusively ours for the day was a big seller for us - along with the views on the lake!"

The Dress

Leah found her bespoke Suzanne Neville wedding gown in Kadee Bride in Athlone. It wasn't the first dress she bought however, as six months earlier she purchased a different gown; "It was in the first shop I had been to and I was just too excited about getting married" she admitted.

"I fell in love with the Suzanne Neville dress as soon as I saw it hanging," said Leah. "I loved the classic, simplicity of it yet it had fun, young quirks like the amazing pockets and the short hem at the front. When I added the amazing bespoke polka dot veil to the dress I instantly knew that I had found the perfect look. I loved the idea of transforming the dress into two looks with and without the sheer top. For the evening, with no veil and sheer top, I wanted to jazz up the dress so I bought the diamante belt in another bridal boutique in Athlone, Brummel and Co."

The Planning

Leah and Kenneth enjoyed viewing venues with their families, but as soon as they realised Saturdays were filling up fast, they were forced to narrow down their venue and make a booking! While Leah admits to spending time researching on Pinterest, the couple did little decorating for the day; "We didn’t want to spend money on gimics, our venue spoke for itself and didn’t need decorating - we loved the flower trussell in the  centre of the pavillion so we chose to have our ‘head table’ in the centre of the room beneath the trussell. We also made a conscious effort to be in the centre of the room so we can be with our guests and keep the dinner nice and intimate."

When it got closer to the big day, Kenneth took charge organising the finer details and following up with suppliers.

The Theme

"Kenneth and I love to travel and have done quite a lot of travelling over the past 11 years so we chose the theme of travelling for our table names," said Leah. Each of the tables on the day was named after one of the countries/cities the couple have travelled to along with a photograph of them i in that city ("which I spent the night before the wedding printing in Harvey Normans!")

"We were very lucky to borrow a beautiful map off a friend that used it for her table plan for ours, it was a good talking point for the guests and was super easy to do which had luggage tags pinned to cities we have visited with the guests names on them."

When it came to the flowers, Leah managed to do a bit of DIY to save some money on the day - and even started a tradition with a new Christmas decoration for the couple to put up each year!

"Since I started the Pinterest wedding planning I always wanted a real flower arch but I just couldn’t justify the prices some suppliers were charging," she said. "My mum bought me a very large pine artificial tree arch in a garden centre the December before the wedding and we used the amazing florist in Virginia Park Lodge to fill it with fresh flowers, we were amazed at what a transformation she did to our Christmas tree arch! We absolutely loved it and although we spent quite a lot on the arch in the end, it's ours to keep and we’ll be able to put it up every Christmas."

The Food

As Virginia Park Lodge only opens for events, the couple went to one of Richard Corrigan’s restaurants in London to do their wedding menu tasting. "It was such a memorable experience," said Leah.

"We had a difficult decision to make as we had to chose one dish for each course for all of our guests, so we brought our parents to London to help us make that decision. We had a four course meal which was spectacular. I am a vegetarian so I couldn’t pre-taste my dish in London as Virginia Park Lodge serve their veg fresh from their walled garden but I was not disappointed - I was served a full squash filled with deliciousness! Our guests were really wowed by the food and still talk about it." For the evening food, they were served fresh mini pizzas and croque monsieur, "which were devoured".

The Stand-out Moment

"When we sat down for dinner and I took a moment to watch everyone we loved in one room having a great time, it made all of the wedding stresses worth while," said Leah of their highlights from the day. "The ceremony itself was so touching, our Priest was so lovely and made the effort to get to know us in advance of the wedding day, he made the ceremony very special for us."

The couple also staged a ‘first touch’ moment on the morning of the wedding, captured beautifully by their photographer Berit Alits: "We both got ready in the house of Virginia Park Lodge that morning but made sure to keep the tradition of not seeing each other until the church so we met up for a moment behind a door and squeezed each others hands! With all of the nerves and excitement being felt that morning, this moment was lovely and calming for us both."

The Regrets

"I spent a lot of time searching for a sparkly rose gold backdrop to purchase for a DIY ‘selfie station’ but I hadn’t placed it in the right place in the venue so it was not noticed by any of the guests."

The Advice

"Please remember what you are planning and why you are planning it," said Leah. "We stressed unnecessarily about what our guests would think about this and that. It took a long time to do our guest list but we had to keep reminding ourselves that it’s not just a big party we’re inviting everyone to, it’s our wedding and we want the people who care about us and who we care about to be there for our special day."

The Honeymoon

Leah and Kenneth bought a house just before the wedding, and began renovating once the wedding was over. They went on a minimoon to Donegal, Sligo and Mayo where they followed the Wild Atlantic Way. "Although it wasn't a very glam honeymoon," said Leah, "it was perfect! We totally unwined after the wedding and packed the car and went. Ireland really is beautiful and we had the best week exploring our beautiful isle."