Nestled in Co Tyrone in the quaint village of Killyman is the Old Rectory, built in 1748 and lovingly restored in 2o15, this venue is steeped in Irish history. Chantale Belkhiri married James Dougan in a beautiful and personal ceremony with a relaxed garden party-style reception on the 6th of August 2023. The beautiful day was captured by High Violet Photography.

The couple met eleven years ago as first-year students at Queen University Belfast. Chantale was studying Chemistry and James Chemical Engineering, so the two shared a few modules and had some mutual friends. At their first meeting, James roasted Chantale for wearing a Run DMC t-shirt, she doesn’t even think they said hello to each other! "He thought I was shy and reserved which I was but more so I thought he was really rude." The couple has been together for nine years this February and married one year in August so it's safe to say Chantale is well-versed in James' sense of humour these days!

The proposal wasn’t exactly a surprise to Chantale after seven years so they headed off to Belfast the week before and chose the ring together. James has great taste and knew what she wanted but they made the decision to do it together and had an amazing day. "Then the following week when we were walking our two dogs Annie and Dudley on our favourite beach (my happy place) I turned around and saw James on one knee with my 11-year-old puppy Annie wearing a bandana reading “Will you marry my dad”."

The biggest part of Chantale's beauty journey was joining her PT group and concentrating on nutrition – two things she had never done before but has kept up with since the wedding! She doesn’t typically wear a lot of makeup so the brief was natural but glam and for hair, she went for a Hollywood wave. "I think my biggest fear was not looking or feeling like me but Stephanie, Alison and Emma were an absolute dream and I was delighted with how it all came together." For her perfume, Chantale stuck to what she knows, Miss Dior, light summery and familiar!

Our bride had intended to go dress shopping in Ireland but on a visit home to the UK, her sister organised an appointment at a bridal store in Liverpool, so her sister, mum, aunt Denise and Chantale went for the craic! Chantale had snooped on their Instagram and saw one dress she liked. When they got to the boutique, she let everyone choose dresses and the only one Chantale chose was the one she had seen online. "Each dress was lovely, but they just weren’t me. We all knew it was my dress the moment I tried it on. I was worried it might be too much considering we were having more of an informal garden party vibe, but my family saw me straight. Unfortunately, I lost my aunt not too long before the wedding. I was incredibly close to Denise and I’m so grateful I got to share that experience with her. Our last picture together is where she is beaming with happiness at me in my dress, it’s such a special memory for me." In a weird sense of fate, after the wedding, Chantale's friend found a photo from a little engagement celebration the girls had thrown where they had brought bridal magazines and cut-out photos of their heads to “try on dresses”. Sure enough, the picture on her highlight reel was Chantale's head on her future wedding dress! "Not one of us remembered it but we had all unknowingly chosen my dress a year before I chose it!"

James had complete decision-making with his suit and didn’t have any involvement except for Chantale vetoing a black velvet suit when he tried to go rogue, 6 months after he had said he would be wearing a blue suit and they had built the entire colour scheme around that! He and his two best men went to Marks and Spencer where they got the suits, shirts and ties done and dusted a matter of weeks before the wedding. "That’s very typical of James always lands on his feet on the first try, although he did end up trawling around Ireland and the UK trying to locate the last available size for one of his groomsmen."

Chantale had five bridesmaids, her sister Dominique, sister-in-law Amy, two best friends Freya-Anne and Catríona and niece Eliza, plus her two nieces who were the flower girls! Her biggest concern was making sure the girls were comfortable, so she only asked if the dresses were blue. Dominique and Freya-Anne were both maids of honour so went with the same Grecian-style maxi dress. Amy went with a pale blue ruffle wrap dress. Chantale had been a bridesmaid for Catriona the month before and she wore the same dress she had for hers but in blue! "As each dress was chosen, I became increasingly worried about the shades of blue not matching which wasn’t helped by the fact I didn’t see it come together until the day due to geographical restrictions! But when I saw my girls on the day it was just perfect, I was so proud to have them standing by my side, my something blue!"

Neither James nor Chantale are particularly religious so the pair agreed early on that they wanted a non-religious ceremony. The couple had heard about humanist weddings so did a little research and came across their future celebrant Liz. The two completed a questionnaire about themselves and sent it to Liz before the wedding for her to work her magic. "From the moment I saw James (and he saw our dog Annie who was walking me down the aisle) it was just perfect. Our mothers both did readings for us, our sisters were our witnesses. We finished off with a whiskey quaich and walked out to the highway to hell and I don’t think I have ever been happier. I just loved that it was how personal it was, Liz was just the best!"

The only criteria James & Chantale had was that they wanted their two dogs Annie and Dudley present! So, Chantale narrowed her search to dog-friendly venues and the list shortened very quickly. They saw a few beautiful places, but everything felt very formal and to be blunt cookie cutter, it just wasn’t them. Chantale was scrolling on Instagram one night and an advert popped up for the Old Rectory Killyman, the first thing she spotted was their Irish wolfhound Leah and she was sold. "I’ve never really known what our wedding would look like but when we viewed the Old Rectory Killyman the entire vision just came to life. What I loved most about the venue was how beautiful the grounds were and the unique feel it had." The couple were able to choose their food vendor so went with an afternoon tea tray bake selection and ice cream for the drinks reception with prosecco, Guinness and cocktails followed by a BBQ. The ceremony was held in the venue's new garden room, the drinks reception in the outdoor bar and the evening in the marquee. "The whole day was just so us, the relaxed garden party vibe with our dogs and loved ones was everything I never knew I wanted until I saw our venue. Ryan did the most incredible job at capturing it in all its beauty."

The entertainment for the day was Top of the Popz. Chantale came across them online. James is so fussy when it comes to music so she was dreading the task of finding someone he would approve of but finally, they got there. "They guys were unbelievable, they had the best energy and engaged with the crowd. Going from live music into a DJ set they kept the party going from start to end!"

About the best decision, Chantale said, "I think it can be very easy to get caught up when you’re planning a wedding, to do what’s easy or go along with what others want. The best thing James and I did was to stay true to us puppies in tow. I know having dogs at your wedding might not be the most convenient thing to do, but when you love your dogs as much as we do I couldn’t have imagined it without them!"

About the worst decision, Chantale said, "The venue had a wedding the night before ours, so I wasn’t able to get ready onsite on the morning of. I booked an Airbnb nearby for the night before and morning with my bridesmaids, but we had to check out by 12 pm and couldn’t go to the venue before 1 pm. The Airbnb were very accommodating, but the morning was chaotic, to say the least, so I do wish I had booked the following night so that we could have enjoyed our morning without the mad panic that ensued!"

- Gráinne