‘Are you going to marry me or what?’ When romance meets rescue mission

Joan and John Gallagher met in June 1983 after a Lough Key windsurfing session went wrong. Now, they're gearing up to open their own hotel in Spain
‘Are you going to marry me or what?’ When romance meets rescue mission

Joan and John Gallagher met after Joan got into difficulties whilst windsurfing on Lough Key.

In 1983, Joan Tuohy (64) was living and working in Boyle, County Roscommon. One summer’s day she was out windsurfing on Lough Key when she got into difficulties. 

“It’s quite a big lake and when the wind changed I realised I wouldn’t make it back to shore,” Joan says. Luckily, she was able to raise the alarm and her friend, who had a speedboat, came to her rescue. Also in the boat was a young man she didn’t know.

“I had been away at university and had just come home,” John (62) says. “My friend asked if I could help to rescue Joan — it’s quite hard to pull a person and their windsurfing board into a boat alone.” They sped out across the lough and John helped Joan out of the water. 

“He had a Mars bar in his pocket and when I got in the boat he took it out and asked if I was hungry,” she says, laughing. “I thought he looked very handsome.” He remembers that she looked “very stranded and cold” in her bathing suit.

That night, John and Joan both went to the same fancy dress party and quickly hit it off. “I fancied him as soon as he rescued me, but I didn’t know he’d be at the party,” says Joan. They began meeting up regularly. 

John was attracted to her good looks and independent spirit. “We had a lot in common and I remember being impressed that she owned her own house,” he says. “We had so much fun going out windsurfing and doing all these outdoor activities and then catching up with friends in the evening for food and drinks.” 

In the early days, their relationship was quite casual but it slowly drifted into something more serious. “He used to say ‘Catch you later’ instead of arranging dates, which used to annoy me,” says Joan with a laugh. “But, in a small town, it was always easy to bump into each other when we went out.” 

John and Joan are hoping to open Priorat Aparthotel soon. Picture: Michael Mawson.
John and Joan are hoping to open Priorat Aparthotel soon. Picture: Michael Mawson.

Two years after they met, she was keen to start a family. “I said to him: ‘Are you going to marry me or what?’ And two months later, we got married. I think both our mothers thought I was pregnant.” 

They had a simple wedding at Ballintubber Abbey, near Castlebar. “John wasn’t really in a rush to start a family, but I was a bit older and he understood the situation,” says Joan. The first of their four boys were born in 1986.

The couple had always wanted to live abroad and, after Joan’s mother died, they decided to give it a go. In 2001, John was working in construction in Ireland, so Joan moved to Sitges, in Catalonia, Spain, with the boys for a trial. 

“At first, they hated it but then loved it and wanted to stay,” she says. “John visited every month for a week and then moved out permanently two years later.” 

Since deciding to live there full-time they have worked in hospitality and, four years ago, moved to Falset, a village near Tarragona, to build a new property. They're hoping to open their new Priorat Aparthotel within the coming weeks. “It’s the worst timing because of Covid and lockdown, but we’re making it ready for when hotels reopen,” says John. “We’re decorating it with all the art I’ve collected over the years.” 

The couple has two granddaughters and a grandson who was born seven weeks ago. They live with their dog, Luca, and their cat, Rose Flower Rainbow, named by one of their granddaughters (“You’re never allowed to shorten it,” says Joan). 

John loves his wife’s commitment to their family. “Through all the ups and downs, we can still always enjoy a glass of wine and food together,” he says. She appreciates her partner’s tolerant nature. “I’m not easy to love; he’s very patient,” she says. “We have a lot of fun together and that’s what it’s all about.”

  • The Guardian

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