Lockdown hit — and, overnight, wedding photographer Deryck Tormey’s busy 2020 diary was empty.
Rather than wallowing in ‘what-might-have-been’, Tormey looked to see what good could come from this.
“Many people were cancelling wedding dates and other occasions. I thought it’d be nice to do something to mark the days that should have been,” says the Co Dublin-based photographer, who decided to offer people a free photo — in return, they’d donate to one of three charities: Saint Joseph’s Shankill (leader in dementia care in Ireland), Pieta House, and Bumbleance, the children’s national ambulance service.
‘Mark Your Day’ soon had requests from all over Ireland and Tormey — still restricted to 2km and eventually 5km — recruited a network of photographers. Very soon, he had 35 on board from 15 counties (“it was a bit tricky to find a photographer 2km from a house in Ballyhaunis, but we did it”) and the project was at 200 requests for photos.
People wanted to mark cancelled or postponed weddings, first communions, confirmations, significant birthdays, babies born — even a puppy adoption.
“People work so hard to get to occasions like weddings, confirmation, first communion. Children for confirmation and first communion wore their outfits for the Mark Your Day photo — when the event runs in six months they won’t fit into these clothes. Mark Your Day gave the special day meaning, so it’s not just a postponed date,” says Tormey.
Mum-of-three Paula Solan gave birth to son Quinn in January and was barely out of the “newborn haze” when lockdown started. It was a relief of sorts — she had husband Jonathan were worried their baby’s immature immune system would make him vulnerable to anything six-year-old Finn or four-year-old Sebastian might bring home from school.
“Lockdown was challenging and lonely at times,” says the Lusk-based mum, who missed weekly get-togethers with her breastfeeding group of mums, and having family around.
“Just having someone to hold the baby for 10 minutes or to bring the others to the playground, but playgrounds were closed and my mother in lockdown in Wexford.”
Pre-lockdown, the family had thought about holding a ‘welcome to the world’ party for Quinn on Paula’s mother’s birthday on May 29. When a mum on WhatsApp mentioned Mark Your Day, Paula jumped at the chance.
“There was such excitement! It was the first day during lockdown we didn’t have a battle to get the boys out of their pyjamas! It was the first day I properly blow-dried my hair. The boys coloured the cobblestones outside our house with rainbow-coloured chalk. Jonathan dressed in holiday gear and we spent the whole day outside. It was so uplifting.
In Shankill, HSE environmental officer Alannah Goggins — handing out Covid-19 info in Dublin Airport just before lockdown — realised her wedding to Nick O’Kane mightn’t happen on May 30. Though disappointed, the mum-of-two put things in perspective.
“Some people were getting ill. Some had family in nursing homes. A postponed wedding seemed small.”
She heard about Mark Your Day on Facebook. On what was supposed to be her wedding day, Alannah donned a long, white summer dress (“my wedding dress wouldn’t fit — I hadn’t been able to get it altered”), her eight-year-old, Cara, put on her flower girl dress and mother and daughter did a 4.5km run around Shankill and up the beach to Killiney.
“I wanted to teach Cara about doing something to give, especially when charities needed help.” Alannah’s bridesmaids came with gifts, and the family got takeaway dinner from the hotel where they would have had their reception.
“With us all stuck indoors, Mark Your Day was just a nice thing to do, that someone would take a photo and we’d make a donation to charity.”
But for lockdown, Bray-based Jill Breen would have celebrated her 40th with her twin brother, Alex, based in Monaghan, her brother, Dean, and their dad.
“I was a little disappointed. But it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get to celebrate your birthday,” says the mum-of-two, who had her first child just before her 30th birthday. “So I didn’t do anything crazy then either — just went for drinks with a few girlfriends.”
But when she saw Mark Your Day online, Jill thought it’d be “nice to do something to give back”. On her May 19 birthday, Conor and Kate, 6, cooked pancakes for her and their dad, Damien (“with me overseeing!”), friends called (“one had cake!”) and Jill had a steady stream of visitors dropping off cards and gifts. The day, she says will “really stick out as one of my most memorable birthdays”.
Photographer Dermot Byrne got involved with Mark Your Day because it was a way to still be creative, to do some good, and to help people mark milestones in a historical time.
He took Blackrock-based Fay Duncan’s photo on her 101st birthday in June. “It’s not photo-shopped — she’s as sharp as a tack,” he says. Fay’s grand-daughter, Claire, organised the photo for her granny, who “loves parties, has a great thirst for life and really enjoys photos”.
Tracey O’Connor, who photographed Paula’s family, loved Mark Your Day for the chance to help people record the unusual times we’re in.
“They’ll look back on this and they’ll have a photo to remember it by.”
Mark Your Day’s original fundraising target — €3,000 — was reached in six weeks (at iDonate.ie). A new target of €5,000 was set and achieved within a fortnight — now the project hopes to raise €10,000. For Deryck, the endeavour has been a lot about bringing two seemingly opposite, but missing, things to people’s lives during lockdown: a sense of normalcy — and of excitement.