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John and Jean O'Neill on their honeymoon in Ballyshannon Photo by: Thomas Gallagher

Teenage sweethearts marry after 64 years apart

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John and Jean O'Neill on their honeymoon in Ballyshannon Photo by: Thomas Gallagher

When John O’Neill and Jean Day rekindled their love 64 years after they met in their teens, their children advised them to live together and skip marriage, but they wouldn’t because of their grandchildren.

So Jean, 80, proposed to John, 81, and both knew just the man they wanted to marry them -- John’s brother, Father Pat O’Neill, who officiated at the funeral of murdered fashion designer Gianni Versace.

Now the couple, who married last year, are in Ireland with John’s relatives as part of an extended honeymoon. And the priest who married them is on their honeymoon with them.

The couple, who live in Jacksonville, Florida, have been staying with relatives of the O’Neill brothers in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal, and in Coalisland, Co. Tyrone.

Both of John’s parents emigrated from Coalisland, and he first met Jean as a 16-year-old at a family wedding in Philadelphia.

They went out together for a year and but had to part ways when the Korean War meant John joined the Strategic Air Command in Washington State to crew on B-52 bombers. He married a beautiful Norwegian woman in 1953 and they had seven children before she died three and a half years ago.

Jean had already married her first husband, Norman, in 1952. He was also in the U.S. forces and they had two children before he died five years ago.

The couple met again two years ago when a relative told John that Jean was a widow and he got her phone number.

“Within a couple of months we kept asking each other if we should marry. Eventually, I asked him to marry me,” Jean told the Irish Voice.

“When we split in our teens I did miss him. Now after all these years a beautiful love story has been realized.”

She said her children at first weren’t in favor of her re-marrying, and they suggested that she and John live together.

“I told them we are Catholics and it would be wrong and we didn’t want to just live together for the sake of our grandchildren,” Jean said.

Jean has three grandchildren. John has 12. “I always wanted a big family and now I have 15 grandchildren,” Jean said.

John added, “There are a lot of bugs in Florida and the biggest is the love bug so I got bitten badly.

"Jean was the only woman in my life that ever asked me to marry her so I took her up on it.”

Miami-based Father O’Neill, who delivered the homily at Versace’s funeral in 1997, said he was delighted when the couple, after a cruise and visiting Canada, invited him to join them on their extended honeymoon in Ireland where they met his and John’s relatives while Jean was on her first visit to the country.

“Jean’s full name is Regina. That means queen. The O’Neills were the last kings of Ireland. That’s an appropriate match. I call them the king and queen,” says the reverend.

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