Ulster and Lions star Iain Henderson tied the knot in style yesterday with his childhood sweetheart Suzanne Flanagan.
Fellow Ulster rugby stars Rory Best and Paddy Jackson, along with no less than seven dentist bridesmaids, were among the well-wishers attending the picturesque countryside ceremony yesterday in Ballinderry, Co Down.
Only days after finishing his Lions tour in New Zealand, Henderson, dressed in a three-piece grey suit, waited patiently for his bride-to-be yesterday afternoon in the sunshine outside the hilltop setting of Magheragall Presbyterian Church.
Asked by a guest how he was feeling, he replied: “Great.”
The happy couple first met, aged 17, while still at school at Belfast Royal Academy, with the groom popping the question on holiday last year in Miami.
As two white, vintage wedding cars were spotted in the distance across the green fields, the groom hurried to take up his position inside the church.
First to arrive were the seven bridesmaids, friends of the new Mrs Henderson through her dentistry career.
Moments later the bride arrived in a second car with her proud parents.
She wore a fitted gown with a sweetheart neckline which was embellished with beads, embroidery and a delicate lace overlay.
Walking down the aisle with her father Jim, editor of the Ballymena Guardian newspaper, a string quartet played a version of the Elvis favourite, Can’t Help Falling In Love.
After a service lasting almost an hour – and during which teammate Paddy Jackson was among those to give a reading – the delighted new Mr and Mrs Henderson emerged to the cheers of over 100 guests.
Outside, Ulster and recent Lions captain Rory Best passed his congratulations on to the newlyweds.
Ulster players Luke Marshall and Kyle McCall were also among those there to enjoy the big day.
After a shower of confetti, the bride and groom smiled from the open-top seat of their wedding car as they set off for the reception.
The groom wasted no time starting the party, popping open a bottle of champagne, its cork flying high above the guests.
The reception was held in the luxurious grounds of Montalto House in Ballynahinch. The original building was first built in 1765, opening to the public in 2010.
Cutting it fine earlier this week, Henderson was granted permission to return home a day early from his Lions tour in New Zealand, along with Rory Best. Speaking as he left George Best Belfast City Airport he commented: “Hopefully, as far as I’m aware, everything’s been organised.
“I’m sure I’ll get an earful in the car on the way home of the run-down of everything that’s gone on over the past couple of weeks that I managed to slip away from.
“I don’t know if that’s fortunate or unfortunate but it’s been a weight off my shoulders, Suzanne doing everything.”
Although he and Best weren’t selected for the three main tests against the All Blacks, Henderson called the experience “thoroughly enjoyable”.
He added: “We’re both glad to be home and looking forward to a couple of weeks off now.”