You could say Allison Burch and Michael Thomas Harrigan’s love story was predestined from the start. After all, the young couple were connected well before they even met for the first time. Their grandfathers became friends while stationed abroad in the U.S. Navy, and their friendship lasted for decades—so when Michael applied to attend the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Allison’s grandparent’s were more than happy to sponsor him. “The grandparents like to take credit for us being together,” explains Allison. “But we really didn’t connect until after he left Annapolis to go to flight school in Pensacola, Florida.” From then on, against all odds, the two began a long distance relationship.
Since Michael was a trained pilot, Allison didn’t think anything was up his sleeve when he invited her to go flying over Labor Day weekend in 2013. “He told me we were going for a flight and to pack an overnight bag, without giving me any other details,” she said. After they took off, he told her they were actually headed to Tangier Island, off the coast of Virginia. “It’s a small island where you feel like you’ve gone back in time,” she adds. “We landed on the runway and walked to the beach, where he got down on one knee and proposed.”
When it came time to choose a wedding location, Allison knew early on that she wanted a place that felt personally significant to her. For years, her family had vacationed in Kiawah Island and she always had a soft spot for Charleston. “After bringing Michael on one of our family vacations to Kiawah, and knowing his love for golf, it didn’t take long for him to fall in love with the city like I did,” she said. In the end, they went with the Daniel Island Club for the ceremony because of its marsh views and its classic Southern elegance. She enlisted Stacey Fraunfelter of RLE Charleston to help plan the event, and they agreed they didn’t have to do much in terms of decoration as the club was already so beautiful on its own. “We used navy and white to complement the earth tone décor in the ballroom; and white, green, and light pink flowers to adorn the tables.”
Unlike most brides, Allison ended up choosing the first dress she tried on at Nordstrom’s Wedding Suite by Hayley Paige—even though it wasn’t anything like she thought she’d wear to walk down the aisle. “I never imagined that I’d wear a traditional ball gown, but it made me feel confident, and I couldn’t stop smiling.”
Allison’s uncle Reverend John officiated the ceremony, and immediately after they were betrothed, the new married couple went off to uphold a Navy tradition: walking under the military sword arch. “As we passed through each set of swords, we were told “a kiss to pass” and continued through until the very last set, where the best man taps the bride with his sword and says ‘Welcome to the Navy!’” Over sixty years ago, Allison’s grandparents had performed the very same ritual. “My favorite picture of them is from the sword arch at their wedding; it was a dream to recreate it.”
At the reception, a buffet-style dinner offering Southern cuisine and the Emerald Empire Band awaited guests. For their first song as Mr. and Mrs. Harrigan, Michael and Allison chose “Free” by Zac Brown Band, a group they had seen more than a few times live. “It’s such a peaceful, heartfelt ballad; it was a perfect first dance.” After that, the couple mostly left the music up to the band, who played a mix of oldies and new hits, but they did have one special request for the night: The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” a.k.a. the song from the karaoke scene in Top Gun. “Our Naval Aviator Groomsmen and Swordsmen serenaded me on the dance floor to that song,” Allison said of the movie-inspired moment. “It was a blast!”