Heritage: ‘Yesterday’s gift to today; today’s gift to tomorrow’
Matchmaking: Fortune or Misfortune?
Where marriage is concerned there are always men who are too timid to pop the question. Like Patrick Kavanagh’s Tarry Flynn: he was afraid to put things to the test. It was better to live in doubt, which he reckoned was the same as hope, than to have all one’s doubts and fears proven well founded. In other words the finality of the soul-shattering cut of rejection!
But for such men or women willing to give it a try, and who maybe lacked opportunity, or the steely nerves required for encounters with the opposite sex, there was always the Matchmaker. Even then the path of love contained many pitfalls and potholes. Take the case of Martin Mickey Hugh John and Lizzie Flanagan. They came from a village not too far away from me. The match was made, a fortune (dowry) of £50 agreed and the wedding arrangements put in place.
The big day was imminent and the groom, as had been arranged, went to the brides’ house the night before the wedding to collect the £50. The night wore on, and the conversation thinned out, but there was no sign of the purse coming out. So Martin went home with empty pockets thinking to himself that the family's reputation for meanness was well deserved.
On the way home along the road he thought it over careful and came to the decision: no dowry — no wedding! When the appointed morning came Martin went out and milked his cows and fed his calves as he usually did. Meanwhile the bride and her entourage were waiting down at the church, and waiting, and waiting, — until eventually the priest sent the clerk down to Martin’s house to see what was going on.
No dowry, no wedding!
The clerk could make no impression on the reluctant groom so when the priest heard this he decided to go down himself to see what he could do. When he got there Martin was dunging out the byre and says the priest to him: “What’s the matter Martin? Weren’t you to get married today’
‘I was, says Martin, but I was to get a 50 pound fortune too. So! No dowry, no wedding!’
‘Go in and change your clothes’ says the priest. ‘I’ll see that wee matter is taken care of, don’t you worry.’
At that one of the cows let a big scour out of her. You know what that can be like in the month of May and the cows out on soft grass! The priest being a man of the cloth and not used to minding himself from such dangers, of course was standing in the wrong place, and got his good clothes plastered.
A Sligo Wedding c1938
To make a long story short the two men went into the house, got cleaned up, changed their clothes, and before long the marriage ceremony was performed. Well that should be about the end of the matter and the bride and groom should have lived happily ever after but sometimes that’s not how things work out at all.
No dowry, no trousers off
That night the couple retired to the boudoir as we might suppose in an atmosphere of wedded bliss. But it was not to be. They lay in bed, and after a while: ‘Dammit’, the blushing bride says to herself, ‘d’ye know what it is, I don’t think he took his clothes off at all. How could he have got into bed so quick.”
The light was poor, candlelight I suppose, which we might use out of choice now but was used out of necessity then. There was nothing else, you see.
Well, he made no move anyway and she futhered about a bit to see if he had his clothes on. He had, but she decided to let the hare sit that night, and bide her time until the next night. The next night it was the same thing: ‘No clothes off! And the next night and the night after that. Well, Lizzie was a healthy young woman with normal passions and desires so after a week or two of this she felt she might as well not be married at all if this was the way things were going to be. So she went to see the priest.
Grange Fair c1939
‘Don’t worry’ says the priest, ‘Leave him to me. There’s a fair in Kinlough in a few days. Will he be at it?’
‘He will’, says she
‘Good enough,’ says he. ‘I’ll have a chat with him.’
On the day of the fair the priest went over to Martin.
‘C’mere’, he says, there’s something I want to show you.
At that time there were lots of stalls with cant men selling all kinds of clothes and goods. The priest went over to the stall and pointed out a pair of pyjamas to Martin:
‘There’s something a newly married man like you would want very badly’, says he.
‘Hah, says Martin Mickey Hugh John, ‘You were talking to her weren’t you? Well’, he says, 'not a trousers will I take off till I get me £50!’
The price of Martin's trousers
That’s the story as it was told to me so the finish of it I’ll leave to your imagination, as it was left to mine. It seems that Stubbornness gave way to Love and Practicality who joined forces and triumphed in the end. Sufficient to tell you that some time after the fair day the postman delivered a package to the newly weds. No one knows who sent it: some say it was the priest, more say it was Lizzy’s father — and there’s some will say it was Lizzy herself. No matter! What we do know is that the package contained a new pair of pajamas and a crisp £50 note. Martin and Lizzie raised a house full of childer over the years, so all in all we may be certain that the removal price of Martin’s trousers was paid, one way or another, all in the fullness of time.
Wedding party c1939
From 'A Fairy Wind' copyright J. Mc Gowan