“So, did anyone ever marry the wrong person back in your day?”
“Yes, ME” replies The Granny.
“Oh no, I meant a person that wasn’t approved of or who turned out to be a nasty piece of work?”
All said in hushed tones across the restaurant table.
“Or were there any arranged marriages?”
According the The Granny, yes one of her aunt’s marriages had been arranged. Rewind to 1940s Wexford where it was all about the land you had and the living you could make from it. There was a local bar, Murphy’s, where a certain bachelor farmer would go from time to time for a drink or two and a chat with Mr. Murphy behind the bar. He was a man in his forties and he made it known to Mr. Murphy – who surely knew every man in the surrounding area (with and without a daughter) – that he was on the lookout for a wife.
Mr. Murphy being a good neighbour and a bit of a matchmaker, told my great-grandfather that Pat was on the lookout for a wife – “You should introduce him to Vera”. Vera was one of his two daughters and at the age of 34, as yet unmarried. My great-grandfather knew of the man and was told by Mr. Murphy that not only did he have a very large farm, he also reared “the best pigs in Co. Wexford”. Hello romance!
And so it was arranged, via notes, that Pat would wait at a certain crossroads between Enniscorthy and Oilgate to meet Vera one day. He had to cycle there, as did she and she took my grandmother (her niece) along in case he didn’t show up and she’d be left there all alone. But he did show up, at which point my gran was sent home on her bicycle (she was 18 at the time). And so they met on the back roads and cross roads of Wexford for a few short months until an engagement was announced.
Clearly my sister and gran had gotten the term “arranged marriage” mixed up between them but as far as my gran was concerned, it had all been hashed out between the men and arranged before ever Vera clapped eyes on him. She did concede that if Vera hadn’t liked the look of him, she never would have had to marry him. They were married very soon after with my gran as the bridesmaid in, according to her, a hideous pink dress. They had a very happy marriage according to my gran, despite the odd interference from the local nuns. One of them went so far as to book Vera an appointment with a gynaecologist in Wexford and sent her word via another nun of the appointment. Apparently it was “in case she was too embarrassed to do it herself”. Clearly because no children were forthcoming and the nun felt a duty to sort it out for her.
Shocked and embarrassed by the whole thing, Vera asked one of her brothers, a Christian Brother himself, how she was going to get out of this without upsetting the nun or making an enemy of her. “Tell her you are willing to accept the will of God” he said. And she did.
Unfortunately Pat developed Parkinson’s Disease not long into the marriage (according to my dad) and Vera was left to look after a vast farm by herself. A strong woman, she had to become even stronger. “As strong as any man” says my dad. I remember her as a big towering woman when I was a child. My gran would bring myself and my brother (and possibly my sister) down to Oilgate to see the new lambs and chickens in the spring (I don’t remember any pigs) and she taught me how to make a proper St. Brigid’s Cross out of the reeds beside the farmhouse.
Another one of the strong lone female role models in my life, something I’ve just noticed recently. Maybe I’ll write about them another time 🙂