An irish country wedding, p.1
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       An Irish Country Wedding, p.1

           Patrick Taylor
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An Irish Country Wedding


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  To Dorothy

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  A friend recently remarked, “You always put acknowledgments at the start of your books. Why? Nobody ever reads them.”

  That may or may not be true, but without certain very important people you would not be reading the rest of this work and I would feel remiss unless I tendered my most unreserved thanks, and in no special order, to:

  Simon Hally, Natalia Aponte, Tom Doherty, Carolyn Bateman, Paul Stevens, Irene Gallo and the art department, Gregory Manchess, Rosie and Jessica Buckman, Don Kalancha and Joe Meier, Patty Garcia and Alexis Saarela, everyone in sales, Christina MacDonald, and finally to all of you who read and enjoy this series and keep me at my keyboard.

  Go raibh mile maith agat agus beannacht De agat, Thank you very much and God bless you.

  AUTHOR’S NOTE

  To old readers, it’s grand to have you back in the village of Ballybucklebo, and to new readers, cead mile fáilte, a hundred thousand welcomes. Come in, sit down, and stay for a while.

  This is the seventh book in the Irish Country Doctor series and in it I have made one important deviation from the usual. If you can bear with me, I offer this short explanation of why I have done so.

  In all of Country Wedding’s predecessors, I skimmed over Irish politics. This deliberate refusal to weave the sad history through the stories applied equally to Country Girl, set in County Cork around the time of the Irish Civil War of 1922–23 (West Cork was a Republican stronghold), and to Student Doctor, set in Dublin in the 1930s, where the abortive Easter Rebellion of 1916, the subsequent 1918–1921 Anglo-Irish War, and the Civil War had all left unhealed wounds. Those works set in Ballybucklebo in the mid-’60s were only four years before the outbreak of thirty years of virulent internecine violence in the north of Ireland. Even then I barely alluded to the sectarian undercurrents that preceded “the Troubles.”

  I deliberately failed to do so for what seemed to me to be a cogent reason.

  In the ’90s I had written three gritty books set firmly in the squalor of the recent troubles in Northern Ireland. They are noted here on the page that lists my previous works. In all three I refused to be partisan because I believe that stirring the pot by fighting old battles over again—or worse, taking sides—is counterproductive.

  I started the drafts in 2003 of what became An Irish Country Doctor and quite frankly have been more comfortable since then working in my version of an Ireland where such political matters do not intrude and where in the works set in Ballybucklebo an ecumenical spirit prevails. Such a harmonious Ireland is my wish for the future of the entire country and has been reflected in my writing.

  Readers of the Irish Country series may remember that in Country Christmas I alluded to the historical fact of the lowering of Catholic-Protestant barriers in 1941 following the Luftwaffe’s blitz of Belfast and Bangor. At that time, often in the country villages, evacuees and those bombed from their homes were taken in and cared for by strangers, regardless of the religious persuasion of either. In Ballybucklebo, the local priest and minister create a fictional tradition out of that real-life goodwill gesture of 1941. Since the separate Catholic and Protestant populations of children were too small to hold independent Christmas pageants, I have the two denominations coming together for a communal service of thanksgiving at Christmastide. In doing so, I was, I believe, giving voice to my desire to see all Ireland at peace.

  My enthusiasm for that also led me to another piece of wishful thinking. I established the Ballybucklebo Bonnaughts Rugby Football and Hurling Club. Such a thing would have been virtually impossible early in the twentieth century. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), established in 1884 to preserve uniquely Irish sports such as hurling, camogie, and Irish football, frowned upon even mere attendance at a “foreign or garrison game” like rugby or soccer. Doing so could lead to expulsion from the association, so a club combining Irish hurling and the English sport of rugby would be unthinkable. I hope I will be forgiven by GAA purists, but in creating the Bonnaughts I was indulging, like Kinky Kincaid, in a little hopeful and, as it turned out, accurate foresight.

  In 2005, the GAA temporarily relaxed its Rule 42, which prohibited the playing of games other than those deemed to be traditionally Irish on their facilities. The home and headquarters of Gaelic sports, Croke Park (Páirc an Chrócaigh) known to local Dubliners as “Croker,” was thrown open to the Irish Rugby Football Union, whose facilities at Lansdowne Road, Dublin, were under reconstruction. The rugby team, even after the partition of Ireland in 1922 (which divided Ireland into the south—now the Republic of Ireland—and Northern Ireland), had refused to acknowledge the border and selected players from the entire island. The team lost their first game in Croke Park to France in February 2007. The next, against England in March of that year, was awaited with some trepidation—and not only in regard to the athletic outcome on the pitch. Happily, there were no incidents and to almost everyone’s delight Ireland beat England—by 43 to 13, which was the greatest victorious margin and the highest number of points ever scored by an Irish team against England since their first clash in 1875.

  I watched on television that day in March 2007, and hearing the Irish crowd made up of those from both the north and the south roar out as one, and singing a triumphant, joyous “Fields of Athenry” gave me goose pimples and made the hair at the nape of my neck stand up. It also made me, an Ulsterman, proud to be Irish.

  It is not to belittle the enormous efforts of all politicians on both sides of the border who strive to achive amity, but I couldn’t help think that it is also such measures of tolerance and mutual support at grass-roots level that break down old barriers. I saw the Croke Park experience as an event much like the exchange of Ping-Pong players in the ’70s between the United States and China, which paved the way for President Richard Nixon’s visit to the People’s Republic in 1972.

  It has been my hope that in the first six Irish Country books I have been painting in microcosm an Ireland that should be.

  But before the recent cross-border comings together, Ireland, and particularly Northern Ireland, starting in 1969, had to suffer. And strangely enough that anguish was in part inadvertently provoked by people of enormous goodwill, the civil rights workers who sought a more just state there.

  Irish performing artist Phil Coulter said in “The Town I Loved So Well,” a song about his childhood in Derry, Northern Ireland, “What’s done is done … and what’s lost is lost and gone forever”—and should be. I decided that for the sake of the authenticity for which I constantly strive, tempers in Ireland had cooled enough to let some Irish politics intrude into An Irish Country Wedding.

  So I departed from my usual convention of skirting the sectarian question that has always been there like Banquo’s ghost. Yet during the writing of this novel, the president of the Republic of Ireland, Mary McAleese (Máire Pádraigin Bean mHic Ghiolla Íosa) is an Ulsterwoman from Belfast, and tempers have indeed cooled enough. A little reality, I decided, could surface.

  While regular readers will, I trust, be pleased to meet the usual cast of eccentric characters (and, yes, Arthur Guinness still likes his S
mithwick’s), and new readers will, I hope, find these folks amusing, I have for the first time allowed the doings of the nascent Northern Ireland civil rights movement to play a more central role, as would have been obvious to anyone living in Ulster at the time.

  Perhaps what is true for life is also true for fiction. No matter how hard one may try to avoid it, reality will always intrude. In this case, I hope it increases your enjoyment of the work and adds to your understanding of my native land.

  PATRICK TAYLOR, 2011

  Salt Spring Island

  Canada

  CONTENTS

  Title Page

  Copyright Notice

  Dedication

  Acknowledgments

  Author’s Note

  Map: County Antrim and North Down

  Map: Plan of Ballybucklebo

  1. Diamonds Are Forever

  2. And Strangled in the Guts

  3. “Plain Cooking” Cannot Be Entrusted to “Plain Cooks”

  4. Bones Are Smitten Asunder

  5. Make unto All People a Feast of Fat Things

  6. Under the Knife

  7. I Am Getting Better and Better

  8. A Warmth Hidden in My Veins

  9. And a Good Job, Too

  10. And O’er and O’er the Sand

  11. What Cat’s Averse to Fish?

  12. Why Did You Answer the Phone?

  13. Keep Thy Tongue from Evil

  14. But Lo the Old Inn

  15. They That Have the Power to Hurt

  16. I Have a Dream

  17. The Fury and Mire of Human Veins

  18. A House with Deep Thatch

  19. The Time Has Come to Talk of Other Things

  20. We Will Pardon Thy Mistake

  21. Not Ecstasy but It Was Comfort

  22. Politics Is Not an Exact Science … But

  23. In That Case, What Is the Question?

  24. Home Sweet Home

  25. I Am Disappointed by That Stroke

  26. In the Neolithic Age

  27. Where There’s a Will …

  28. A Place for Everything

  29. Of Manners Gentle

  30. A Noble Pair of Brothers

  31. The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring

  32. The Road Through the Woods

  33. Visit Us in Great Humility

  34. Is Murder by the Law?

  35. Be Bruised in a New Place

  36. That Reconciles Discordant Elements

  37. Whose Dog Are You?

  38. The Wreck of the Hesperus

  39. He That Seeketh Findeth

  40. Who Reads Incessantly

  41. They Lose It That Do Buy It

  42. Use the Gods’ Gifts Wisely

  43. Let’s Have a Wedding

  44. Fall In with the Marriage Procession

  45. In a High Style and Make a Speech

  46. Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

  47. … And Must Bid the Company Farewell

  Afterword

  Etching

  Glossary

  By Patrick Taylor

  About the Author

  Copyright

  1

  Diamonds Are Forever

  “Kitty O’Hallorhan,” said Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, looking into those familiar grey eyes flecked with amber, “you don’t look a day over thirty-five, and you’re lovely.” Her silver and black hair shone in the sunlight filtering down past the buildings on Belfast’s Royal Avenue. Her tailored grey suit, with its slim, knee-length skirt, accentuated her figure. God, but she was looking well.

  She shook her head. “You’re an old flatterer, Fingal, a soft-soaper. You know I’ll not see fifty again, but thank you.”

  “I’ll always see you as twenty-two, the way you were when we were youngsters, always, and that’s because,” he hesitated, “I love you.”

  “Thank you, Fingal,” she said. “Thank you for loving me, and thank you for telling me. I do love you so much.”

  He bloody well nearly bear-hugged and kissed her there and then. Instead, he continued walking with Kitty at his side and thought about how on the drive here from her flat they’d discussed the progress of Donal Donnelly, one of Fingal’s patients, who was being nursed by Kitty, a senior sister on the brain surgery ward of the Royal Victoria Hospital. It had made O’Reilly happy to discuss a patient with her. He was looking forward to these kinds of professional conversations when she became his wife, on July 3, 1965, and that was only a little more than two months away. He gave a hop and a skip, grinning as he did.

  “Fingal,” Kitty said with a smile, “will you stop acting the lig?”

  “I’m happy,” he said, guiding her through the midmorning crowds of shoppers, office messengers, and delivery men. Traffic growled, and he heard the ting of the conductor’s bell as a red double-decker bus pulled away from a stop. The air was heavy with exhaust fumes. A flock of starlings wheeled and jinked in unison across the sky. He pointed to a glass door on which SHARMAN D NEILL. JEWELLERS AND WATCHMAKERS was etched in gilt letters. Watches, barometers, brass telescopes, and jewellery were displayed on velvet mounts in the window. “This is it,” he said.

  The lighting was subdued, the carpet thick. Glass jewellery cases were arranged around three walls. A door at the back led, O’Reilly presumed, to offices or storerooms. The air had only a trace of mustiness. Two staff members wearing short black jackets, pinstriped trousers, and highly polished black shoes stood waiting. The place exuded the confidence of a business that had catered to the upper classes for decades. Young men, O’Reilly thought, probably felt intimidated here, and their immediate concerns would be whether their budget might stretch. He was worried himself.

  He and Kitty were the only customers.

  An assistant glided across to them. He wore rimless spectacles.

  “Sir? Modom?” His voice was reverential, his accent affected. “May I be of assistance?”

  “Rings,” O’Reilly said, surprising himself by lowering his voice.

  “Certainly, sir.” The man glanced at Kitty’s gloved left hand. “Would that be dress or engagement?”

  O’Reilly cleared his throat. His collar seemed to be tighter. “Engagement, please.”

  “How lovely. May I wish sir and modom every happiness?”

  “Thank you,” Kitty said.

  O’Reilly wanted to tell the man to mind his own damned business and get on with selling them a flaming ring. He wanted to get this transaction completed. And it had been ages since, to his housekeeper Kinky Kincaid’s amazement, he had refused the mixed grill she’d offered to cook and simply grabbed a quick cup of coffee and a slice of toast this morning in his hurry to get to Kitty’s flat. Now he wanted his lunch.

  The shop assistant moved behind a glass display case. “If I might enquire, would we be looking for a solitaire, a cluster, a trinity or bezel setting, a specific precious stone … perhaps modom’s birthstone? Something,” his lip curled, “semiprecious?”

  Jasus, O’Reilly thought, in 1939 when I bought Deirdre her little ring it was just a gold band with one tiny diamond. Back then men bought the ring before they proposed, but today O’Reilly had brought Kitty to pick hers. He smiled at his soon-to-be wife and knew for certain that Deirdre O’Reilly, née Mawhinney, his young bride of six months who had died in the Belfast Blitz of 1941, would approve of Kitty, be glad for him and his newfound happiness. “Kitty?” he asked.

  She smiled at him. “If it’s all right with you, Fingal, I’d like something simple.”

  “It’s your choice.”

  “It can be bewildering,” the shop assistant said. “Might I suggest a nice cluster with a central half-carat blue diamond?”

  O’Reilly heard the condescension in the man’s voice. “Kitty?”

  “No, thank you. I’ve really got my mind set on a well-cut solitaire, S12 clarity, I or J colour grade—”

  O’Reilly’s mouth fell open.

  “—of slightly less than half a carat.” She turned to hi
m. “Blue diamonds are the most expensive. Prices rocket at the half- and full-carat mark. It takes a hell of an eye to tell the difference between a smaller stone and I don’t want to bankrupt you, dear.”

  O’Reilly grinned. He’d ask her later where she’d learnt her gemology.

  “Modom … modom knows her diamonds.” There was awe in the shop assistant’s voice.

  Kitty inclined her head and said, “And I’m not fussed about the setting as long as it’s platinum, the ring is gold, and the stone is good quality.”

  The man leant sideways and grabbed a set of sizing rings from the top of the case. “If I may?”

  “Certainly.” Kitty removed her left kid glove and gave him her hand. After using two rings the assistant said, “Size A and a half.” He smiled. “I believe I have exactly what we need. If you’ll excuse me?”

  The second he’d left, O’Reilly asked, “Where in the hell did you—”

  “Dublin’s National College of Art and Design, remember? I was there before I started nursing, and I took a course on jewellery design.”

  He hugged her. “Do you know,” he said, “I’d completely forgotten you’d been there. It is a year or two back.” A year or two? More like thirty, he thought, but said, “And thank you for thinking of my wallet too.”

  “Fingal O’Reilly,” she said, “not being extravagant on a ring doesn’t mean you love me any less. You can’t measure love in carats or colour. Pounds and shillings.”

  His throat felt tight and he swallowed. “Thank you, Kitty. Thank you for that.” And he wasn’t sure if he was thanking her for her understanding of how much he loved her, her solid business sense, or both. He heard a discreet cough and let Kitty go.

  “I think this may be what modom requires.”

  O’Reilly watched as a ring was slipped on Kitty’s finger. It fitted perfectly. He swallowed. From now on, Fingal would be the only man to put rings on Kitty’s finger. Size A-½ at that. The second one, in July, would be plain gold. He’d pick that himself. Mrs. Kitty O’Reilly. He liked the sound of it.

 
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