'A great fuss,' grumbled Patrick, who was not keen on crowded functions. Nevertheless, he didn't mind joining his four brothers for after-dinner drinks … half a crate of Bushmills whiskey which was probably still illicit. And he didn't mind staying in bed the whole of the following day and night, cursing the pain in his head and blaming me for allowing it to happen.
Well, I enjoyed the anniversary party but if you were to ask me what I ate or to outline the topics discussed around the table I'd be hard pressed to remember. What does come to mind was the decision of the Portrush group to attend the village ball. It would be a perfect end to a perfect day. Or so I was led to believe.
My dress was ideal for a ball being ankle-length and created from shimmering pink parachute silk, though the high-heeled satin shoes were hardly fit for walking the dark and muddy lanes. Patrick assured me that I looked like a princess. I took that with a pinch of salt considering his inebriated condition.
Brimming over with jollity, we arrived at the dance hall. I remember turning the corner of the lane and seeing the single lantern over the door of a wooden hut. And I remember the mirth deserting my soul. I had expected more than a decrepit shack to dance in. I had expected to be whirling around a Casino-type place in the arms of my well-oiled husband.
One of the brothers took my arm and guided me towards the entrance. Patrick trailed behind singing Baa Baa Black Sheep. I was mortified when we reached the door and Patrick began chanting, Yes, sir; Yes, sir, three bags full, to the amusement of the man on the door. I was so humiliated ... and was even more so when the doorkeeper seized my left hand and quick as a flash imprinted the back with a black-ink date stamp. My entrance ticket, I was told, and a pass-out. I complained bitterly about the mess but was reassured that the ink would eventually wash off. The word ‘eventually’ bothered me no end.
Inside that glorified shed, straight-backed wooden chairs were arranged in rows on two sides, with a single chair bang in the middle of the floor. A red-cheeked, robust individual with a shillelagh under his arm paced to and fro inspecting the floor and shouting instructions to an elderly man in a grey cap and tweed jacket who was scattering chalk like he was feeding the fowl.
And then the band arrived. 'Here's the band,' Patrick cried, as one man and his fiddle sauntered towards the chair in the centre of the room. I closed my eyes, convinced I was hallucinating, but opened them again when the first musical strains hit the air. The fiddler was standing on the wobbly chair, tapping one hob-nailed boot in tune to an Irish jig, his red polka-dot kerchief crumpled between the fiddle and his chin. Around him ruddy-faced farmers, fingers dyed blue with crop spray, danced at arms-length with their wives, solemn-faced women, straight-legged and aloof.
Totally bewildered, I joined Patrick and the brothers on the hard chairs and bemoaned my fate. I felt like an overdressed dummy though Patrick continued to assure me I was the belle of the ball. If he could've transferred his intoxication to the poker-faced couples on the chalk-strewn floor, I would have been better pleased. If he had been sober, my presence in a room smelling of classrooms and wood yards might have been more tolerable. And then I saw the funny side of it. I started to laugh, and Patrick laughed, and the brothers joined in. The fiddle-player grinned and broke into a livelier jig. And I wouldn't have missed the experience for the world.
So when I am asked what my in-laws ruby wedding was like, I reply with truth that it was a remarkable affair. But it's not the event that comes to mind, it's the jolly-faced fiddle player with the polka-dot kerchief and the amiable grin.