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A marriage made in purgatory - love and proposals in Ireland’s past times

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I was down in the Honk the other night among neighbors and friends in an effort to gently cure the consequences of a mighty MacConnell clan gathering on Ennis all through the weekend in honor of my birthday.

My friends in the bar sang a rousing Happy Birthday chorus as I approached my barstool, and Sean later bought me the first Baby Guinness of my lifetime.  It was a perfect cure.

It was in a shot glass, constructed by Mary, you had to down it in one go, and I think its main ingredients were Guinness and Baileys.  I was instantly restored to good health, and the only slight blot on the splendid subsequent evening was the existence of the Super Bowl on the TV screen on the wall.

I'm addicted to most televised contact sports but have to confess to being totally under-whelmed by the elements of a spectacle which, in my view, was grotesquely over-hyped, essentially physically elemental without enough skilful and graceful touches to compensate, and compared very poorly with any of the good hurling championship games which normally flame across the same TV screen in the Honk.

And our competitors are amateurs. And they are not weighed down by body armor. And most of them only wear a helmet because it is the GAA law nowadays.

The skills of quarterbacks, yes, can be impressive at times, and so can the pinpoint accuracy of their touchdown passes.

But it has to be suggested they are greatly aided in their work by being protected from the opposition by a brawny and beefy wall of comrades.  Their body armor, while they are selecting their speeding targets, well, I don't think their heroics are comparable to the courage of a Cork hurling forward with the sliothar (ball) apparently glued to his hurley as he speeds into the heart of a Tipperary defense and the zone ritually known as Hell's Kitchen.  That's my view anyway.

The blackout did not help and the Beyonce concert stuff was a distraction from a sporting point of view.  If you want to listen to music you should go to a concert surely?

Anyway, later in the evening when the TV was switched off, I became involved in a conversation, not about football or hurling, but about love and marriage today and yesterday, and especially the manner in which marriage proposals were made in rural Ireland in past times.

Somebody mentioned the words of the apparently true Galway man's proposal as recently as the 1980s when he said to his intended, "How would you like to be buried with my people instead of with your own crowd?" And, dammit, she apparently accepted too, and all lived happily ever afterwards.

My father Sandy told me, when he judged I was old enough to listen, that there was only one way for a couple to get away for a truly dirty weekend back in Catholic Ireland of the 1930s.  You had, quite literally, to go to purgatory!

This was the fabled St. Patrick's Purgatory in the middle of Lough Derg above in Donegal, and the weekend was literally dirty because it was (and is) an ascetic place of walking barefoot around stony circles that once were the cells of monks, being barefoot for three days, being sleepless for one of your pilgrimage nights on the island, existing only on black tea and toast and a "soup" of salt ‘n' peppered hot water, and abiding by the strict regulation that the men (when they eventually were allowed to go to bed) went to the men’s hostel and the womenfolk to the women’s hostel.

I endured the pilgrimage several times in my youth. It was traditional up in the north west especially.  It was a dirty weekend because it always seemed to be raining and your soft naked feet were soon both black and often bloody from the stones.

An additional torment was created by clouds of bull midges under the trees over the "stone beds."  They devoured every piece of penitential white flesh that came near them. They were truly the Devil's Disciples.

Meanwhile, you were saying millions of Hail Marys and other prayers, attending a series of Masses in the Basilica, and, every few hours it seems in memory, standing in the rain with your back pressed against the Basilica, outstretching both arms and fervently renouncing the world, the flesh and the devil!

It was tough going and, as a youth, I never ever was able to lure any young woman to come across to purgatory with me to endure the mortification of the pilgrimage.

My mother Mary though, shortly before she went to heaven, told me that Sandy actually proposed to her in purgatory!

It had been raining heavily all of their stay, the stones were slippery as hell, the midges were biting madly, her feet were bleeding and her face swollen up from insect bites.

And she said that Sandy said to her, "Mary you will never, ever again look as dreadful or as miserable or as crabbit as you look this minute.  I'll never see you looking as bad as you do now. So will you please agree to marry me now."

And dammit she did. And they were as happy a couple down all the years as I've ever encountered, great special parents and friends of their family.

And only Mary said yes in purgatory all those years ago there would have been no MacConnell clan gathering in February 2013, and no need for me to be cured by a baby Guinness.

It's a wonderful world!

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