It was on then it was off then it was on again; a typical Irish wedding really. The Bride telephoned from Doha mid-March asking my view on the new pandemic’s potential to upset her summer wedding plans. I dismissed her concerns and reassured her that by mid-August things would be back to normal and that she should keep the date. In mid-May she was less certain so, with full agreement of the venue, the caterer and the church she switched the date to August 2021 but still in beautiful Rathmullan, Co Donegal. In early June, she flew home from a six-year stint teaching in Qatar with plans to live and work in Liverpool, her fiancée’s home town, but now her life was on hold. When I drove to Dublin Airport to collect her from a deserted Terminal 2, I sensed her frustration and uncertainty. When she tried on the wedding dress at a pre-arranged fitting the following week, she burst into tears and decided there and then the wedding would go ahead on the original date.
So, on the morning of the 15th August my house was full of the excited chatter and giddy laughter of four young women. The bride and her bridesmaids drank champagne as; hairs were dressed, nails polished and faces made-up by the regular arrival of beauty experts.
When I walked her down the aisle of a Belfast church a much reduced, socially distanced guest-list clapped with joy when they saw her. The single singer’s voice lifted all our spirits high into the cupola. The priest talked of commitment and love, her brother, doing one of the readings, mistakenly claimed that “love is very jealous” and everyone noticed and laughed; the groom struggled to locate in his trouser pocket a 1962 sixpence he had bought on the internet as a token of all he possessed. The bride-and-groom, the stunning bridesmaids and the handsome groomsmen exited the church to sunlight bursting out of the morning mist and a round of applause from gathered friends, family and neighbours in the car park all keeping their physical distance but certainly not their emotional distance.
Coffee, scones and glasses of bubbly were served in our small back garden as we waited to go to the Grand Central Hotel for dinner; we had nowhere else to go. We had been asked not to call it a wedding reception rather a family dinner but even then, the number at each table was restricted to six. We had drinks in the spectacular observatory with views over Belfast resplendent in the later afternoon sunshine. With this stunning panorama, the city looked full of promise and hope.
My mediocre speech, including an awkwardly composed tale of mistaking the grooms texted request to marry the bride as a kidnap ransom note to which I invoked as a reply Liam Neeson’s famous speech from the movie Taken, was heralded the best father-of-the-bride speech ever. Having welcomed our Liverpudlian guests back to the European Union and chiding Boris for making my daughter cross a border in the Irish sea when she comes home to visit, I finished with Seamus Heaney’s short poem Scaffolding.
The groom got very emotional during his speech and the best-man broke down. With my superior experience of wedding speeches, I knew it’s just too difficult to talk much about deceased family members, so I had kept clear. They will not make that rooky mistake again. After the wedding speeches, we dined in the Hotel’s Seahorse restaurant. Family meal over we were given a section in the bar where we had too many nightcaps and just before midnight, I left for bed on the 20th floor.
It was a wonderful, traditional, intimate wedding in the most untraditional of times and it confirmed the resilience of the human spirit to overcome. It was not the planned 200 guest reception at a dedicated wedding venue with dancing to a five-piece band followed by a disco and a late bar but it was just perfect. The new couple will soon be off to their new life in Liverpool without a honeymoon but that can happen later. Life must go on, life will go on and life does go on.
Scaffolding by Seamus Heaney
Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;
Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.
And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.
So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me
Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.
I am a pharmacist in Belfast.