06 July 2012

My parents were married 70 years ago today

On Saturday 6 July 1942 John Coyle, a carpenter, married Mary Collins, a seamstress, in St Paul's Church, Arran Quay, Dublin, (photo below) the first Catholic church to be built in Dublin after the Act of Catholic Emancipation in 1829 that abolished most of the anti-Catholic Penal Laws in the United Kingdom, of which the whole of Ireland was then apart. The occasion was to have some impact on my life as I was the first-born of their union, arriving in the world nine months and two weeks later. The wedding photo above was taken in a studio in Dublin after their honeymoon. So it is likely that I was present on the occasion!

Other couples who had their weddings in St Pauls, now sadly closed, were Captain Charles Boycott, who gave a word to the English language, and Anne Dunne, in 1852, and Éamon de Valera, who played such a major part in Irish history in the last century,  and Sinéad Flanagan in 1910.

St Paul's Church, Arran Quay, Dublin [Wikipedia]

Because of the 'Emergency', as the Second World War was known in what is now the Republic of Ireland - we were neutral in the war - travel was restricted and most things were rationed. The wedding took place at 7am and the breakfast, as wedding receptions were called in those days because there were no afternoon or evening Masses and there was a strict fast from midnight for those who wished to receive Holy Communion, was held in the nearby Four Courts Hotel. It no longer exits. 

But there was also another reason for the early ceremony. My parents were to travel to Arklow, a coastal town in County Wicklow, south of Dublin, by train. They went first class, though my mother often spoke of their return journey a fortnight later when they couldn't find a seat because of the number of schoolgirls on an outing.

Both my parents loved to dance and Dad was one of those who in their spare time built the dance-floor in the hall of the Catholic Young Men's Society in Aughrim Street, where my Mam also appeared in a number of amateur stage productions. She was a very good singer. She'd often tell a story about my Uncle Joe Kiernan, who married one of her younger sisters, my Auntie Nan, at a dance in the hall when Irving Berlin's Always was being played. It seems my Uncle Joe wasn't 'unhappy' and sang the word 'always' with a big grin on his face each time it came around. My Mam would always laugh as she recalled this.

My parents, left, Auntie Nan and Uncle Joe on an outing to Powerscourt, County Wicklow, maybe around 1940 before either couple were married. They've all gone to their reward, Uncle Joe being the last. I celebrated his funeral Mass in 2000.

Irving Berlin was a master at putting simple melodies and simple words together in a way that spoke to people.

I'll be loving you, always,
With a love that's true, always.
When the things you plan need a helping hand
I will understand, always, always.
Days may not be fair, always.
That's when I'll be there, always.
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year but always.

I was growing up when rock 'n' roll arrived in the mid-1950s. When I'd see my parents dancing I'd envy them because they danced so well and so gracefully, though they weren't quite as good as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers whose movies they would have seen in the 1930s. When my mother was only 12 she won a prize for doing the Charleston - and was afraid her father would find out!

The late Fr Vincent San Juan SJ, a Filipino who spent most of his life as a priest in the family life ministry, used to compare the relationship of husband and wife with a couple doing ballroom dancing. Sometimes the man led, sometimes the woman. There may be times too when they're not in step with one another or may even step on one another's toes. But when there is love they're soon back into the proper rhythm.

One evening when I was already ordained I was washing the dishes at home with my mother and asked her how she had come to marry my father. One aspect of the story still makes me smile. My Dad was a very honourable person. His best friend, who was also his best man at his wedding, was Matt McKenna. Matt was only 43 when he died. He and my father used to go on summer holidays together. My father judged that he was spending too much time with Matt and was neglecting his girlfriend - so he dropped the latter! Some time later she was given two tickets for a formal dance and asked her mother, later to be my Granny Collins, what she should do. 'Invite Joe', was her mother's response. 'Joe' was the nickname she knew  my father by. So she did and they would have been dressed like Fred and Ginger in the video above for the occasion when they reestablished their relationship.

I'm grateful to God for the advice Granny Collins gave to her daughter, for the dancing that led my parents to the altar, for their giving life to me and to my brother Paddy and for the fact that I never had any doubts about the commitment they made to each other on 6 July 1942, a commitment that Irving Berlin captures in his song.

My mother died in her sleep on 29 April 1970. She had given my father a new suit as a Silver Wedding Anniversary gift in 1967. He was always slow to use something new. He wore the suit for the first time at my mother's funeral. He died suddenly on 11 August 1987. May they and their parents, Nicholas and Jane Coyle, William Patrick and Annie Collins, rest in peace.


aodhan43 said...

A Athair Sheáin a chara, chuir do scéal faoi do thuismitheoirí gliondar craoi ionam. Bhí Scéal Grá ionntach acu agus is trua nach mhair siad níos fuide. Is éasca tú a aithint ó d'athair agus tá an mion gháire céanna agaibh beirt. Go ndéana Dia trócaire orthu beirt.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Go raibh míle maith agat, a Aodháin.

Aodhán, who was at school with me, expresses in Irish his joy of heart reading the story of my parents’ wonderful love story. It is a pity they didn’t live longer, he writes. He also notes that it’s easy to recognize me from my father and that we both have the same smile. May God have mercy on them both.

Carmela Ariza said...

You look like your father - fr. sean...thanks for sharing this story....

Crux Fidelis said...

Thanks for that, Fr Seán. My grandparents John and Mary (née Maguire) Gallagher were married one hundred years ago this coming Friday (13th July). Like your father my granddad was a carpenter (as was my father). Sadly, I never knew him as he died before I was born. My grandmother, however, was a big part of our lives. A marvellous woman with a great faith, she lived to the venerable age of ninety two. Requiescant in Pace.