Elaine Lennon is a film historian. She is the author of ChinaTowne: The Screenplays of Robert Towne and is widely published in international film journals.
She has a background in television production and film financing and was a lecturer for a decade in film studies and screenwriting at the School of Media, Dublin Institute of Technology.
My Mad Drunk Irish Wedding
By Elaine Lennon
It was a hazy sort of July morning.
“You had to do it on the Twelfth! The one day of the year you knew everyone in my family would be in Bundoran!” Norman had exclaimed to Christobel, the love of his life and the pillion to his driving seat.
“That was the only date they had,” said Christobel airily, lying through her teeth.
So the day dawned.
The ceremony would be down at Butlersbridge in the small church because Christobel wouldn’t convert and the Reverend George could not be seen in the Cathedral. Imagine. He couldn’t conduct his own son’s marriage ceremony. On such tendentious compromises are the greatest political events sustained, albeit in the short term.
The stag night was little short of a disaster. Wesley, Norman’s younger brother, had organised a get-together at the Derragarra Inn – a very unwise choice considering it was next door to the location of the ceremony. Plus the biker crew had all made a show of themselves at The Flying Saucer on the Redhills road starting earlier in the day. By the time they reached The Bridge the decorative donkey and cart on the roof of the Inn could say Sayonara to any chance of survival. The donkey was found in the river. The cart was found in the field across the road by some French anglers who were hoping for a pike.
The Guards were called. Wesley wound up in the Farnham Street clink and found himself minus a tooth when they were done working him over.
George bailed him out at eight in the morning.
Christobel, on the other hand, had a comparatively sedate hen do two nights earlier. She had it planned to a T. Drinks at hers. A dinner party with naughty gifts in the newly opened Hotel Kilmore. Disco fun. All nice girly stuff. Everyone did as they were told and gave her the gifts she had specified.
On the morning of the wedding the phone in her parents’ rang off the hook but each time somebody went to pick up it had gone dead.
The makeup artist and hairdresser were at her for hours.
Jenny came over to dress in her bridesmaid outfit which Christobel had picked out in Laura Ashley in Dublin.
Norman showed up at the church with his parents which surprised the Smiths entirely. They were pleased however. Even though they had long thought the union ill-advised, Christobel was getting on (she was now twenty-eight) and they were just grateful it wasn’t being held to the backdrop of gunfire of any persuasion. So the Catholics got the Mass. Father Smith wouldn’t let them play Whiskey In the Jar even though it was Their Song.
“Sure what would you wanting that for anyway? It’s completely out of date,” he said.
“Not to us!” said Norman. “We were dancing to it when it came out!”
“Well you should get more up to date. But there’ll be none of that in my church, Mr Hackett,” he said sniffily. “Maybe your father would let you play it. But we don’t do that sort of thing. But if we did I would have suggested something nice, like Pipes of Peace. You can always rely on Paul McCartney for a nice tune. Or Phil Collins. Yes, Against All Odds would be a far better idea. If we did that kind of thing.”
Christobel was only twenty minutes late to the church. She arrived in a snazzy vintage car hired from a company in Crossdoney.
By the time she waltzed up the aisle on her father’s arm Norman was a puddle of sweat.
He could barely make any kind of gesture towards her, even relief.
She became equally nervous.
There was a lot of shuffling and whispering and murmurs of We’ll talk about this later.
The Protestants in attendance were shocked at the lack of decorum. And the fact that so few of the congregation joined in the hymns.
The happy couple made it to I do.
Then there was a long drive to Kingscourt for the wedding breakfast.
Young Enid Conway and her best friend forever Tildy Smith and Tildy’s squire, an engineering student called Kevin Kelly from Kildare, stopped for drinks at the Lavey Inn in a car that he had hired.
Tildy was in a very jolly mood at her cousin’s big day. “That’ll be us. Some day,” she gurgled to Enid over her Harp.
By the time they were driving up the Bailieborough Road she was right mouldy.
When they reached Cabra Castle the whole thing was dead on arrival. No atmosphere.
A huge growling Irish wolfhound at the main entrance proved insurmountable. They had to go around the back where steps to an old stone porch led to open French doors and inside to the reception.
The meal was excruciating. There were flies coming in the windows. No air conditioning. Steam was coming out of people’s ears at the humidity.
The soup was lumpy.
The fish was off.
The dessert was a choice of Black Forest or peach compote. The fruit clearly came out of a tin with a bit of lumpy cream on top. There was no compote about it.
Wesley was Norman’s best man but couldn’t speak because of his tooth. He’d gone to the dentist for an emergency patch that had fallen out and he had wet cotton wool bulging from his cheeks. He looked like a dog’s dinner.
He stood up, mumbled something that sounded like, “If this pair can make it to the altar then there’s hope for us all,” and raised a glass pointed at Norman.
Reverend George got up to speak. Norman pulled him to sit down because Michael Smith needed to speak first.
Michael cleared his throat. “May I be the first to congratulate my daughter on her choice of husband. He’s been hangin’ round her like flies on” – his wife pulled at his elbow to stop him – “for a long time now. We were all wondering if he’d ever get round to making an honest woman of her. So he has. So now. There you go.”
Michael sat down.
The Reverend stood up. He was a born public speaker. He tried to make up for the fact that a Catholic Priest had done the marriage.
“Love when it happens is a wonderful thing. Especially when it occurs appropriately between two people whose lives are destined to be intertwined. The sacrament of marriage is not one to be taken lightly. In fact we would have advised this young couple to wait – but that was ten years ago. And they’re getting on now like an old married couple anyhow…” his speech was somehow unnecessary. He stopped talking.
The cake was cut and the obligatory photograph was taken. Christobel had engaged the extravagant talent of John Boldy for the day. No expense could conceivably be spared on this auspicious occasion. “I should’ve been at the Parades,” he moaned to Gloria, his wife, who was drinking up a storm of Blue Nun beside him in as supportive a manner as possible.
A waiter tapped Christobel on the shoulder. “Call for you. It’s on the public phone on the corridor, just through the double doors.” He gestured to the exit at the bottom of the room.
“Who on earth is calling me on my wedding day! For God’s sake! Jenny, will you see?”
Her bridesmaid Jenny Burden just raised a glass to Christobel. She was deep in drunken conversation with a hot fella on Norman’s side.
Christobel huffed and puffed and pulled herself and her meringue of a dress with her and it trailed behind her on the scuffed wooden floor as she flounced out of the doors which had been wedged open to try and introduce a non-existent breath of fresh air.
Christobel held the receiver to her ear with her long shellacked nails.
“Is that Christobel Smith?” It was a female voice with a faintly Northern twang.
“Hackett, actually. Who is this?” For a split second Christobel thought it might be a bomb threat. Who on earth would do that?
“Hackett is it. So you did it. You married him.”
“What? Do you know Norman?”
“You might say that I know him very well. For quite a while now.”
“What’s your point? I have to go back to my reception.” Christobel was flustered.
“Reception?” The woman laughed heartily. “He never gave me that! What he did give me is now six months old and he’s the image of him. His name is …”
Christobel dropped the phone in shock.
She stood with her hands hanging by her side, a desperate woman. Six months. Plus nine months. Fifteen months ago she and Norman were on a break. They had had a tiff. They broke up, like they always did following an argument. And they got back together again, like they always did after a breakup, like night follows day. Breakup, makeup. It was their thing.
She gathered her nerves and picked up the phone again. “Hello? Hello! I want to talk to you.”
The caller was gone.
Christobel stood looking at the phone.
She looked back through the doors and into the event her union with Norman had brought about.
The wedding band were starting up and the tables were now pulled over to the walls and people were wandering in and out from the bar.
She picked her way through the guests and walked to the top table where Norman was royally pissed and barely noticed her return.
Jenny Burden was standing in front of the table hand in hand with a guy Christobel didn’t even know. She was waving at the band to keep stop playing.
“Myself and Kyle would like to announce our engagement!” she said to the astonishment of all.
Wesley led the few miserable hand claps.
“Out of my way!” bellowed Christobel and pushed past the pair of them. “Do not try to steal my thunder!”
She looked at her wine glass. There were maybe two gulps left. She emptied the contents on Norman’s head.
He threw his hands up, too late.
“You bastard!” Christobel screeched into his face. “You have a bastard! The honeymoon is over!”
Norman’s head was soaked. He didn’t even move. She knew it must be true. Somehow she knew.
She stalked across the floor as the first strains of Whiskey in the Jar were strummed.
“For the happy couple!” announced the hapless singer.
“What has he done now, I wonder,” said the Reverend George to his wife out of one side of his mouth. “And what do you know?” he hissed to Wesley out of the other.
Tildy was dancing the day away with Kevin from Kildare.
“Just a minute,” she said while he was finishing off a glass of Bulmer’s.
She swallowed some tablets and grabbed his cider. Within minutes she was screaming blue murder.
“She’s in her manic phase,” said Mrs Smith to Kevin as he stood helpless in the middle of the floor while Tildy went round each and every guest and told them to Fuck off.
“What?” asked Kevin. Clueless.
“You really shouldn’t have given her drink,” explained her brother Ned. He rushed through the dancers to try to retrieve the situation and grab Tildy before she said something too terrible.
“She has put the heart crossways in me,” said Mrs Smith to nobody in particular.
There was a shriek from a hallway adjacent to the entry. Eugene Smith went running and found Ned’s toddler son Theo yelling at an imposing suit of armour.
“It’s moving! It’s moving!” he roared. “I saw him! He was lifting his sword!”
Eugene had to sweep him up into his arms. “If you stare at anything long enough it’ll move, Theo,” he said unpersuasively. “Even your father moves once in a while.”
He heard raised voices from outside.
Christobel was shouting at Norman at the front of the hotel.
The wolfhound was standing beside them, joining in with the howling.
A few of Norman’s biker friends were standing awkwardly in the background, knocking back bottles of beer.
Eugene took Theo back to the party and danced him around the room.
Mrs Smith was taking Tildy to the Ladies to settle her down.
Enid and her parents were sitting gawping at the débâcle.
The band soldiered on.
Eugene asked Enid to dance. They pogoed round the place and laughed at the musicians’ tuneless effort to perform Should I Stay Or Should I Go.
The Protestants were maintaining a respectful if strained silence, unimpeded by alcohol.
The Smiths were having an emergency meeting with Father Smith.
“Norman obviously lost the run of himself,” he offered, in a most unconvincing faux sympathetic but practised voice.
“Is that what you call it!” said Christobel.
“You can get an annulment,” said the priest. “If the marriage hasn’t been consummated.” He inclined his head deep into his neck and looked up at Christobel with the gravest doubt.
“How do you think I’d manage that in this getup?” asked Christobel spreading her hands over her Lady Diana goona. Her mother tried to soothe her with a balloon of brandy.
She downed the contents of the glass in one and then considered what he had actually said.
“You were referring to the three hours since we said I do?” she enquired cautiously.
So it turned out to be an exceptionally problematic political occasion after all.
And like many such situations it claimed a casualty.
At approximately fifteen minutes to eleven a bloodcurdling groan was emitted from a biker as he fell off an internal balcony in the atrium and cracked his skull on a marble table one floor below. He had been attempting to walk along the banister blind drunk and blindfolded. He did not survive.
The ambulance took two hours to arrive.
As Eugene pointed out, at least there was no blood on the dance floor but the disco was cancelled anyhow.
Christobel and Norman went home to their respective parents’ houses. Decisions had to be made.
The Conways pulled into their driveway in Bungalowland at midnight.
“Best. Wedding. Ever,” said Enid, still shaking her head in wonder as she hauled herself and her relatively staid sailor suit out of the back seat.
“It could have been a lot worse,” surmised Mr Conway as he was taking the keys from the ignition in his Opel Kadett. “Remember the woman out the Ballinagh Road who found out on her wedding night that her husband had a vagina. Now that would have been a total disaster.”
Mrs Conway shook her head. “That never happened,” she countered, “He had a vagina and a penis. Ready for anything, I heard. The bearded lady!”
Men. Gullible fools. She sucked slowly on her Benson’s and pondered the point of marriage.
© Elaine Lennon