Dublin airport comes as a shock: in a world that’s gone haywire with security measures while fast-tracking anything in a burka—male or female, in YSL knickers or gelignite corsets—an entirely pleasant one. We’re bussed to what would normally be the hermetic world of Arrivals and find ourselves shouldering our way through departing holidaymakers en route to Malaga or Warsaw; we wander through the endless retail opportunities of modern travel, mingling and mixing in the most promiscuous manner with Departures before we even hit customs, let alone passport control. It’s a refreshingly relaxed—I hesitate to say Irish—solution (surrender?) to the awfulness of air travel, even though AerLingus is doing its best to behave like its arch rival and would-be purchaser Ryanair. Examples? Payment for items of baggage (half-price online!). In-flight panini (one panini; two paninis? povero italiano mio) at €5 a shot, tea at €2. At least Giuseppe and I get to sit together without having to pay priority or queue for an hour and a half at the gate. (Relax, McLeary. If that’s your name. Sooner or later, it will all be yours. And then we die.)
We’re going to Ireland to celebrate the wedding of two dear friends of ours, Bridie and Dominic. Dominic is Maika’s brother and English, though of Irish stock, but Bridie, as her name suggests, is a genuine Irish beauty, born and bred. We’re touched and honoured to be invited, and only slightly phased by the difficulty of getting from the airport to the splendid hotel we’re booked into for the weekend. (A little product placement here. The Finnstown Country House Hotel. I have only good things to say about it, apart from the price of mineral water, but that’s a generic issue with the modern world. Fine food, fine beds and sofas and internet connections and gardens, fine freebies in the bathroom, constant hot water, by all accounts a fine Turkish bath and swimming pool, peacocks to die for, a dog we didn’t have the luck to meet. I recommend it.)
Fortunately, Maika’s sister, Samantha, and her sons, Alex and Mallory, have agreed to find room for us in their hired car and, with great generosity (theirs) and immense discomfort (Mallory’s and mine), we arrive, five people and five substantial suitcases, crammed into an Opel Corsa, with minimal disagreement as to what exactly constitutes a roundabout in the ongoing road works of the M40. If you’ve been there you’ll know what I mean. I was last in Ireland in 1976. Believe me, things were different. I saw the first beggar of my life outside Bewley’s. (This was before Thatcher modernised the UK and introduced beggary as a career option.) Now there’s a sprawl of expensive suburban housing everywhere we look.
The church is hexagonal and modern, like a theatre in the round, flanked by an old and sombre tower with a faintly Tolkienesque air to it. Father Sean, the priest, came with us on the bus. He wins me over when Bridie’s entrance is greeted by scattered, inappropriate applause and he says: ‘She’s looking absolutely beautiful. Let’s all give her a clap.’ (Or words to that effect.) The service is long but varied, with contributions from Maika and all the younger family members and a sermon from Father Sean, both authoritative and modest, that comes down to the need to be kind. Be kind, he says, be kind. I’m torn between my disdain for organised religion and a fondness for both the man and his message, which is so ecumenical it includes us all, worshippers and atheists alike. He wins me over once again when his grace at the reception begins with the words: “We are so hungry, Lord”. Because we are.
And our hunger (and thirst) is amply and skilfully met by chicken and seafood roulades and mouth-melting beef. There’s a provocative gender distinction to round off an excellent meal, when the women are provided with pavlova and the men sticky toffee pudding. This causes consternation at my role-challenged table, with Giuseppe demanding pavlova and Maika and Sally sticky toffee pudding. And then we dance, and drink, and dance, and are treated to an exhilarating taste of Irish dancing from Bridie’s cousin, and dance and drink again and somehow find room for sandwiches and deep-fried mushrooms and coffee at some late point in the evening. Giuseppe requests I Will Survive and his request, to our delight, is met. I rediscover the joy of Guinness, on several occasions, and talk to Daniel at length about ducks and overall have a wonderful time. And then the evening begins to blur.
Most of the photographs I took are circumstantial, but I’m fond of this one, taken as the newlyweds cross the lawn towards the official photographer, safe and dry beneath a tree. It has a sense of both departure and arrival, a little like Dublin airport, but there’s nothing at any airport in the world as caring as the way Dominic holds the umbrella over Bridie’s head or as elegant as the way she has gathered her dress in her hand to keep it off the drive.