Stories of Seamus No. 28

The Ten Pound Note

Many, many years ago the weddings of the Irish country peasants were conducted by the priest, who was paid by the voluntary contributions of those guests attending the wedding. The ceremony itself was usually celebrated in the evening and was followed, especially among the wealthier farming classes, by a great feast, to which the priest was always invited. After the supper, when the company are still merry with the food and drink, they have consumed, the hat was passed around for contributions.

Kitty Malone was the prettiest girl in the entire parish, the bridegroom was the luckiest of men on his wedding day. was the bridegroom. You wouldn’t have thought that if you had seen the expression on the man’s face as he stood, looking very ill at ease in a stiff, shiny, brand-new, tight-fitting suit of wedding clothes. Yet, he was the fortunate man to have won Kitty’s heart and was about to claim a beautiful bride, who had fifty pounds to her fortune and three fine cows.

Most of the guests, however, were looking at Kitty. She was sitting beside the priest, very pretty and modest, blushing at the clergyman’s broad jokes. But the female guests were admiring the beautiful ‘white frock’ that she was wearing, many of them envious of its ‘bow-knots’ and trimmings of white satin that adorned the many-skirted garment. “It’s as good as new,” the lady’s maid at the big house assured her when she had bought it. “It was made by one of the finest dressmakers in London, and it has only been worn at a couple of balls. Her ladyship is very particular about her clothes and wouldn’t stand for the slightest sign of a crush or soiling on her gown.

There is no place where a priest is so good-humoured as when at a wedding. There, in the middle of his jokes and his jollity, he keeps his attention focused on the future dues he would get. All the while, to all the guests, he appears to be absorbed in giving his attention to the pretty bride, whose health he had just drunk to in a steaming tumbler of whisky-punch. But, Father Murphy kept his business eye on the preparations that were being made for sending the plate around the room for his benefit.

The stirring began at the end of the table where the farmers were gathered in a large group, and all of them dressed in their finery. Wearing their large heavy greatcoats of fine cloth, their finest trousers, and shiny shoes that reflected the candlelight as they walked. Their lady wives and daughters all dressed in capacious blue, green or scarlet cloth cloaks with a silk-lined hood, which, like the greatcoats of the men, are an indispensable article of clothing in social functions among their class, even on the bad days. And there, as usual, in the middle of that group was Paddy Ryan, who was a sworn friend and supporter of Father Murphy. Paddy was rather small in build and one of the least well-off men in the parish when it came to the possession of worldly goods. But although he had neither a large holding or dairy cattle Paddy was very popular and was considered by most of the men as being good company. Nevertheless, such was his loyalty to the priest, that he would have gone through fire and water to serve his Reverence. As the priest caught sight of his devoted follower, his mind concentrated on Paddy’s actions to the extent that a very nice compliment he was making to the bride was interrupted.

At first, Paddy Ryan took a hold of the collecting plate and appeared to be about to carry it around the guests.  Then, as if suddenly remembering something important that he had forgotten, he stopped and threw the plate down on the table with a clatter and a bang, which cause the bride’s mother to wince, for it was one of the plates from her best china set. Paddy, however, now began to try all the pockets in his clothes. He searched his waistcoat, trousers, and the pockets of his greatcoat, one after another, but did not seem to find what he had been looking for. At last, after much hunting and shaking, and many grimaces of disappointment, Paddy seized the object of his search, and from some unknown depths, a large tattered leather pocket-book was withdrawn with great care. By this time, however, because he made that much fuss during his search, now everyone’s attention was fixed upon him. With great deliberation, he opened the pocket-book and peered inside, after which, having first ensured by a covert glance around that the guests were watching him, he took out a folded bank-note. He took great care unfolding the bank-note and, after spreading out on the table, he ostentatiously flattened it out smoothly to ensure that all who saw it might read the ‘Ten Pounds’ that was inscribed upon it!

Not surprisingly there was a sudden rumble of astonishment among the guests, with certain signs of dismay being seen among the richer portion. The thick, money-filled wallets, that only a few moments before were being brandished by their owners, were now quickly and stealthily pushed back into pockets again. For several moments there was a pause among the crowd that was followed by a great amount of whispering as the farmers began to consult one another. While this continued there were many anxious and meaningful looks directed to these farmers by their wives, along with various nudges, and severe digs into their ribs. In such circumstances as these, there was always great rivalry in the giving of offerings. Mister Hanratty, who drove his family to Mass every Sunday in his own jaunting car, would certainly not want to be seen giving less than Mister Wilson, who was also a charitable sort of man and earned plenty of money from his butter in the city market. Now, there was the threat of being outdone by the likes of Paddy Ryan! To contribute five pounds to the priest’s collection, when the likes of Ryan was seen by all to give ten pounds, could not even be considered! So, the result, after Paddy had put his note on the plate with a complacent flourish and had started to go around everyone with the collection plate, was the largest collection that Father Murphy had ever seen, and he was overjoyed as he began to stuff his pockets with notes.
But, as the priest was leaving the Malone home, Paddy came up to him and took hold of the bridle of the priest’s horse. “That was a quare good turn that I have done your Reverence this night, didn’t I? Such a collection of notes and piles of silver and coppers I have never laid eyes on before! Sure, I thought the plate would break in two halves with the weight of it. And now” — he took a quick look around to ensure there was no one listening to them and began to whisper, “you can slip my ten-pound note back to me.’
“Your ten-pound note, Paddy? What do you mean by asking for it back? Is it that you want me to give you back part of my dues?”
‘Ah now! Father Murphy, surely you are not so innocent as to think that note was mine? Sure, where would a poor man like me come upon such an amount of money like that? Ten pounds, Father! Didn’t I borrow it, from yourself Father, for the scam? And what a mighty good and profitable scam it was. Didn’t I tell you that the sight of me putting it on the plate would draw every coin out of all their pockets? By the good Lord, it did!’ This was, of course, a fact that the priest could not deny and, along with some interest, he refunded Paddy’s clever decoy.

The Speed of Light

Jimmy Joe was not exactly a young man though he would be much aggrieved if you honestly considered him to be old. The youngest of three sons he had lived at home all of his fifty years and now, with the passing of his father, the home place belonged to him. Although many who knew him never considered him to be “the sharpest knife in the box”, Jimmy Joe had done well for himself and was now a Clerk of Works for the Housing Executive of Northern Ireland. But, Jimmy Joe had been a Clerk of Works for the past eight years and it certainly appeared that he had risen through the ranks to the highest level he was ever going to achieve.

Now that his father was dead, Jimmy Joe was preparing to marry the love of his life, Nellie Maguire. She too was mature in age but still held some of the beauty that had first attracted Jimmy Joe almost thirty years ago. He could clearly recall the night that he plucked up the courage to ask Nellie for a dance at the weekly Ceilidh that was held in the local parish hall. It was something of a shock to the system when the popular Nellie Maguire agreed, not only to a dance but to allowing Jimmy Joe to escort her home when the Ceilidh ended.

Jimmy Joe & Nellie

Nellie was a natural blond with her long, yellow hair flowing over her shapely shoulders like corn-silk. Her skin was as smooth and unblemished as the finest of porcelain. Her hazel coloured eyes warm and inviting, like those of a movie actress. There was not a man in the Parish that had not lost his heart to Nellie at some stage. She, however, was a woman who knew what she wanted and, so far, only Jimmy Joe had been chosen from among the many. There were those who knew them both at this time and said that the relationship would not last. “Sure she will never go mad, that one. She’s never in the same mind long enough”, seemed to be the popular comment at the time. So far the relationship had lasted almost thirty years, and now they were getting married.

Jimmy Joe was the shy and quiet type of boy that didn’t quite know what to say in the company of women. But, after they had been dating eighteen months he took his courage in his hands and asked her to marry him. She was thrilled to be asked, of course, but there were several things that Nellie needed to clear up before she agreed to his proposal. Her main concern at the time was what the living arrangements would be. When Jimmy Joe told her that they would be living with his father in the home place, Nellie emphatically said, “No!”

It was not, however, a total rejection. Nellie told him that she would marry him but only when his father, Old “Joe Boy” Marley, had passed away. “Joe Boy” was a well known local character and not very much liked by anybody because of the way he treated others. There were those who said that he had worked his poor wife to death, and that he had made her life such a total misery that death was a blessing for her. She had died only a couple of years before Nellie and Jimmy Joe had got together, and her passing appeared only to encourage “Joe Boy’s” bad habits, bad language and rude behaviour. “If you think that I would live in the same house as that ill-mannered old man, lifting and laying for him every day, and listening to his foul mouth, then you have another thought coming!” Nellie told Jimmy Joe bluntly. “He is an ignorant, crude, drunkard of a man and I would not be caught dead in the same house as him.”

Jimmy Joe was neither shocked or annoyed when Nellie told him that they would marry only when “Joe Boy” was dead. After all, thought Jimmy Joe, the amount of alcohol his father drank was bound to kill him sooner rather than later. He did not expect that it would take twenty-eight years for the old man to die. Nevertheless, only a month after “Joe Boy’s” funeral the church was booked and the invitations sent out for the wedding. It was, of course, the talk of the entire parish.

“I wouldn’t think its a ‘shotgun wedding’!” laughed Mary Jane as she served the customer from behind the shop’s counter.
“Still, it is all a bit quick,” Sarah Gill remarked.

“Quick?” exclaimed Mary Jane, almost choking on the word. “It has been almost thirty years in the making! Not exactly the speed of light, is it?”