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SPECIAL DAY: John Arnold taking daughter Orla to the church on her wedding day. Picture: Catherine Sheehan
SPECIAL DAY: John Arnold taking daughter Orla to the church on her wedding day. Picture: Catherine Sheehan

Father of the bride... and when she said ‘I do’, the dam burst

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I WAS up by 6am last Saturday and got to bed approximately 21 hours later. Between rising and throwing myself down in a bed — not my own — I scarcely heard mention of April Fool’s Day.

True, on RTÉ Radio early in the morning, a new EU Agricultural Directive by which all cows in Ireland had to be renamed and given a traditional Gaelic ‘name’ was mentioned — if it sounded too good to be true, it was. That was the sole hoax I heard of.

It was a big day for us as our daughter Orla was wed to her fiancé Shane.

When the date was picked in 2015, the possibility of jokes, wisecracks and hoaxes never entered our minds — we were more worried about the weather. Then again, weather, good or bad, neither makes nor breaks a wedding day — it’s the couple and their families and friends that bring joy and happiness to the occasion.

It was our second family wedding in a year and a half and I was way more nervous on this occasion. We still have a handful of cows to calve, though thankfully those bovine females held tough last weekend, thus making life a tad easier for the person ensconced as the milker for a few days.

Tradition is a great thing, though some people feel it can be like a burden to be borne. I’d take the alternative view and embrace it as far as possible.

Modern brides in Ireland are independent and capable women yet having ‘something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue’ still appeals to so many — and why not?

In so many facets of today’s fast- moving world, there is a headlong rush to be ‘cool’, ‘modern’ and ‘chic’ so it’s a case of in with the new and out with the old. Thankfully, some traditions remain and so it was with a sense of purpose that at dusk on the last day of March, I placed the ancient Infant of Prague statue out under the hedge of the garden!

To be sure, to be sure the bride-to-be, Orla, placed a smaller version of the ‘Infant’ down by the palm hedge. To be fair, the Infant worked well!

Met Éireann got it spot on too. Early showers to give way to sunshine was exactly how the day panned out. Now, at midday the leaden skies opened and those of little faith were near distraction. In time-honoured fashion, the clouds scudded away revealing a mantle of beautiful blue, which remained ’til sunset.

As I was doing a few last minute jobs in the fields and haggard, one verse kept running through my head:

And where you see clouds upon the hills, 

You soon will see crowds of daffodils, 

So keep on looking for a blue bird,

And listening for his song, 

Whenever April showers come along.

I suppose no two weddings are the same but the marriage of one’s only daughter is very special. Everyone was reassuring me with weeks that things would be fine on the day. “They’re not going to be living in Outer Mongolia, John,” was the reply when I displayed nervousness and a sense of melancholy.

I am well used to talking in public from my days in Macra na Feirme. How many times did I stand up and say ‘Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen. it gives me great pleasure to propose the motion that...’ and then went on to speak in favour of some topic which, in my heart of hearts, I vehemently opposed! In competition, it’s the luck of the draw, whether you’re drawn for or against a motion.

Last Saturday was different because it had to be words of pure truth that were uttered and, to be honest, it’s hard to just strike the right balance between emotion, happiness and humour.

‘You’ll be fine’ coming at me from every direction was of little help. Actually leaving our home with my daughter as a single girl for the last time was nearly the toughest of all. In that five-minute journey, I said little. Up the boreen, right at the Kiln Field gate, beyond the New Wall, Long Field and Coneen a Sprioda with the cows grazing away in the Little Iron Gate Field.

I thought of the hundreds, even thousands of times we’d made this journey as a family and generations of Arnolds before us had trod the same path — even years before the road was tarred. Soon, many familiar faces came into view, which was reassuring, and a reminder to me —despite my nerves, increased pulse and heartbeat, that this was a happy, joyous occasion to be savoured.

Walking up the church with my daughter on my arm was a basket of mixed emotions. It was a proud moment — pride in the daughter we had brought to this day, yet a tug at my heartstrings because now came the time to let her go and make a new life with Shane.

It’s a very old practise, ‘giving the bride away’, that dates from an era when daughters were literally the ‘property’ of parents until their wedding day. Those terms of possession are long gone but the saying lingers on still.

Marriage, in my opinion, is a lot more than the union of two individual people. It welds two families together. The patterns of family trees are altered and added to on the day of a wedding and it is mighty that the oldest yet the latest thing continues to bring lovers together.

I thought I’d be in floods of tears going up that aisle, where Mary had walked to meet me 30-something years ago, but no. It was only when the words ‘I do’ were exchanged that the dam burst. Tears of joy are great and just waiting to be shed on days like this.

The sun shone and the blue sky was in happy mood, like the merry throng who kissed and greeted the new Mr and Mrs Ronayne in the chapel yard.

In recent years, I’ve been lucky to have travelled to a few ‘exotic’ places on holiday but, lads, when the sun is shining Garryvoe beats Banagher every time! So it was on Saturday, crowded beach end everyone enjoying summer-like conditions, and it got even better on a gloriously warm Sunday.

It’s the modern trend now with a few years that the speeches at many wedding receptions come before the meal. The thinking behind it is that the speakers may be nervous and won’t enjoy the meal if the ‘big ordeal’ is looming. I had reservations about this new way of doing things but, boy, was I glad of the change on Saturday!

I had written and rewritten a kind of father of the bride speech — by Friday night I’d say I was on the sixth draft and still not one bit happy with it. Well, the red carpet was rolled out and in the happy couple came. Pat, the best man called on me to say the customary ‘few words’. I started by stating that I’d keep it short — loud laughter (I heard later that several large wagers were placed on who’d talk the longest!) I said I would keep my speech short “on account of my throat… there’s actually nothing wrong with my throat,” says I, ‘but Mary says she’ll cut it if I go on too long!”

Well, after that I settled into it fairly well and continued without making any major mistake or insulting anyone from the bride or groom’s family. That was Saturday afternoon and we bade a final farewell to glorious Garryvoe on Monday afternoon. It was an unforgettable occasion of unbridled joy.

My blessing for Shane and Orla is:

May there always be work for yere hands to do, 

May yere purse always hold a coin or two, 

May the sun always shine warm on yere windowpane, 

May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain, 

May the hand of a friend always be near ye, 

And may God fill yere hearts with gladness to cheer ye.