Matches made at the creamery, summer show... but not a wake!

In his weekly column John Arnold recalls how marriages were made in days gone by.
Matches made at the creamery, summer show... but not a wake!

TIMES PAST: Many a match was made at the Cork Summer Show. Here are some women demonstrating a butter making machine at the Cork Summer Show in 1930 . Pictures: Archives

You’d often hear long ago about a man that might have ‘his eye on a girl’ and he mightn’t always be in the want of a wife either!

Some people think that throwing the ‘glad eye’ at a member of the opposite sex is a relatively modern phenomenon and that in days of yore folks were chaste rather than chased.

From what I heard the attraction of opposites has been going on since yer wan ate the apple and made the fig leaf into a fashion item!

A woman I knew told me how she was once propositioned for marriage at a wake. Nothing unusual you may say but in this case the man looking for a ‘new’ wife was the widower! My informant had been at a Regatta in Cork with some friends and returned to her native village early that evening to attend a neighbour’s wake. The woman that had died was in her early forties, her husband about ten years older. Anyway my informant explained to me that she went to the wake in the woman’s home. The couple had no children so she sympathised with the widow above in the room. She then made her way to the kitchen to have a cup of tea as was the normal practise. Well she told me she wasn’t long there when the bereaved man came down from the wake-room to partake of some sustenance himself. He sat down alongside her — at the time she was about twenty two years of age. The house was full of people with small groups chatting in hushed tones here and there. The widower was never a man to beat about the bush in any respect so ‘twasn’t long before he whispered in her ear “If you’re interested in settling in here with me — just let me know after the Months Mind Mass”. She told me she was shocked, the man’s wife was hardly cold in the coffin and he was already looking for a ‘replacement’. She wasn’t interested in matrimony at that juncture in her life — and certainly not to a man more than twice her age.

“I got the train to Dublin a few days later and got myself a job there” she told me. Indeed she did and spent nigh on 40 years there, marrying in the Capital. She told me she didn’t want to be an ‘old man’s darling’!

As for the eager, amorous would-be suitor he did indeed ‘get another woman — a ‘match’ was made for him about a year later with a woman of his own age. I knew this lady myself in her old age but never asked her about her life and times as the second wife of a certain man.

Years ago going to the Spring Show in Dublin or the Summer Show in Cork was regarded in the same manner as going on a foreign holiday today. I suppose travel was a novelty and for rural dwellers all over Munster those trips were huge social outings. There’s a line in a famous song that ‘going to a wedding is the makings of another’ but the RDS and Ballintemple were places where prospective partners met.

I knew of a family that regularly travelled from another Southern County to ‘show’ horse at the Cork Summer event. Well this particular year they were ‘showing’ a few animals. One of them was a young mare who was as stubborn as they come. Loading this equine beauty into the transport lorry was a major ordeal. Sometimes if the humour was on her she might trot up the lorry ramp on her own. On the other hand if she was in one of her cantankerous moods she wouldn’t lead nor drive.

This particular year the animal made the journey to the Munster Agricultural Society Showgrounds in Cork in a reasonably affable manner. When it came to the return journey from Leeside however ‘twas a different story! A crowd gathered to help with the loading operation — all to no avail!

There was Caroline pushing it, shoving it, shushing it. Neighbours friends and everyone in town lined up. Attacking it and shoving it and smacking it. They might as well have tried to knock Cork City Hall down. The mare she was eyeing them, openly defying them.

Winking, blinking and twisting out of place. Men reversing it, Everybody cursing it. Then a man’s voice said ‘Easy there now, whoa down a minute, let ye all just take it aisy’. A young man stepped forward and said he’d lead the animal up the ramp and the family members could get behind the mare and push — at least she mightn’t kick her own! The plan worked.

The man who helped was thanked profusely by the young girl of the family — she looked at him and he looked at her and the rest, as they say, is history. They’re married now with over two decades and the cross mare is still alive!

They say there’s more than one way to skin a cat and I suppose similarly there are several ways of displaying romantic intentions — even to a prospective father-in-law!

Long ago there was much more hard physical work, even drudgery attached to farming. After World War II mechanisation took hold all over Europe and in Ireland too. The tractor arrived and suddenly in one day a man with his tractor could plough what heretofore would take a week with a pair of horses and plough. Taking milk to the creamery was tough work what with heavy 20 gallon churns on a horse and butt or a pony and trap. Older people remember well taking 24 stone bags of wheat, barley and oats up steps to a loft, on their shoulders! That was hard work, no doubt about it.

There’s a story told about a distant relative of mine taking milk to the creamery. Well this summer’s morning he was hoisting in the churns and straining a bit under the weight — he’d be about fifty or fifty five at the time I’d say. A young supple, athletic, well-built neighbour came to help him.

“Tim” said the younger man “isn’t it about time you got a bit of help running the farm.”

Straightening himself up the older man said “and would you be interested?”

“Wisha I might indeed” came the reply.

The older man had but a daughter at home — of marrying age, and within the twelve months the young buck had married in there — ‘a cliamhan isteach’, as they say! Talk of a match made in heaven — that one was made at the creamery!

My own parents were first introduced to each other in a rather unusual fashion. An aunt of my father’s was ailing as she came towards the end of her life. She had taken to the bed and different relatives came to the house each night to ‘stay up’ with the dying woman. My father was asked to go on such and such a night. His aunt’s daughter in law happened to be a first cousin of my mother’s mother so on the night my father was ‘on duty’ ‘twas arranged that my mother would also ‘stay up’ that night. That’s where they met for the first time. They were married a year later!

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