WHEN Mitchelstown man Jimmy Skinner spied Patricia Magner passing the window of Houlihan’s Bakery in Clonakilty 70 years ago, he was instantly smitten.
“She was my one and only,” he says.
Jimmy, who turns 97 in July, and Pat, who will celebrate her 97th birthday next month, marked 69 years of marriage on January 24 just past.
“I had come to Clonakilty from the bakery in Mitchelstown where I was working,” says Jimmy, reflecting on how they first met.
“The boss’s brother opened another bakery in Clonakilty and he wanted to borrow one of the workers who had some experience in the business and to try to straighten it out.”
It was to prove a fateful move for Jimmy, who met the love of his life in the West Cork town.
Except true love never quite runs smoothly, does it?
“One day, I was looking out the shop window onto Astna Square, watching the girls go by and I spotted this lovely girl passing by with a camogie stick in her hand,” says Jimmy.
“She stood out. She wore a short skirt and I noticed she had fine legs.”
Pat gently corrects her husband.
“It was a hockey stick I had!” she says, smiling.
Jimmy wasted no time in seeking out the lovely lass that had taken his fancy.
“I asked the secretary in the bakery, Kitty Houlihan, about her, and she seemed to know about Pat,” says Jimmy.
“I asked Kitty to arrange a date for me with her.”
Kitty, delighted to play match-maker, happily arranged the date for the couple.
“Pat’s family owned the butcher shop in town,” says Jimmy.
“They were big business people. I was just a green boy; a bit naive.”
He remained undaunted, intent on meeting the pretty girl who had caught his eye and who had made such an impression on him.
“I got all spruced up and made my way to Magner’s Butchers in Main Street,” says Jimmy.
“I was really looking forward to meeting Pat.”
But she didn’t show...
“I waited for a good hour outside the shop,” says Jimmy.
“I was all dressed up. Lots of people passing by looked me up and down, wondering what I was doing loitering outside. I knocked on the front door, but no-one answered. After an hour I just gave up.”
So there was no joy?
“No joy,” says Jimmy.
But there was hell to pay.
“I said ‘God help the secretary!’” says Jimmy.
“She’d set me up nicely. I was an hour on the main street with everyone laughing at me, wondering what is this fellow up to?”
Jimmy had got his wires mixed up.
“Kitty asked me where I had gone to meet Pat? She told me I should have gone to Hill House where the Magners lived. The family didn’t live over the butcher’s shop at all!”
Jimmy braced himself to have another stab at meeting the lovely Pat Magner.
“Hill House was very posh, so I was a bit frightened,” he admits.
But undeterred, he was ready to make another move.
“The Magners were big people,” says Jimmy.
“I got ready for what I hoped was a second date.”
Was Pat willing to give Jimmy another shot after she thought he ‘gave her a fifty’?
“I didn’t really think about it as a date then. There were so many other things going on. I felt sorry for him, though,” says Pat.
She felt something else.
“He was a charmer! So we rearranged another date.”
Jimmy didn’t waste any time.
“There were lots of lads from the Agricultural College interested in Pat,” says Jimmy.
“Lots of farmers with lots of acres waiting to pounce!”
Jimmy, knowing the lie of the land, charmed Pat immediately and the couple began ‘stepping out’. Their love blossomed as they courted and played in the heartland of West Cork.
“We got engaged in 1948,” says Jimmy.
Pat had expensive taste.
“She picked out an engagement ring in Mickey Roche’s in Patrick Street for 2,000 pounds!” says Jimmy.
“I nearly dropped dead. I said, take it off!”
“She ended up costing me 200 pounds!”
Then Jimmy took his betrothed to meet the parents.
“My mother said ‘grab her while you can!’”
The happy couple got married on January 24, 1951, sharing their big day in St Patrick’s Church, Cork, with Pat’s sister, Eileen, who married Chris Kiely.
“I hired a second-hand car in Ballinascarthy and the four of us took off to Dublin on honeymoon,” says Jimmy.
“The brother-in-law had booked a posh hotel like the Gresham, but we stayed somewhere else.”
Pat wore a smart tweed jacket and skirt ensemble on her wedding day, which is still in good nick almost seven decades later.
“It was tailor-made,” says Pat, showing me her wedding suit.
“My 13-year-old granddaughter uses the suit to play ‘dress up’!
“Brides didn’t wear white gowns back then,” Pat explains.
“It was still emergency times after the war. And I didn’t wear a hat.”
Did she wear the trousers?
“I learned to have patience very early,” says Pat. “Possess it if you can.”
Jimmy learned something too about married life.
“I learned to say ‘yes’ very early!”
There was another added advantage to starting off married life together.
“I brought Pat home to live in Mitchelstown,” says Jimmy. My mother adored her.
“My grandmother had left me the family pub and grocery.
“We built up a nice business in the three-storey building and we kept lodgers.
“On cattle mart days we provided meals to customers as well.
“And I still got up to go to work in the bakery every day at 3.30am.”
Jimmy was a family man.
“It was great dad was home every day when we got home from school,” says Tricia, who was on her annual visit from Australia to her parents’ home, The Cedars in Mitchelstown.
“Mum and dad have made the trip to Australia three times.”
Jimmy and Pat had seven children — Jimmy, Ann, Liam, Tricia, Finbarr and Clare. Kevin sadly died at three weeks old.
“We moved here to The Cedars 52 years ago,” says Jimmy.
He and Pat, rearing their family and enjoying their work, looked forward to a long and healthy life together.
“Neither of us ever drank or smoked,” says Jimmy. “We’ve been pioneers for 82 years.”
They were active too.
“We both loved playing sport. I loved playing football and later golf,” says Jimmy. “Pat played camogie, hockey and football.”
Pat remembers her football days well.
“I remember going to school, the Mitchelstown nuns would say ‘hands up all the girls who played football in the park at the weekend’?
“And whoever put up their hand got two slaps.
“Football wasn’t for girls back then. How times have changed.”
The attractive couple cut a dash on the dance-floor.
“We both loved dancing,” says Pat.
“Jimmy was a fine dancer, so smooth.”
There was one fly in the ointment in those early days.
“When I married Pat, she couldn’t boil water!” says Jimmy.
“She turned out to be a fabulous cook.”
And a fabulous gardener.
“She sees weeds where there are no weeds!” says Jimmy laughing.
What did they see in each other that confirmed they were soul mates, destined to be together for their life-time?
“We were completely compatible,” says Jimmy.
Did they ever row?
“Very seldom,” says Jimmy. “If we did we never went to bed not talking. But you had to bide your time.”
Did that work?
“Well, the cold freeze could be chilly!” says Jimmy.
But Jimmy, ever the charmer, always managed to thaw the situation out.
“I did!” says Jimmy. “I always got around her.”
But once, Pat didn’t talk to Jimmy for two whole days. That must have been serious?
“It was!” says Tricia. “I was sent out to get a bunch of carnations. They are mammy’s favourite flowers. She used to grow them.”
Pat cultivates the nice gestures from her husband.
“Small things matter,” she says.
Growing old together and still like teenagers in love, Jimmy and Pat feel very fortunate to have lived such a happy life together that continues into their 90s.
“We like looking back at old photographs and enjoying the lovely memories,” says Pat.
Jimmy still enjoys watching sport.
He does Code Word in the paper every day. And he drives to Saturday night mass religiously.
He must thank the Lord and his lucky stars that he met his other half, his soul-mate, so that they could navigate happily through life together?
“I do,” says Jimmy.
“And we didn’t do such a bad job.”
Jimmy and Pat were lucky in life and lucky in love.
“I was so lucky in life to meet my soulmate,” says Jimmy.
“But then she was lucky too!”
Pat gets her spoke in.
“He was my toy boy!” she says.
Jimmy ever the charmer, met his match. Pat is a real charmer too.