Friday, October 2, 2009

Finding your chapel of love

In 1818 in the parish of Baltiboys in county Wicklow, Martin married Mary Ann Cullen. Over 150 years later, their great-something grandchild was born who later became my beloved wife.
The only curious thing about all this was the fact that, in the church records, Martin, as you may have noticed, didn’t have a surname. It wasn’t that he was too poor to afford one, for even tenant farmers have a right to a surname, nor did he lose it in a poker game.
In those days, the priest would ride out on his horse to the family home, often isolated or a long way from the parish church. To mix religions, it was a case of the mountain coming to Mohammad, because Mohammad couldn’t afford to bring the wedding party all the way to the parish church.
Consequently, when the ceremony was over and the priest had been plied with home-made hooch, he would stagger off on his hopefully sober horse and eventually, the following morning, fill in the marriage register. In poor Martin’s case above, the hooch must have been particularly potent, for it seems that he couldn’t remember the chap’s surname (which, incidentally, was Behan.)
Somewhere along the line, the law changed and church weddings were made compulsory, probably to save a generation from wandering the earth without a name like, again to mix religions, the Wandering Jew. And then, somewhere further down this rather strange line, civil ceremonies were permitted in registry offices for those who were churchless. It would appear also that the captain of a ship also had the power to marry any couple masochist enough to combine a wedding with a sea voyage.
Under recent Government legislation, there is no longer any requirement for couples to tie the knot in either a place of worship or a registry office. Lovebirds can now pledge their respective troths at any public venue, provided it has been approved by the local Council. Our local councillors are, of course, as everybody knows, the people in the best position to safeguard the morals of the country, hence the requirement that they ratify any proposed public venue. So far as I am aware, the only public venue that has been approved for civil marriage by Fingal County Councillors is the olde-worlde and atmospheric Fingal County Offices in Swords.
Of course in America, they have gone the whole hog. You can get married seemingly anywhere that you like and by anyone who has bought the relevant doctorate over the internet. You can get married by an Elvis lookalike while whirling around Space Mountain in Disneyworld; a Jacques Cousteau wannabe can marry you at the bottom of the ocean; doubtless the first Space Shuttle wedding will attract worldwide attention.
We may sneer at their trivialisation of the marriage ceremony but doubtless they would argue, if they could be bothered, that it is not the signing of the dirty deed that is important, but the way that you live the rest of your lives. Is it better for a couple to get married with all the pomp and ceremony of a church wedding and then endure a lifetime of cruelty and misery; or get married by Darth Vadar in Star Wars costumes and live happily ever after?
Personally, I got married once and that was quite enough for me, thank you. But if I ever got married again, I think I’d try and be a bit more creative about my choice of venue. There’s a lovely roundabout at the bottom of the Ongar Road which would do very nicely. Slightly raised, it would give passing motorists a good view of the priest, the blushing bride and me, all dressed as Lionel Richie.
I’m sure that the councillors would approve.

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