AUNT KATE AND THE MATCHMAKER
Though my father lived to be 92, I never heard his speak about his own father. Like many men of his generation, he had developed a stoicism over the years and, similar to soldiers returning from war, he chose not to talk about his early experiences of life.
From my great aunt I learned that her family did not approve of my grandparent’s marriage. Pat was not good enough for the Darcys due to that subtle class distinction that prevailed in rural society, at the time, where pennies often looked down on a half-pennies.
Despite their disapproval, Pat and Maria married in 1908 and had 6 children – 5 boys and a girl. Sadly, my grandmother died from septicaemia in 1923 leaving behind children ranging in age from 14 to 2. She was 39.
My grandfather had 2 brothers and the oldest inherited the home farm. Consequently my grandfather got land from the Congested District Board and bought the material to build a home for his family. However, after the tragic death of his young wife, he couldn’t cope. The house was never built and alcohol took over his life.
As soon as they could, the 2 older boys emigrated to England, the 2 younger boys went to live with one of their childless uncles in Dublin, my father took up residence with his mother’s family and the girl was left to care for her father in a rented house – an event that put an awful blight on the rest of her life. My grandfather died in 1949 shortly after my 2nd birthday.
So, at the age of 9, my father went to live with the Darcy’s in Loughan, a small farm on the slopes of Slieve Aughty. He always spoke of his time there with great affection and remained in close contact with 2 of his uncles for the rest of their lives. Kate Darcy was my grandmother’s older sister and she had remained at home to look after her parents and help them with the farm.
One day, she told me, the local matchmaker called to the house and asked her if she would consider marriage. She told him that, although she had had several proposals in the past, she had declined due to circumstances at the time. However, now that her older brother had married and brought a new woman into the house, she would reconsider the prospect of marrying.
The matchmaker then told her about a blacksmith called Mikie McLoughlin who lived in the town of Loughrea. He was a solid, respectable man with his own home and business as a farrier. He had been a widower for some years and wished to remarry. He was 59 at this time and she was 44.
It was decided that a week later Kate would go to Loughrea with her brother, John. In the town is a fairly-secluded, tree lined promenade called The Walks. It was agreed that she and her brother would enter from the Abbey side while the blacksmith and the matchmaker would walk from the Railway end.
On the day they passed each other but no introductions were made. A week later the matchmaker returned to Loughan and asked her what she thought. She told him that she was impressed by “the cut of this fine gentleman” in his dark suit and hat. Consequently they married a few months later. She moved into the house beside the Forge on the old Galway Road. There they lived happily, she said, until he died suddenly, 6 years later, from a heart attack.
Now in possession of her own home, she invited my father to live with her. Having left school at 13 he was unskilled and worked at a series of part time jobs cutting turf, working on building sites and smashing boulders with a sledge hammer to feed a stone crusher as part of building a road across the Slieve Aughty Mountains. When the war broke out in 1939 my grandaunt helped him buy a big Dodge car and he provided hackney services during the Emergency ferrying well off passengers to train stations, musicians to dances, cattle dealers to fairs and so on. When business declined in 1946 he sold the car for the same price that he paid for in 1939. That year he also married my mother who was a shop girl in the town.
Then thinking about what to do in the bleak post war period, they decided to buy a house and open a small grocery and “fancy goods” shop on Dunkellin St. Aunt Kate concurred with their idea and sold her house to finance the move. My very first memory in life is of watching the carpenters fitting out the shop while I played with the timber off cuts and the sawdust.
Aunt Kate, as we always called her, came to live with us. She and my mother had a curious relationship. Though there was never any hostility, there was a wariness between them and, to a certain extent, they lived parallel lives. My mother’s time was taken up with the shop for 8 to 10 hours most days, except Sunday. Consequently my 2 brothers and I were cared for by Aunt Kate.
She was a kind and considerate woman and we loved her. She had a small circle of friends that she visited or that came to see her. Like many widows at the time, she always dressed in black. She liked to place small, complicated bets on the horses and enjoyed romances from the library. She also drank Buckfast wine “as a tonic for her health” though she was a Pioneer all her life. In her later years we called the doctor one day as she was feeling unwell. Dr Dyar was a gruff, no-nonsense man but a great medic. He examiner her and told her that she’d last a few more years. Then, as he was leaving the room, he saw a statue of St Martin de Porres on the dressing table. Turning to her he said: “If you take that black lad into bed with you, you’ll be better in no time”.
In her late eighties, still hale and hearty, she fell off the roundabout in a children’s playground and broke her hip. Eventually, she moved into St Brendan’s Nursing home where she died in 1980 aged 92.