In early 1969, my parents were dating, or as my mother says, “they were doing a line”. In fact, she would probably describe it as “a strong line” because things were getting serious. They often went on dates to Dublin, as they both lived in Dundalk at the time.
One evening, while they were on a date on Harcourt Street, my Dad started to ask my Mum to marry him. She stopped him. She didn’t want to get engaged on Harcourt Street, as it didn’t sound romantic enough. That ended that.
Eventually, Dad succeeded in proposing to Mum. They had dinner in Wynn’s hotel on Abbey Street, and then they went to see Brigadoon followed by tea and cake in a cafe called Paradiso that was either on Westmoreland Street or D’Olier Street, where my dad was allowed to pop the question. So while we all know that my parents didn’t get engaged on Harcourt Street, we’re not sure where they actually did get engaged.
Today, my parents decided to come back to Dublin. Their grandchildren aren’t in Cork at the moment and they have their free travel passes for pensioners, so there’s nothing to stop them hopping on a train to Dublin any time they want. And my mother decided that Wynn’s hotel would be a good place to go, 45 years and one day after their engagement, my 33rd birthday.
I met my parents outside the hotel. The bar and restaurant were both overflowing. The place was thronged. And I was the youngest person there. By at least twenty years. We decided it was just too full, so we went to the pub opposite the hotel and had lunch there.
Once we’d ordered our food, my parents gave me a present, which was lovely. Then my mother told me not to mind her while she wrote my birthday card. She turned to my dad, who handed her a card. She took it saying, “God only knows what kind of card you’ve bought.” She looked at it, and said “Ah, Neil!” Dad was clearly in trouble. She showed me my birthday card, which said “Happy Birthday Niece!” in big letters at the front, with a picture of a horse underneath it. “He never reads cards properly” my mother asked.
I asked why she hadn’t gone with him to buy the card. She said she’d stood outside the shop just in case I arrived and they weren’t there. I don’t know what she thinks would have happened. I’d hardly have stormed off immediately if my parents hadn’t been at the hotel at the exact time we’d arranged.
She put the card back in its bag and Dad rooted around in his pockets until he found the receipt. The story of the card wasn’t over.
We had a lovely lunch and a great chat. When all of your brothers and sisters have very different lives in very different places there’s always a lot to talk about. And when that fails, there are plenty of recent funerals for my mother to describe.
We’d been sitting together for two hours when we left. My mother turned to me and asked, “What does your hair look like at the moment?” I was told that she approved of the colour, but it was too short. She would prefer if I cut my hair like it was the day of my brother’s wedding because it was lovely that day.
We went into Veritas, the religious items shop on Abbey Street, where my “Happy Birthday Niece” card had been bought. Dad queued up and exchanged it for a neutral birthday card. He brought it over to my mum and handed her a pen. I turned away while she wrote the card. She handed it to me saying “I didn’t put it in the envelope because you’d only have to take it out again.” The message in the card read: “Happy birthday not from your uncle and aunt. Love Mammy and Daddy.”
We spent another while looking around Veritas at crosses and books about saints’ lives. Then we crossed the road and spent about half an hour in the pound shop, where Mum picked something out for each of the grandchildren.
Eventually, they were ready to get back on the Luas to the train station. I thanked my parents for coming up. My mother said “Don’t thank us, thank Charlie Haughey for giving free transport to the pensioners.” And with that, they were gone.
I actually love that everyone in my family is mad as a brush. I wouldn’t have it any other way.