3 October 2015, Saturday
It had been a good day—and it was about to get better. We got ourselves down to the bar around four o’clock (we’d told our guests 4:30) in order to familiarize ourselves with the space and the bartenders and servers who’d been assigned to our party. Once again, the Portmarnock party-planning folks have great staff and do a wonderful job. I can’t say that enough. Everyone was so friendly and eager to make us happy. (You can say, “Sure, you’re paying them” if you want, but if you’ve ever run into someone who tells you “That’s not our policy” or “It’s not my job,” you really appreciate staff whose first response is, “Sure! That’s grand” and “Of course we/you can!”)
I should explain to Americans that the general way Irish wedding receptions proceed (and we’d modeled our party on this formula) is this: meet in the bar, have a drink or two … move into the dining room to eat and make a few speeches after dessert … move back to the bar. (This last is usually so the dining room can be cleared and the dance floor set up, but we skipped the dancing. It was Saturday and there was a band in the bar, which was great.) So our party proceeded in three stages.
Bar, the First
There we were, hanging out in the bar. And shortly, Pat—one of the gentleman of the ESB—showed up. Pat and Gerry worked side-by-side for fifteen years, until Pat retired earlier this year. He’d volunteered to video the proceedings for us, and had camera in hand.
After that, things started happening pretty quickly.
Right after this, it got very busy. Suddenly the room was full of people! I was supposed to be helping Gerry manage the drinks—we bought everyone a drink when they arrived—but I kept getting sidetracked. And then all of Gerry’s childhood friends arrived. Oh, my goodness. 🙂
Gerry’s friends were so welcoming and playful and friendly! It was spectacular. You’ve no doubt heard the phrase feeling the love—and I certainly felt it in that room. I think they had all hoped this happiness for Gerry, finding a partner to do life with, and they were happy to finally meet me (after twelve years!). They all hugged me. And you know I am a hugger, so it was all good.
And there were more friends, more family, more everything!
But my niece, Alli, wasn’t there. She and her husband, Sabas, were staying with Gerry’s nephew, Eoin, and his wife, Tracy. And they hadn’t arrived yet. About an hour into it, the woman* managing the dining room began to circulate, suggesting we steer our guests in to dinner. I asked her if we could slow the process down just a bit, because there were a couple guests who were running late, and she immediately got it. “Would you like me to delay this?” she said, smiling broadly. This is typical of the wonderful service we got from everyone involved with our party.
As it turned out, our Missing Persons showed up shortly after that. I found the Managing Lady, everything got back on track, and we all went in to dinner.
The Dining Room
But first … we took a group photo. On my camera and tripod, which I’d lugged across the Atlantic precisely for this purpose. We did not have a professional photographer, so there was no one to say, “You move left two inches, and you step forward.” We took about a dozen photos and none of them is perfect, but this one gives a good feel for what we did. Everybody laughed, snuggled in close, and had a good time. It was great, really. I’ve just zoomed in to make the key, and it’s quite an accomplishment.
Front row, L–R: Gerry, me, Pauline, Isolde, Richie, Bridie, William, Gwen, Clare, Alli, and Orla. Pat on the far right.
Middle rows, L–R: Sandra, Brendan, Ruth, John, Emmet, ’Becca, Pris, Carol, Laura (partially hidden, Sinéad, Phillip, Damian (glasses, partially hidden), Ashling, Ann, Paddy O. (all you can see is his white hair), Maureen, Tracy, Neil, Tiffany, Robert, Camille, Phillip.
Way back there, L–R: Mike (red shirt, mostly hidden), Paddy M., Brian, Conor, Fran, Conor, Eoin, Sabas.
Everyone clustered in front of the seating chart to see what table they’d be at, and then went on in. At Irish wedding dinners, as I understand, the wedding party sits together at the “main” table, and then the rest of the invitees are scattered around at the other tables. When we made our seating plan, I relied on Gerry’s experience in these matters. We put the most immediate family—his brothers and wives, their mother, my niece and her husband—at the main table. After that, we had one American couple (or single) per table, one representative of Gerry’s family (the younger generation) per table, one of Gerry’s friends, and one of his work colleagues per table. We had a little bit of last-minute seat changes, but it all shook out well.
It takes a few minutes to get everyone seated—particularly because now new conversational circles are created, and new stories begin. 🙂
When Gerry slid in next to me, he said, “Now I know why you need a best man—this meeting and greeting is hard work!” Then he looked across the table at his brother Richie. “Is it too late to designate you as best man?” We all laughed, and Richie volunteered to emcee later.
The food was lovely—nothing I’ve ever had at the Portmarnock was not—the wine was good, and the noise level rose in the room.
And then it was time for a few speeches. Richie introduced Gerry, who spoke extemporaneously and was great. There was no way I could speak in front of a room full of people without notes. I’d prepared weeks ago—and even so, watching the video of my speech makes me cringe. After that, we’d asked the two youngest members of both our families to speak: my niece Alli and Gerry’s niece Orla. Richie, meanwhile, had been working the room, asking if any of Gerry’s friends wanted to speak, and Phillip D. said a few words, to much heckling from the others. (Gerry’s friends are a tight-knit group.) Finally Richie made a great show of pulling out pages and pages of notes, to much groaning—his turn as father of the bride, a few months earlier, had gone on and on, and he has yet to live it down. As it turns out, the joke was on us—one page of notes! The rest was just for show, and it brought the house down.
In my speech, I told our guests I wanted to circulate the room and get photos, and that’s what happened next. Pat, videocamera in hand, grabbed me and escorted me around the tables, filming. Alli took stills (though not all worked out).
We tried to get the family too.
Then people started getting up, moving around … but still Pat and Alli and I soldiered on!
Then Alli went out into the anteroom to get some photos while I was still socializing in the dining room.
And by then everyone had moved into the bar.
Bar, the Second
There was already a good crowd in the bar, and then the band cranked up. Oh, goodness.
It was loud—and still we carried on conversations. I moved around a little among the various groups, although I was getting very tired. Still, I was delighted with a conversation I had with Gwen: growing up, she said, there was always one drawer in the fridge reserved for chocolate. Oh my goodness! I discovered Maureen and Neil’s fridge drawer of chocolate back in 2012 and thought it was the best thing ever! I didn’t realize it was a thing. (A tradition?) Yes, I raided it. Silly. No, I do not have a chocolate drawer in the fridge here in Tennessee—this is America, our chocolate isn’t worth eating.
Gerry’s pals started the sing-song at some point (when the band was taking a break). Another Irish tradition I was delighted to witness.
It was just … wonderful, this party. Even if I do say so myself. It was a happy occasion.
I got to bed around 2am. I could not have gone another moment. Gerry came up about an hour later. Whew.
* I can’t remember her name, now, and I thought I’d written it down. Darn it. She was wonderful.