An Emergency wedding: war, rations and a 70-year love
Seven decades of marriage have not dampened the spark between Eileen Geoghegan and retired Army officer Ned Cusack, who got married just after the D-Day landings in 1944
Ned and Eileen Cusack (nee Geoghegan), at home near the shores of Lough Corrib in Co Galway. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
Ned and Eileen Cusack (nee Geoghegan) on their wedding day in 1944
She wore a shell-pink suit, bought in Moon’s of Galway, and he wore his Army uniform – but almost slept it out and had to run all the way to the church. When Eileen Geoghegan and Ned Cusack took the train from the west coast to Wicklow for their honeymoon, they found the bridal suite was gone and they had to spend their first night together in single beds.
What’s more, the groom’s commanding officer advised him to “stay close” to the only telephone. The D-Day landings had just taken place, and there was a belief that if they failed, Germany could invade Britain and Ireland, and so Ned would have to get back to work.
Some six months before the wedding – 70 years ago tomorrow – the young Army officer from Mitchelstown, Co Cork, had been dispatched from Galway’s Renmore barracks up to Belmullet, Co Mayo, where a US and Canadian aircraft had made an emergency landing after running out of fuel. His job was to guard the aircraft until the British and US air forces could dismantle them and bring them over the border.
Niamh Parkinson's short documentary about Ned and Eileen
“Belmullet was an agreed corridor for aircraft crossing the Atlantic and flying into the North,” says Ned, now 95. “One early morning I saw fleets of them coming in from the sea at first light. We were neutral, you see – but on behalf of the Allies, of course.”
He is getting into a flow, chatting in the living room of their home near Lough Corrib, when his wife intercedes.
“Have you a few days?” says Eileen, who is 92. “He’ll talk to you forever about this. You went off to the war, Ned Cusack, and then you went off fishing. Why, he even took his angling rod on our honeymoon.”
Seven decades of marriage has not dampened the spark between a couple who almost didn’t meet. Ned recalls that he was “quite happy”, sitting back in the barracks one evening in 1940, listening to classical music, when a friend, Eoin Curtin, persuaded him to go to The Hangar ballroom in Salthill.
“Eileen saw me and asked to be introduced – that was the way it was done then,” says Ned. “But she was directed to Eoin by mistake, and I remember her saying, ‘No, the other guy’.”
“But I thought Eoin Curtin was gorgeous,” Eileen protests, as she shows me some of the other Army talent in their wedding photographs – all three of them.
“If I was to tell you what life was like back then, well, it was a different planet,” she says, and recalls how her mother, a primary-school teacher, had died when she was 11. Her father had been a master tailor and they lived next to what is now the Skeffington Arms hotel on Eyre Square.
“There were six of us, and her youngest child, my brother Tom, was just six months old when she died, and so he was reared by relatives in Dublin. We all had to grow up, and somehow I drifted into housekeeping,” she says, with no hint of regret.
Money to buy records
The young Army officer she set eyes on that night had led a very different life, as the second-youngest in a family of 10 reared on a large estate in Mitchelstown, where his father was manager of the dairy herd. Ned didn’t drink or smoke, and had money to buy records.
Still, for all his relative security, he says, they grew up in very insecure times, in the aftermath of the first World War and the long shadow of the War of Independence and subsequent Civil War at home.