Marriage, and gardening


IT IS 1934, young Germans are wearing brown shirts, young German Jews are wearing yellow stars, and right here in Dublin this is what some young Irish people are wearing. This is the fashionable wedding of Moira O’Hanlon and Arthur O’Leary. Moira was daughter of the eminent Dublin gynaecologist Master O’Hanlon. He lived in Seapoint House in Monkstown, Co Dublin, a house in more recent years owned by the eminent, but now late, auctioneer John Finnegan.

Left to right the bridesmaids are Agnes Conan, Maureen Leavy, Sheelagh Somebody and Mary Somebody. Agnes was this writer’s aunt, and married Gaston Nykerk. A Belgian, I’ve always suspected him of being a Nazi, but whether he was or wasn’t, he left Europe immediately after the war and settled in Brazil. Agnes is buried in a very elaborate marble tomb in Sao Paulo, but then, she was a very elaborate woman, and mysterious. For reasons I can not explain, the tune of Don’t Cry for Me Argentinaalways comes to mind when looking at her photos, though she was far better looking than the real Evita.

The second bridesmaid, Maureen, was daughter of Mr Leavy, musical director of the Theatre Royal. She was to marry a lawyer, and lived in a house called Violet Hill on Dalkey’s Vico Road. I drank with her son in pubs, I pottered with her daughter in boats in Killiney Bay, and danced with her too, some nights. That daughter married an Italian. I spent some time in Italy recently, and thought of her, but came to no conclusions. And as for her brother, my one-time drinking mate, he stayed in Ireland and became the life and soul of Fitzgerald’s Pub in Sandycove. He died of alcoholism. Another daughter works in a supermarket. She doesn’t recognise me, and I push my trolley by and the clock ticks on. Of the other bridesmaids, Sheelagh and Mary, I know nothing. I suppose they have had their children, who drink and dance and marry, I suppose. Their lives to me are as fuzzy and as out of focus as their images on this print.

The marriage of Moira O’Hanlon and Arthur O’Leary did not last. She had a son, who became a priest. His priesthood did not last either.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a little old lady tended the flowerbeds at the park near Sandycove Harbour. Before she came along, it was a noisome and sinister place, overgrown. There were “men” in there, or so my parents told me when I was a child. I don’t think they knew the word paedophile, but they certainly knew the word “men”, particularly when it came wrapped up in inverted commas. And so myself and my sister were forbidden to walk through that park.

The little old lady who once was Moira O’Hanlon took it all in hand. She and other activists got the park cleared, bushes cut back and little flowerbeds laid out. There was no place left for the “men” to hide.

Tending that little park was a hobby for Moira. Sometimes the Corpo sent a worker to help, but more often not. She gardened on, silently. Every day, always dressed to kill – quite inappropriately for gardening, but stylish. People said “Good Morning, Mrs O’Leary” as they passed. Or “Good Afternoon, Mrs O’Leary,” as they paused to chat and admire her work. And then they passed on.

I lived near there. And I too passed and paused, and chatted the day away. She didn’t know who I was, and I never told her. Why should she want to know the nephew of her bridesmaid? It was 50 years since her wedding, and the bridesmaid was dead these 30. And so she gardened on, burying her thoughts in the clay, the way a gardener does. And nearby the young and beautiful frolicked in Sandycove Harbour. They had their own dreams.

I went to Moira’s funeral. For no reason, none that I can think of now. Maybe because the mysterious Agnes couldn’t come. Maybe just because I’m a writer, and we do things like that. Trying to shape the circles of our lives. Looking for connections. The funeral was quiet enough.

Far away was 1934, and the marriage of Arthur O’Leary and Moira O’Hanlon.

Conan Kennedy is a writer whose most recent books include the novel Ogulla Well, and (as editor) the recently published five-volume edition of The Diaries of Mary Hayden. E-mail: