Same day, different kind of wedding


The royal wedding will fade into the background today for KATHY SHERIDAN, who will instead be watching her niece
take a less orthodox wedding route amid outhouses, swallows, family muck-ins and hand-painted murals

TRUCE. OKAY? For the day that’s in it, there will be no reference to the deranged concept of a monarchy. No comment on head-bangingly senseless phrases such as “Your Highness” (as opposed to, um, “Your Lowness”?). No sniping at the lunatics acquiring “teeth tattoos” of the royal couple or sculpting their images in toothpicks and so on, or at the unctuous, drivel-spouting royal “experts” possibly triggering a mass evacuation of areas surrounding television sets, even as you read . . . Truce, because as far as we can tell, Will and Kate make a pleasant, sensible, mature young couple who derive love, comfort, joy and fun from each other’s company. And today at a church in central London, at the heart of the insane psychodrama that signifies a royal/celebrity alliance will come a moment when Kate from Reading and Will from Windsor make their commitment to each other, sacred and public.

A few hours later in a church in north Kildare, Barbara Robinson and John Paul Ennis, too, will have their own sacred moment. So our couples share a wedding date. They have other things in common too. They are around the same age and no one, startlingly, has a bad word to say about either of them.

The tall, handsome grooms do useful work: Will is a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot: JP runs Sportworks, a family business specialising in design, construction and maintenance of sports surfaces, while keeping dozens of jobs alive.

The brides are lovely and not just in the conventional every-bride-is-beautiful sense; they are authentic beauties. As for useful work, it’s fair to say Kate has yielded little evidence of any so far, beyond the not inconsiderable feat of not putting a foot wrong over eight years of intense scrutiny and rising above the sneers at her commoner-ship and dodgy relatives. She is also the first future British queen to hold a degree.

Barbara, meanwhile, has acquired several degrees (and is currently studying for another), has done aid runs to the Balkans in comfortless convoys (her 21st birthday cake was modelled on an aid lorry) and works as a training co-ordinator with Bord Gáis Energy. She is irredeemably modest, has a mildly dramatic streak and has never even come close to uttering the loathsome words, “fairytale” or “perfect” in connection with her wedding.

This is crucial because both couples have one other thing in common: the wedding reception is in the family home. At time of writing, a few days in advance, we’re still not 100 per cent sure if you should try this at home yourselves, children. Unless home is Buckingham Palace, with an army of flunkies and planners at one’s disposal (not to mention a literal army).

When your reception entrance is a couple of disused stables in a farmyard for example, it presents a few problems Kate and Will probably haven’t had to contend with. Only last week a slew of newly-wed swallows pitched up in those particular roof beams and built lovely starter homes. Their ceaseless droppings have already turned the woodwork a fetching off-white shade. Human guests should keep their hats on. It’s the kind of unpredictable natural hazard apt to both warm and chill the heart.

In the dead of a cruel, recessionary winter, Barbara and JP’s home-based reception was a vision that seemed hardly achievable. A couple who, over one summer alone attended 13 weddings, had an extensive guest list. A marquee on the lawn was considered and dismissed when a parade of professionals arrived, scratched their heads and opined that two marquees would be required – one for drinks, a second for dining, plus an interminable list of separately-priced, budget-busting yet vital supplementaries such as toilets and generators and lighting and heating . . . Finally, Peter, the bride’s father (a can-do farmer) eyed up the derelict stables across the old cobblestone yard and attached haybarn (the shed) and came up with a plan: a basic marquee for dining and dancing, accessed through the stables, via drinks in the shed.

It was a hell of a vision – in every sense. The musty old stables with the built-in troughs and ancient paint splatters on the tiny, panelled windows, at least had the virtue of being small in scale and built of dignified, old cut stone. The shed was another story: a vast, brutalist breeze-block structure covered in several breeds of galvanised rooting, leading to a workshop and a busy, working farmyard.

Only an incurable optimist and – possibly – IM Pei could look and not despair. The bride’s mother, Mary T, did a discreet bit of the latter before being buried in a haze of lists. Jill, the bride’s sister, organised a faultless hen party for 34, where food arrived on schedule and the bride-to-be was thrown out of only one club (for dancing on a table). Then, with the spring awakening, something remarkable happened.

It evolved into a sort of anti-Celtic Tiger wedding.

As farm life went on, Robinson, Hurley, Ennis and neighbourhood males got down to painting walls, fixing doors, building steps, replacing bits of roof and filling small craters. A trickle of female volunteers became an army. Sisters, nieces, cousins, neighbours, old friends and offspring of every generation turned up in the kitchen, bearing not just cakes, hams and lasagnes, but rubber gloves, scraping tools, lanterns, garden furniture and boot-loads of ivy.

Then they went to work – scrubbing and painting, scraping and shining. Blaithin Brennan painted two massive cows’ heads on the walls around the cattle crush, aka the smoking area, while the bride’s brother David cleaned down an ancient John Deere tractor and gave it pride of place among the “cows”. As an apolitical nod to Will and Kate, Jill has acquired a mass of white bunting to hang in the smoking area.

JP’s mother Muriel and sister Jeud used a cousin’s birthday party in France to load up with wine. Jeud – who runs a related business – printed the Mass booklet and table placings. Barbara’s aunt, Mary Coonan, made the wedding cake. The bride’s uncle Pat sourced the wedding car and won the job of chauffeuring the fabulous bride – six foot tall in her elegant heels, in a gown made by Denise Assas, an unheralded, Dublin-based French couturier.

No wedding planner will be rushing around to put a stamp on this day. When the bride is on her way, the chauffeur will merely ring ahead to his daughter, Mary Kate (performing with a string quartet in the church today as opposed to her usual act with Fight Like Apes) to tee up the church guests and the celebrant, Fr Aidan Troy.

In such ways is the alchemy of family and community generosity of spirit created to generate waves of love and goodwill towards the bridal couple. A trip to a nearby nursery with plant expert, John Joe Costin, to stock up on camouflage for the fuel tank in the yard, doubled as an enthralling lesson about nature and scale and the origins of Chinese torture, not to mention stories of mad Celtic Tiger notions about appropriate plants for Irish conditions.

This morning, Felicity Satchwell, a friend and award-winning florist, will be using her artistry with bucket-loads of ivy to soften brutalist surfaces and put the finishing touches to an arch of cascading spring flowers.

Then her son Roger will raise the arch over the doors of St Mary’s Church. Tomorrow he’ll cook a pig on a spit for the laggards tuning into Leinster’s European Cup punt at Toulouse, on a TV in the Shed. (A few of us Lunsters will have taken refuge in Thomond Park by then.)

As I write, farm machinery is still clanking away in the grain store near the field kitchen. Closeby, Robinson’s haylage (food for horses of discernment) continues to be bagged. Around the lawns out front, where sleepers are being laid to frame the planted areas, the bride is getting stuck in, her hands covered in black creosote. Near the glossy green areas around the majestic oaks and sequoias, strips of grass carpet are being rolled out by the perfectionist groom and his crew.

The day is sunny and warm, and as the paint-splattered, inter-generational army of family, friends and neighbours stops to watch for a moment, a gentle breeze sways the towering, ridiculously full-flowered cherry blossom tree, wafting soft showers of delicate pink and ivory petals on everyone present. It is like a blessing, a moment in time so rich in warmth, fulfilment, tenderness and meaning, that you wish it for all the bright-eyed, hopeful young couples setting out on their great voyage today.

A blessing for Barbara and JP, for Will and Kate, for Peter Christian and Róisín Ní Mhidheach getting married in our home village of Ardclough. And even for the incontinent swallows, who flew half way across the world to bring their own special blessing . . . Umbrellas supplied.