Mary Kelly, now there was a woman. She was a year younger than me and was a real beauty. She must have been a couple of inches short of 6 feet tall and had flame red hair down below her shoulder, with a smooth complexion and the deepest eyes I had ever encountered.
I said in a previous post that she must have lowered her standards to talk to me, and that wasn’t being sarcastic or anything as she was the kind of woman I felt I could only admire from afar. She never seemed to have a man on her arm and that could have something to do with her three Neanderthal brothers.
Their mother had died a few years previous and Mary had to become the woman of the house at an early age looking after the three stooges and their equally cantankerous father. Don’t get me wrong they were hard workers and had built up a good business on their farm. They had moved out of the old farmhouse a couple of years ago and had built a lovely two storey dwelling on the shores of the Lough. But, boy, were they protective of their “little” sister.
As fate would have it, I was in the shop when Mary, accompanied by minder Mikey, arrived in to get a few things. Mikey had stayed in the car and Mary was cruising the shelves. She was magnificent even in her working clothes as I surreptitiously stole the odd glance as she walked round the shop. Eventually finished with the shop she arrived at the till.
“Bit of a ruckus at the do the other night, Ger” says she with a smile
“Aye, families eh!” says I
“The Broadford GAA dance is on next Saturday, are you lot going?” she enquired.
“I might be, but the ould lad is still licking his wounds” says I
“I have a spare ticket” says she
Well my heart leapt out of my chest, here was the best looking girl in the vicinity asking me out. Then a little caution also seeped into my mind. Her brothers might take exception to me accompanying their “little” sister on a night out.
“Perfect, what time shall I pick you up” says I
“Around 7 would be fine and we can have a couple in Mikes before we go” says she.
She paid for the groceries, and as she walked out the door she gave a shake of her head and stared me right in the eye.
“Your father really is an awful dancer though” says she.
Saturday came around and I was as nervous as hell. Anyway when I arrived in the kitchen freshly laundered and reeking of aftershave, the ould lad piped up.
“Off to the dance tonight then” says he
“Aye” says I
“Got a date” says my Ma
“Aye” says I
“Well, who is it” says my Ma
“Mary Kelly” says I
“Ohh – she’s a lovely girl” says my Ma
“Are you mad” says the ould lad “after what happened in Killaloe do you really think that the boys will let you go out with their “little” sister”
“Killaloe is water under the bridge Da” says I
“Just make sure you don’t end up being thrown off that bridge” says he
I arrived at their house and got out of the car and I could hear raised voices coming from the kitchen, I walked around the side of the house and whilst only catching a few words I could tell all was not right in the Kelly household. As I marvelled at the lovely aspect of the house with its magnificent views over the Lough and the rolling hills I caught some bits of Mary’s lively tirade.
“My life……feckers…..dictate…..who I like…..nothing….or else”
Mary’s tone brokered no replies and it didn’t take a genius to work out that I was the subject of the heated discussion. There was a crash from within the walls and the next thing was, the door to the kitchen slammed open and Mikey and P J ran out closely followed by an assorted array of pots, all accurately bouncing off their rapidly retreating backs. As they legged it past me I caught a mumbled “Good luck with that” from Mickey as they disappeared up the fields. Mary arrived at the door in full flow, letting rip a torrent of abuse that would have had the ould lad beaming in admiration. God she looked magnificent, her red hair blazing in the autumn evening sun and her eyes on fire. She then noticed me.
“Ger” says she
“A bit of a domestic” says I
“They need reminding that I have a mind of my own sometimes” says she
“That is one thing that is not in dispute” says I
“Will you have a cup of tea while I finish up” says she.
“Aye” says I
I sat at the kitchen table and it was a very clean and tidy kitchen and was a credit to her. She made the tea and disappeared to “finish off” as she put it. Not long after she arrived back into the kitchen and my heart did a double somersault followed by a triple salchow, finishing off by stopping while my eyes tried to take in the vision. She was drop dead gorgeous and I had to pinch myself to make sure this wasn’t a figment of my imagination.
We left the house and pulled up outside Mikes. As we walked in all heads turned, as they usually did when Mary walked into a room, and then they turned again as they took in who was her escort. The look of complete disbelief was evident in all their faces and I felt a certain smugness, if the truth was told.
The next hour or so was pleasantly spend in conversation with Mary and others and she was wonderful company. I was a lucky man as she seemed to only have time for me. We wandered out to the car and headed off to the dance. The dance was in the next village, with whom we had a friendly rivalry over the years, but it was usually a quiet night with minimal disruption. We parked the car and walked into the dance hall. There was a small crowd, but that would change at official closing time when the drunken hordes would descend on the dance.
I had a pleasant couple of dances and had eventually overcame my awe and shock at having this beautiful woman on my arm. We got on like a house on fire and had great talks about her brothers and their protective nature. She really had to grow up quick after her mother died and put her own ambitions and dreams on hold. She really wanted to go off to Africa and assist in some way with the charitable organisations that were in place over there. She was a really wonderful, warm person and I counted myself blessed to be spending time with her.
As the place filled up, it got a bit lively and the band responded with some faster dances that we sat out, locked in a sparkling conversation about her dreams and aspirations. Our little bubble was burst by a drunken booming voice.
“So, high and mighty Miss Carrot Top, where’s your brother’s now”
His conversation was cut short as his mouth was closed by a particularly vicious uppercut delivered from ground level whilst rising from a sitting position up to full height. It was the sweetest punch that was ever delivered and I was only sorry that it wasn’t me who delivered it. Mary had decked this eejit and was standing over his prone body.
“I don’t need my brothers to deal with Shite like you” she softly said
She calmly looked at fallen boy’s two friends and enquired sweetly whether they had anything to add. Surprisingly enough, they hadn’t as they picked up the groggy victim of Mary’s assault and slinked away. We had a couple of dances and she said she was fed up with this dump and would I bring her home. We drove home and had a great laugh at her prowess in the boxing department which, given the fact that she had grown up with those three bruisers was no real surprise. Now at this point a man’s thoughts would necessarily stray to sexual things, but this girl was special and I was determined to be a perfect gentleman. As we parked by the Lough a short way for the house we continued the conversation around ambitions etc, until she said.
“Well, are you not going to kiss me”
I was going out with Mary for a couple of weeks and it was absolutely fantastic, she was wonderful company and I was the proudest man to have her on my arm. I was however making a conscious decision to avoid her brothers. One Sunday we had arranged to go into Galway for the afternoon and I got up as usual to go to mass and help out in the shop before picking her up.
The day started well with my mother bending my ear over the state of the room, the ould lad bending my ear over the state of the paddock, the dog bit me and the cat had crapped in my shoe and I had put it on before I noticed. After mass the ould lad continued in the shop with a non stop commentary about my lack of commitment, the mother kept it up at dinner after we closed the shop, the dog went to bite me again and the fecking cat smiled at me.
I was in a foul humour when I arrived down at Kellys. I knocked on the back door and hear old man Kelly’s voice inviting me in. I walked into the kitchen still not in the best of humour and saw old man Kelly and the three stooges sitting like the four horse men of the apocalypse on one side of the large kitchen table with a lone seat opposite them.
“Sit down a minute Ger” says the old man
I sat down and they looked in a real serious mood.
“We wish to inquire as to your intentions for Mary” says old man Kelly.
Well that did it, me mother, me father, the fecking dog and even the fecking cat had started it, these planks finished it. I am normally a placid man but this took the biscuit. If old man Kelly had pulled me aside one day, to have a chat, I would have reacted a lot differently. But to have his sons in on the act as Judge, Jury and fecking executioner was too much.
I jumped to my feet, sending the chair spinning towards the sink and I started. I slammed the table and proceeded to tell them what they were, pointed out their deficiencies in the cranium department, that I was enjoying their sisters company and she had a mind of her own. I was mad right down to my feet and I let them have both barrels. I completed my tirade by saying if they didn’t like the situation they could form an orderly queue outside in the yard and I would be happy to accommodate them.
Apart from that last piece of foolishness, they would have killed me, I was quite proud of my outburst. It was then that I noticed Mary in the doorway and she had a wonderful smile on her face as she backed away into the parlour.
Old man Kelly cleared his throat noisily. “That’s all right then – off to Galway are ye” says he “Have a good day, come on lads we have work to do”
They trooped out after the old man and I sat down shaking, WTF was I thinking of, that little episode could have booked me a long stay in intensive care. Mary came into the kitchen.
“They deserved that” says she
“I need a drink” says I
“Come on I’ll buy the first one” she laughed
I don’t think that life could have been any better, Mary was wonderful and we spend some great times together. There was an added bonus as well, the Kelly brothers weren’t trying to knock my head off.
I was having a quiet pint in Mikes when old man Kelly came in and indicated that he wanted a word in private. Here we go again I thought. We walked outside and sat on the bench. I waited for the father to boyfriend talk and he looked really lost in himself.
“Ger, I want you to talk to Mary” says he
“About what?” I enquired
“She’s talking of leaving” says he
Well we had of course had conversations about her dreams and aspirations but she hadn’t mentioned that they were going to be reality. I felt really sad at that and I looked at old man Kelly and he was crestfallen.
“She’s a headstrong girl, and if she sets out to do something she will do it” says I
“I know, I know, but we will be lost without her” says he
The easy life of someone cooking and cleaning you mean, I ungraciously thought. But then I looked at him and he had seemed to shrink into his clothes and I beat myself up for the bad thought. He was genuinely upset about his “wee girl’s” decision.
I met her that night and we talked into the small hours of the morning and I was caught up in her enthusiasm and vocation for what she wanted. She had contacted an organisation that specialised in these affairs and was off to Dublin to have an interview. My heart was heavy, was I in love? I had never said as much but of course I was. I entertained thoughts of going as well, but that was my heart talking, I knew I could never do anything like that. That made me feel like a real bastard and as I drove home I was seething with myself.
It was of course selfishness on my part as I thought about her decision. The more I thought about the more I knew I wasn’t going to try and persuade her not to follow her dream. It just a real bummer that I wasn’t going to be part of it. She returned from Dublin with the news that she was leaving the following week. On the day of departure there were tears in the eyes of the hardest men I have ever known as she left for the departure gate. She took me aside
“I have loved our time together, but I must do this” she said
“I know” says I
“I will write, but will you reply” says she
“Of course” says I
She left without a backward glance and the gate closed on a particularly good time of my life.
“Ger, let’s get drunk” says old man Kelly
“I’m with you” says I
We went back and got blazing drunk and as the boys were in a bad mood it got a little lively as well. I was just glad I wasn’t the object of their frustration.
She of course wrote, and I of course replied, but as with most things in life it runs its course and the correspondence got more infrequent and eventually stopped. She did take Holy Orders within 5 years of leaving and never returned, except for brief visits. She had followed her dream and had caught it, and the sight of Mary Kelly the nun never ceased to amaze me. The last I heard, she was still helping the needy and giving her love unconditionally to all who required it. The Kelly boys? They found their own love and settled down. Although they did of course revert to type at old man Kelly’s funeral when they wrecked the hotel bar at the breakfast when someone dared to talk out of turn.
An amazing woman never easily forgotten………