Sunday, September 24, 2000

Women know how to party like the Irish

Cincinnati duo plans weddings and wakes the way they do 'em on the auld sod

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Somebody stop these women before they make yet another pronouncement.

        If you find something that's fun to do, you'll never work a day in your life, says Bridget Haggerty between swigs of bottled water.

        Oops, too late.

[photo] Bridget Haggerty holds a bride's lace handkerchief, which can be converted into a bonnet for a baby's christening. Jane FitzGerald holds a satin horseshoe carried by the bride in an Irish wedding.
(Joseph Fuqua II photo)
| ZOOM |
        Get down on your knees and thank God you're still on your feet, adds Jane FitzGerald.

        Sounds like bull, doesn't it, the Cincinnati business partners and friends ask. Our theory is, if it sounds like BS, it's probably Irish.

        Not that either is trashing the auld sod: Ms. Haggerty was born in England shortly after her parents moved there from Ireland; Ms. FitzGerald was born in Toledo of a hard-core Irish couple.

        “Both of us convent-trained Irish girls,” Ms. Haggerty says as the two of them — zany, bawdy, laughing till it hurts — pepper their conversations with Irish sayings and now and then a question: Whatever were we drinking that night in Dublin?

        It's a lonesome washing that there's not a man's shirt in it.

        Ireland, it seems, is their livelihood — a consulting firm called Celtic Celebrations that helps plan Irish christenings, weddings, wakes and other milestones. Cradle to coffin, they call it.

        Oh yeah, they also work on biiiig Celtic parties, like the Cincinnati Celtic Music and Culture Festival next weekend at Coney Island. Ms. FitzGerald is on the committee. Ms. Haggerty is in charge of offering moral support.

        “Mostly we do weddings — about 100 in our company's two years, a lot of them over the Internet,” Ms. Haggerty says.

        “Did you know they used to lock the groom in the church before the wedding? It was to keep him from running away.”

        It's why women marry — the creatures, God bless them, are too shy to say no.


        “What would surprise you,” Ms. FitzGerald adds, “is how many of them were in Ireland. The Irish want to be so much like Americans that they've forgotten the old customs. We're a source of information for them.

        Most of the info is in The Traditional Irish Wedding (Irish Books and Media; $18.95), the how-to Ms. Haggerty wrote after collecting the information for her daughter's wedding in '98.

        May those that love us, love us, and those that don't love us, may God turn their hearts. And if He doesn't turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles, so we'll know them by their limping.

       The book, published last November in the U.S. and earlier this year in Ireland, keeps Ms. Haggerty on the road doing signings and lectures in between consulting on cradle-to-coffin parties.

        “It's become popular to plan your own wake. We haven't done any yet because we're so young,” Ms. Haggerty says, declining to reveal her age but admitting she's been married 37 years.

        “We've been friends since we worked in the ad department at Shillito's 30 years ago. That's a clue,” Ms. FitzGerald says.

        Aitin the Gander.

        Excuse us?

        Another custom. Before the wedding the groom went to the bride's house for roasted gander. Cooked goose. As in “His goose is cooked,” Ms. FitzGerald says.

        “The term wake comes from awake,” Ms. Haggerty says. “The idea was to stay awake with a loved one so fairies wouldn't steal his soul. They ate, told stories and made music until the body was carried to the church.

        “The idea was not to drink”

Filling in the blanks

        So, you wanna fill in some blanks, ladies?

        “Blank us.”

        The most startling thing for a newcomer at an Irish wedding ...

        Bridget: Probably the horseshoe. In the old days, brides carried a real one down the aisle for good luck. Today, it's usually satin. Some even sew them inside the dress.

        Jane: I think the straw boys. They were boys who rustled cattle. After the job, they'd avoid capture by dressing in straw hats and sneaking in to a wedding. They'd drink and dance but never talk. Eventually they got to be a sign of good luck. It's called “strawing a wedding.”

        The most startling thing for a newcomer at an Irish wake ...

        Bridget: It's the lack of debauchery and drinking. Despite the misconception, it's actually considered a sign of disrespect to over-drink.

        One Irish custom Americans will probably never adopt ...

        Bridget: Dirtying a baby's face to make the child so unattractive the fairies would not steal it.

        Jane: They used embers. You see those old pictures of filthy, ragged children. That's not always because they were poor; it's because fairies only steal beautiful children.

        The custom Americans love most ...

        Bridget: They think it's drinking. But Americans don't realize that the Irish aren't really heavy drinkers. Maybe on a Saturday they'd cut loose, but that's because they weren't allowed to drink at home. The only booze in the house was kept there for the priest.

        Jane: I think the custom they love most is the Irish love of life. Their incredible joy of living.

        The most serious faux pas at an Irish wedding ...

        Bridget: It's bad luck for a woman to be the first one to congratulate the bride. A man has to do it first.

        Jane: Also, not coming to the wedding. It's considered a huge insult.

        The last piece of advice I give a bride ...

        Bridget: Don't put on your own veil. A happily married woman has to do it for you.

        Jane: And never look at yourself in a full-length mirror. It's such bad luck for a bride to see herself head to toe that the wedding would have to be postponed for a year.

        My favorite Irish toast ...

        Bridget: May all your joys be pure joy, and all your pain champagne.

        Jane: May the roof above you never fall in and your friends gathered below never fall out.

        It's a time of mourning, but a wake is also ...

        Bridget: A wonderful Celtic celebration, a grand finale. It's not mourning, but a celebration of life.

        Jane: It's a new beginning.

        What I'm hearing most about my book ...

Bridget: How helpful it is for one thing. For another, I'm amazed at how many people come up to me and say, “I didn't realize the Irish were so romantic.”

        Working with all these weddings, I'm constantly amazed ...

Bridget: At how much people are willing to spend.

        Jane: At the large number of bridegrooms who want to be in on every step of the planning. Even the smallest details.

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