By Olivia Tracey
There’s nothing like an Irish wedding and a mother’s 80th birthday to bring you back to the old sod. It’s the perfect recipe for celebration, which, in this case, exercised that instinctive Irish habit of snowballing into one eternal party.
Barely off the plane, it was straight to the Shelbourne for a quick cuppa with my sister Helen and my lookalike buddy, Maria Collins of Tara Mines fame, whom I just happened to bump into on nearby Dawson Street. As we girls chatted fervently, much to the amusement of a single gentleman nursing a coffee at the next table, I spotted yet more pals of mine in the form of mother and daughter duo, Eileen and Dee Murphy. Both were looking as well as ever, with Eileen eagerly awaiting some serious leisure time in Palm Springs, while Dee has just joined the ranks of the many returning to Ireland after a number of years here in California.
A brief whiz through The Westbury had me colliding with a relaxed and radiant Gay Byrne, enjoying his retirement no end, and taking off with Kathleen on numerous vacations, including Aer Lingus TransAtlantic trips, first class of course, for which he had abundant praise. "The food was as good as you’d get in any five-star restaurant" he enthused, a testament to which I must agree.
Next stop was, at last, home, in perfect time to graciously accept the keys to my brother Ciaran’s brand new Volkswagen, delivered to the door only minutes before. "No doubt you’ll need this for your social whirls," he said, smiling dryly, assuring me that he was happy to beat the rush hour traffic on his bike. What a dear brother he is.
The following day it was time to gear up for the Mammy’s birthday party with a family gathering at one of the country’s greatest tourist attractions, Jury’s Irish Cabaret. We were definitely the only locals there, a party of eight including my treasured Auntie Pat. And we had a ball, singing along to the old favorites, laughing heartily at Joe Cuddy’s jokes and, of course, hanging on to every note of the ageless Tony Kenny’s repertoire.
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My next social venture took place in the very happening Unicorn restaurant across from the Shelbourne. This of course is a former romantic lunchtime haunt of mine as indeed, I since learned, it was for my mother in the old days. Well today, the place is alive with laughter and music, a jazz band crooning away while numerous joy-filled diners take to the floor for a jive on whatever bit of floor space they can find. At the next table was the ever delightful Aidan Doyle, celebrating his retirement as general manager of the Burlington’s Annabels. Invited back to the after party in the popular nightclub, we met with Aidan’s successor, the warm and handsome Peter McDermott, formerly of The Brandon in Tralee.
On my travels I also encountered old friends Krish and Lelia Naidoo, former franchise-holders of the Miss Ireland Pageant and now behind one of the city’s hottest clubs, The Viper Room on Aston Quay, a stone’s throw from Temple Bar.
Another new sought-after spot is the Vicar Street Club on Thomas Street where Ireland’s leading hairdressers, including my long-time hairstylist Aidan Fitzgerald, launched their "Hairless for the Homeless" campaign. As they sipped their Smirnoff, some of Ireland’s best-known crimpers braved a total headshave while numerous politicians looked on, including Ruari Quinn, Tony Gregory, Mary Hanafin and Nora Owen. Expert in the shaved head domain, singer Sinead O’Connor has agreed to act as patron for the three-month campaign which aims to raise £250,000 for Ireland’s homeless and hopefully combine this with EU funding to set up community centers and purchase three houses, to be furnished free — gratis by Kilcroney Furniture. All donations may be sent to "Hairdressers Appeal for Homeless,’ AIB, Grafton Street, Dublin 2, account 6000 11 62.
Never one to be too brave with my crowning glory, I settled for a trim in Mr. Fitzgerald’s Blackrock salon along with a little "color enhancement" at the hands of the greatly gifted Cosmos. It was all part of the preparation for the Big Day, the marriage of my dear cousin Paul to Galwegian gem Lucy O’Callaghan, now, of course, Mrs. Keane. After a beautiful ceremony at the Claddagh Church, where the groom’s sister, my cousin Catherine, sang exquisitely, we headed off to the Ardilaun House Hotel for a very stylish yet warm and homey wedding reception. After we were all more than well fed on everything from delicious shrimp and salmon to mouth-watering petit-fours, we settled back for some very entertaining speeches, concise and humorous, just as they should be.
Then Father Bob McGoran, a longtime friend of the O’Callaghan’s, mentioned that he also went back along way with the Keanes, my mother’s side of the family. Growing up near her family home on Griffith Avenue, he recalled numerous visits to his sisters by my mom’s handsome brother Sean, always at a time when their parents were out for their daily walk. The young Father Bob was put on duty at the lookout post to give the warning when the parents were on their way back so that Sean could slip away unnoticed. Well, one particular evening young Bob slipped up, and so as Mom and Dad McGoran put their key to the door, young Sean could be seen taking to his heels and over the back wall into the nearby fields.
The strange thing was that, as we laughed at my Uncle Sean’s teenage mischief, the bride’s Uncle Dennis leaned over to me, whispering with a twinkle in his eye, "Ask me about your first boyfriend." Immediately curious, I of course inquired, to be told that his daughter Anne happens to be married to a Kevin Farrell, brother to one of my first boyfriends, Cormac Farrell, whom I dated at the tender age of 13-going-on-14. As you might imagine, none of this was known to my parents, so I executed a trick learned from my sister. I would tell a white lie every Saturday night, announcing that I was babysitting for the neighbor opposite in order to take off to the Terenure College disco with the then 17-year-old Cormac. And just in case they were watching out the window, as I left the house I would pay a visit to the neighbor and say a quick hello before slipping out the back door, down the garden, over the wall, and across the field to trip what I then thought were the lights fantastic. Of course, I was soon caught and reprimanded appropriately. Well, what can I say but that, after Father Bob’s story about my uncle Sean, it obviously runs in the family. Let’s call it inheritance.