There was not, anywhere, the like of it to be seen in the townland of Ballinamuiceann Mór since Fin Carty's donkey broke out of the field one May night and over the cliff with him to the edge of the broad Atlantic waves. Mickey Reilly ran six miles into the town to tell Finbarr Carty that his ass was gone over a cliff and was rewarded by a cuff at the butt of his ear from Garda Shanagher for his troubles.
This was bigger though. Patsy McCabe, at the age of seventy two, father of ten fine children, six garsoons and four gartles, all of whom had done well in America and Australia, or so Biddy McCabe, their late Mother maintained 'til her last breath six years ago - Patsy had announced his intention of remarrying, and it was not to the Widow Walsh, a respectable seventy herself and a fine hault still, if Marty Finnerty said so himself; but to a lady of indeterminate years between 40 and 60, fresh faced and well kept. She had returned home from America, bought the cottage next door and had been helping Patsy with his few praties when he was of a mind to set them.
The shock in the parish was massive, Father O'Houlahan himself, no less, had come all the way from Gort na Sliabh on his bicycle to exhort Patsy to give up that aul nonsense. Patsy would have none of it!
"What about your poor childer away in 'merica, an' foreign lands" wailed Angela Moloney, Spinster of that parish, aged 60 and hopeful still.
"What's to become of their 'nheritance?" she cried, her false teeth slipping as they always did, having been made for someone else who died and she got them at a good price.
"Lord God above woudja look down upon this madman and show him the error of his ways!" she exhorted the Lord. Patsy favoured her with a sour look.
It was the talk of ten parishes for weeks. Surprisingly no one knew when the Banns were to be read out, and all were puzzled what would become of Patsy's six acres by the side of Sliabh Cruad.
"Tá cuas i' mo chraoi" snivelled Fidelma Maher - another Spinster of the Parish, 65 years old and no acreage but a fine housekeeper and a tidy cottage.
"Arrah g'way ouha dat" snorted Patsy derisively, "yah haven't a heart to have a hollow in - you've a hole where yer heart should be".
Letters were sent off to America to Finola, Siobhán, Maireaid, and Saoirse and to Australia where Patsy's three surviving sons, Peadar, Seanie, and Seamus lived. Micheál, Tomás and Liam had perished in a car accident two years previously.
Biddy's cousin Fidelma wrote to the Bishop about it, calling him to name Patsy's intended from the pulpit. The Bishop received a letter from Siobhán in New York.
The news that the Bishop, himself, no less, was to say Mass the third Sunday of the month went 'round the Parish like a tornado. Heads were put together and tongues wagged in Regan's Bar as to what he would say to this outrageous match. Sure didn't the Lord know that the strap was only after Patsy for the six acres, oh! there'd be fine words indeed from the Bishop, he's flay her alive, all were sure.
Sunday dawned and there wasn't a seat to be had in the Church. Father O'Houlihan gleefully rubbed his hands together; the collection would be mighty this day, that is if the Bishop didn't take the most of it for himself, he thought.
Solemly and with immense dignity the Bishop ascended into the pulpit; there was a sharp intake of breath as he laid a page on the velvet cushion in front of him, God Above, this was mighty altogether, thought Maude Moone, who'd had an eye on the six acres, oh and Patsy's welfare of course, naturally, since Biddy had died.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here today my children" began the Bishop quietly. A rotund, red faced, bald man who had risen to his present position by being adept at church politics.
A sure sign he'd be roarin' before the sermon was finished whispered Maisie McLohan to Polly Ferriter.
"...to discuss the sanctity of marriage, the love of good neighbours for the elderly and eschewing venial thoughts" he continued.
"You!" he pointed a roving finger at the congregation, "have been guilty of immoral thoughts! of envy, greed and the Lord alone only knows what else! Abomination is too mild a word to use for each and every one of you" he thundered.
The collective intake of breath and its expulsed gasp from the congregation almost rattled the windows.
"Let me read you a letter; sit up Billy Lynch boy, I can see you at the back of the church" he roared. "The letter begins...Dear Bishop..." .
An hour later a stupefied congregation staggered out of the Church. Who'd've thought it. According to Siobhán McCabe's letter, Catriona McCarthy [actually 56] had done well in America and had sold her business for a million dollars. A friend of Saoirse's, she had, with Patsy and his children's agreement bought the old home cottage and the six acres at the side of Sliabh Cruadh. She had paid a handsome sum to them too. In the course of her days helping Patsy with his planting love had also grown. Not the mad passion of youth, nor the love of a Spinster needing security for her old age, but a deep friendship, a sense of companionship and caring. All of Patsy's children were thrilled that, in this year of 1966, Patsy would have companionship and care and they would be home to celebrate the magic day themselves.
The Bishop had not spared his tongue the joy of a good strong sermon about thinking ill of people and now the question in nearly everybody's mind was "would there be an invitation in the post to the wedding feast at Harty's Hotel?"
Maude Moone resolved to make a trip to Knock Shrine on the day of the wedding. She couldn't bear the thought of six acres slipping away like that.