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Feather's Miscellany: Wedding Reception

...The feuding between the Capulets and Montagues was nothing compared with the brawling between the Flanagans and Kenndeys which spilled out into the street that afternoon. They spoke of it in Keighworth long afterwards...

John Waddington-Feather’s tale tells of a wedding reception which ended in a brawl in which the parish priest vigorously participated.

“Working class” is not a politically correct term these days, so I’ll try not to use it; however, to tell this tale right I must define the social background it’s set in, for it’s about a …how shall I put it?...it’s about a wedding reception in a working class pub. There, I’ve said it! But from now on I shall call it an “under-crustian pub” just to be on the safe side.

Many of you will be wondering why in my tales I refer to the “upper-crustians”, the “middle-crustians” and the “under-crustians.” Well, the terms come from Tudor times and earlier when all the bread was baked in large ovens fired by equally large fires of wood or peat. Often the huge loaves were burnt at the bottom; so the servants were given the bottom of the loaf; the family ate the middle portion and the top of the loaf, the most tasty, was reserved for any high-ranking guests. As a result, in time the rich and powerful were called the “upper-crust.” and are so called to this day. But back to my story.

The Irish-Catholic element in Keighworth society was very strong and very active – a great asset and integral to Keighworth, especially in its pubs and Shamrock Club. Keighworth as I knew it would not have been Keighworth without its Irish, who settled in the town in its early days as an industrial mill town. They came in at first as navvies or labourers, typical under-crustians, building the canal, railways and roads during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Then they built its mills and engineering factories. Later middle-crustian Irishmen settled: doctors, teachers and clergy, and among the latter was the loveable Father Mick O’Leary, a great character and as Irish as they come from County Cork. He was a good parish priest and tended his flock well, too well at times.

He frequently officiated at under-crustian weddings and, as was customary, attended the receptions afterwards in a local pub. This story is about one of the more lively receptions he attended. Like all under-crustian receptions it was homely, noisy and uninhibited. The bridal party and guests were tipsy before the wedding even began, especially the bride’s father; and the weepy bride’s mother made more and more of her daughter marrying beneath her as the wedding progressed. However, the ceremony went without hitch and the happy couple were married and blessed by Father O’Leary.

Once they were spliced, the newly weds, their families, friends and Father O’Leary adjourned to the Grinning Rat Inn for the reception. Sadly, the photographer spent ages taking shots while the guests became steadily more drunk. Drinking on empty stomachs is fatal and old rivalries began to surface as the afternoon wore on, so that by the time they sat down to eat, the atmosphere was distinctly aggressive and insults were being traded across the room in broad Irish between the Kennedys and the Flanagans. Once the happy couple left for their honeymoon, open hostility broke out.

It made no difference that the reverend father was there wearing his clerical collar. He tried valiantly to calm them all down, but when fighting erupted and he was punched on the nose, he joined in. The feuding between the Capulets and Montagues was nothing compared with the brawling between the Flanagans and Kenndeys which spilled out into the street that afternoon. They spoke of it in Keighworth long afterwards. So did the publican as he ruefully surveyed his smashed-up dining room when the police had cleared it. The police made no distinction but arrested the whole lot, Father O’Leary included, now lacking his collar, sporting a bloody nose and black eye and scrapping with the best of them.

They were hauled into court the following Monday and the magistrate was Simon Moore, a strict teetotal, non-smoking Baptist mill owner, and when he saw Father O’Leary with a plastered nose and looking very much the worse for wear, hiding inside his best collar, his eyes lit up. He made a meal of it, tearing Father O’Leary off a right old strip, then went on and on about how a man of the cloth and his flock should be setting an example in Keighworth, not brawling in the streets. Finally, he gave them all a hefty fine, bound them over and ordered them pay for the damage they’d done.

The fines were recovered as penances during the week and by a whip-round in the parish organised by the nuns; finally, the outcome the next Sunday at Mass was that half the very sober and contrite congregation passed the Peace after prayers, while the other half, including their priest, was bound over to keep it. Oh, and the good Father O’Leary that Mass with his black eye and patched up nose stood in the pulpit and preached on the theme: “Love thy neighbour.”

John Waddington-Feather ©

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