What do in-laws, Brexit, and turkeys all have in common? All three feature in my latest radio column for RTÉ’s ‘CountryWide’ programme. Thank you to the team for inviting me on share my experience of my first Christmas as a farmer’s wife . . . and best wishes to producer extraordinaire, Ian Wilson, on his well-earned retirement!
Full column text and audio included below 🙂
January 1st, and never before has, ‘new year, new me,’ felt more literal. No, I haven’t gone blonde or transitioned from Maura to Maurice. Nor have I left Kildare and all the conveniences of modern living in favour of life with an Amazonian tribe. I haven’t even gone vegan, for crying out loud. The change is much less spectacular, but noteworthy, all the same – to me, anyway. You see, in ringing in 2019, I’ve entered into my first calendar year as a married woman. A farmer’s wife – as of October 13th, 2018. So, I’ve had time to get used to the idea, but it’s not until I see it in lights that the change really registers. That happens on New Year’s day, when I board the Dublin to Belfast train. I squeeze past the American tourists with their North Face jackets, and the group of hens clucking and cackling over last night’s exploits, chronicled, for better or worse, in photographs on their phones.
I find my way to row D and there it is, on display in vivid green above the pre-booked seat – my new surname. The days of falling for a farmer have come and gone. I’ve well and truly landed now.
Indeed, we both hit the ground running as husband and wife, getting married in Derry on the Saturday and launching ‘Falling for a Farmer,’ the book, in Dublin, just five days later. “Dirty Dancing meets ‘Glenroe,’” was how our own Damien O’Reilly described it – the book, that is now, not the wedding.
Following a lovely honeymoon in Mauritius, we arrived back in Ireland in mid-November to Christmas in all its fairy-lit, novelty-jumpered, Wham!-on-re-peat glory. And we were looking forward to our first Christmas as a married couple. A blissful few days of eating, drinking and merriment, love’s young dream played out against a backdrop of twinkling lights, tinsel and crackling fires – all spent in the easy company of one’s cherished new spouse, and . . . the in-laws?
It’s not something they cover in those marriage preparation courses and as it turns out, with families on both sides of the border, navigating your first Christmas as a married couple and deciding who goes where and when is a process as complex Brexit itself.
You see, he and I have the poor misfortune of having wonderful families. We both love Christmas in our respective home counties of Derry and Kildare, with the result that neither one of us was keen to forgo that tradition – married or not. In the end, it was Jack’s mother who made the decision for us. With no time for draft proposals and no interest in negotiating, Mary got right down to business, giving her eldest son his marching orders.
“You’re married now,” she told him, “And when you enlist, you have to soldier.”
Delighted she was too, no doubt not only with her ‘marriage is a battle’ analogy, but with the prospect of one less farmer’s appetite to satiate on Christmas Day, also. And I, for one, was grateful for my new mother-in-law’s hard-liner.
After four years together, Jack and I would finally experience our first Christmas together. In years gone by, he would arrive up to my family’s house on Stephen’s Day or the 27th, bringing with him one of the turkeys he’d helped a neighbouring farmer catch and crate some weeks earlier. But this year was different. On the 24th, while I channeled my inner Darina and prepared the fruit salad for dessert on Christmas Day, Jack bedded the pens and brought in a load of silage for the cattle, now in sheds for the winter. Then, after a quick pit-stop at the turkey farmer’s to collect the plump and plucked fruit of Jack’s recent labour, we made the journey to Derry together, bird on board and all.
That night, after midnight mass with my family, it appeared that Jack had become something of a local celebrity on account of a photo from our wedding having made it into the latest edition of the parish magazine. As we milled out of the church into the cool, night air, there were at least three separate instances where women took me by the elbow, whispering “And this must be the farmer. I recognise him from the picture.” On confirmation that the man I attended mass with on Christmas Eve was, indeed, my new husband otherwise known as “the farmer,” a flurry of more audible congratulations accompanied by approving winks in my direction, polite smiles and introductions in Jack’s.
I was reminded of Christmas Eve the previous year when I’d exited that same church after the same midnight mass to similar good wishes and congratulatory hugs from the parishioners who’d heard about our December 22nd engagement. I was on my own then – without Jack, at least – as I proudly showed off my sparkling ring and shared my excitement about all that lay ahead. And now, one year later, there we were, together at Christmas, as newly weds.
Indeed, the times, they are a-changing. In 2014, I fell for a farmer. In 2018, I married him. I’ve been there, done that, bought the wellies. I’ve even written the book. But this story is far from over. In fact, I suspect we’re only getting started. With plans underway to begin building our own family home on the farm this year, true country living beckons for this townie-cum-farmer’s-wife. From the farmer himself to the livestock, the lessons, and the land, this way of life and those who live it, will, I have no doubts, continue to inspire me. And so, with a blank page before me, and my pen poised, I look forward to the next chapter.
Listen back to my column on RTÉ’s ‘CountryWide’ programme now: