A NORTH Clare couple are celebrating on the double this week after winning a competition for recalling on local radio their first meeting. Their prize arrived on their 35th wedding anniversary.
At 6pm on Tuesday, October 12, 1976, Mary Coote married John Hynes. The ceremony took place in Kilnamona, a small affair with just Mary’s sister and John’s brother there to witness proceedings. Money was scarce, Mary recalls. The four then went to the Auburn Lodge for dinner, before the newlyweds departed on their honeymoon the next day, touring Ireland from Cork to Cavan.
Theirs was a whirlwind romance. It began on a Wednesday, St Patrick’s Day, 1976. Mary was in her 20s and working as a waitress in Jury’s Hotel, Ballsbridge. She was home for a week’s holidays. John was living on the family farm in Kilfenora.
“I went with a few friends into Ennis on the night. We were going in from where I lived in Inagh. We must have got a lift on the night from neighbours, I suppose. There was a dance on in Paddy Con’s that night. There was a great showband playing there, John Glenn and the Mainliners. We arrived in at about 10 o’clock and as we came to the cathedral in Ennis, hadn’t the queue started to get down to Paddy Con’s. ‘We are going to be here for hours,’ we said. By the time we got to the door at Paddy Con’s it was exactly 11 o’clock. In we went anyway and there were hundreds of people in sight. At the time you would go upstairs to put your coat in the cloakroom, so upstairs we went but it was full with people and there were people standing outside, so we decided not to go in at all,” Mary remembers.
Mary and her friends went downstairs. Even now she is struck by the huge crowds.
“There was a load of people dancing on the floor. A lot of fellows asked me up to dance. In those years when you would dance a few dances with a fellow, he might ask you if you would like another dance. I gave each of them four dances but then I refused any more than that. All I can say is that I must have been an attractive lady,” she recalls.
“I think there were more fellows than ladies in it that night. One fellow would ask you up to dance and as you would go out on the floor, wouldn’t a wave of lads come and the lad that would have asked you to dance would have you lost. There was such a crush that you would be brought from one side of the hall to the other and all the lads were pushing,” Mary adds.
“At about a quarter to 12 this tall, dark, handsome man came over to ask me to dance. He didn’t get lost, I can tell you and he hasn’t got lost since,” she laughs.
John had driven into Ennis from home and had called into the One Mile Inn, before having a look inside the Queen’s Hotel. It was there he heard about the band in Paddy Con’s and decided to drive up O’Connell Street, hoping to get parking outside the dance hall. No such luck. He left the car in the Old Ground car park and joined the teeming queue.
In a packed Paddy Con’s, John caught Mary’s eye.
“Where do you come from?” John asked.
“I am from Inagh,” Mary replied.
“I am from North Clare,” he said.
Four old-time waltzes later, John asked for another dance.
“I said yes,” Mary admits. “He must have worked some charm or put some spell on me. In those days, the fellows would ask you ‘would you like to go upstairs?’ and they would say ‘would you like a mineral?’ They would never say ‘drink’. It was always ‘a mineral’. So upstairs we went and had an orange. I suppose at this time it would have been a quarter to one and the dance finished at one. John says to me ‘is it ok to bring you home?’ So I said ‘yes’,” Mary remembers.
John dropped Mary home to Inagh. She gave him the number of the phone in the corridor outside her lodgings and the following Saturday, she returned to Dublin. Weeks passed.
“This night, one of the girls called me and said ‘there is a John on the phone to talk to you Mary’. I probably had nearly forgotten about him. I didn’t think he would ever get in touch with me again,” she recalls.
When she had a few days off again, Mary came home to Clare for a visit.
“This was about April 15 or 16 when I was down again. I had gone into Ennis with John on Friday night. He asked me to know would we go tomorrow and get engaged,” she outlines.
This was just the couple’s second meeting but Mary knew her mind. “I thought he was a very nice, honest man and that hasn’t changed,” she asserts.
“So, on Saturday, April 17, he collected me, not too late in the day, and off we went and got engaged in Limerick. He brought me into a jewellery shop and bought the engagement ring,” she outlines.
Mary’s family, her siblings in particular, were surprised at her swift decision and the couple’s short courtship. “But what my mam and dad said was ‘if you feel he is the man for you and he is a nice man, it is your choice’,” she says. Her friends in Dublin were even more shocked.
“What have you done?” they asked. “What did you get up to on the few days you were home?” they teased.
“You don’t know that man at all, you’ll be handing him back that ring when you go down to Clare again,” they said.
“In between the teasing, they were still very happy for me. They were still delighted that we were engaged,” Mary believes and although she gave up her job and moved home, she keeps in touch with her Dublin friends.
When the happy couple returned from honeymoon, the cars were parked two deep in Lissylisheen.
“It was late when we got home that night and cars were outside John’s father’s and mother’s house. There were people sitting in them and who were they in those years but strawboys, about 30 of them and cars everywhere.
“We arrived back at about 10pm. They gave us time to sit and eat and they didn’t arrive into the house until about 11pm. Then it was 4 o’clock that morning when the party ended up and to make things lively again, hadn’t John a test of the animals the next day,” Mary laughs.
Two years later, the couple had the first of their two sons.
“I don’t think they would be as fast now in making the commitment we did but they are very happily married now both of them,” Mary says.
The Kilfenora resident attended the official opening of Madden’s Furniture, located in the old Paddy Con’s building, in Ennis on September 23. Madden’s and Clare FM were running a competition looking for the best story from Paddy Con’s Dance Hall. After recounting how she and John first met, Mary won a La-Z-Boy leather recliner. More than three decades after her long night of dancing, Mary was finally given a seat.