Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Wire, the squire and the wedding

This is a Board's eye view of Dominic West's wedding in Glin last Saturday, which was devilishly snuck into the Limerick Leader this week, for some reason:

There was an elegant bride and a hung over groom. There was an old carriage drawn by a mare named Bud, who they rode all they over from Tarbert “to take the spark out of her”. There was a style guide that mixed stovepipe hats with yellow flannel.

There were salmon canapés, sundried tomatoes and a jazz band who described themselves as”New Orleansy”. There were cameras, adoring eyes and sore heads. There were American actors fascinated by the slow beauty of an afternoon in Glin. There were bonfires and fireworks.

There was a wedding.

Last Saturday under the summer sun British actor Dominic West married Catherine FitzGerald, the Knight of Glin’s daughter. That’s the story. West, who played Detective Jimmy McNulty in the magnificent TV series ‘The Wire’, brought a train of glamour in his party of co-stars and famous friends.

But the hundreds of locals who gathered with their tiny digital cameras probably would have come anyway, such is the esteem that Glin holds for its Knight and his family. It was a society event which, underneath the detailed table settings and tinted Range Rovers, bore all the nerves and quiet panic and simple joy of any wedding day.

An hour and a half beforehand, on a small patio at the top of steep stone steps, Madam Olda Fitzgerald makes the introductions as guests sip dry champagne and discuss who is going to be getting changed where. The 29th Knight, who hasn’t been in the best of health, listens to lounge music filtering out through a nearby window, walking slowly here and there as friends seek his ear. Life has taught the mother and father of the bride to wind down and enjoy days like these.

A hundred yards away, inside the huge marquee wrapped in green ivy and held up by white timber poles and ship rope, stage designer Keith Payne dodges the staff hopping from table to table straightening forks, and listens to ‘Saloon Star’ rehearse their numbers.

Keith, who is deliberately ambiguous when he says his background is in “rock and roll”, points at the colourful canvas designs lining the canopy walls, which were painted especially for Catherine’s 21st birthday and simply had to be gathered from whatever dusty corner they were in.

In a garden kitchen, behind a crack in the canopy wall, chefs and their staff stack boxes of tomatoes, polish glasses and unload the strawberries that will feed 320 people.

Head chef Mickey French, with five hours’ sleep behind him, laughs off the madness. The menu, he says, is deliberately simple - though not lacking in expensive detail. There are canapés of smoked salmon, hand-made sausages, crostini with sundried tomatoes, basil and mozzarella to start; barbecued leg of lamb with new potatoes and mixed green salad for the main, and hand made roulade with fresh strawberries for dessert.

By half past three guests are abandoning their cars along the steep hillsides that wrap the Church of the Immaculate Conception, yards from the main castle gate. More than a handful can be seen wearing dark sunglasses and throwing back aspirin before they leave their luxury sedans. They were all in O’Shaughnessy’s pub the night before, you see, and the thick stout and clean air of the Shannon Estuary agrees with some better than others. The calm smiles of grimy heads will become a theme for the afternoon.

In small drips the famous faces drift by. Adam James, who appeared in ‘Extras’ and was blown up in ‘Band of Brothers’ went to school with Dominic. He warmly describes coming to Glin as being akin to “stepping back in time”, and remarks that he did his first ever Irish jig the night before in O’Shaughnessy’s with The Wire’s Wendell Pierce, aka The Bunk.

Sonja Sohn, who played Kima Greggs in The Wire, said that she just had to be here. “Dominic’s our boy, and he’s in love with Catherine. He’s a lovely guy, and there was a marked difference on the set with him after [he got back together with Catherine]. Not just his behaviour, but his attitude.”

 How was she enjoying Limerick? “I had a great time mixing with the locals. I like the Irish, they tend to be like Americans in that they’re very real. They tell it like it is, tell the truth, they don’t hide much.” Before making her way into the church, she stops to ask about the seaweed baths in Ballybunion. “Do you know if that’ll be open tomorrow?”

The watching crowd has swollen to almost 200 when the groom walks up to the church from the village side, a broad smile and bright green waistcoat masking a vicious hangover. He stops to talk at the top of the church steps, and is nearly flattened by a thick lump of old stone under his feet. He won’t be that stone’s last victim today.

How’s he feeling? “Slightly sick at the moment, but I’m about to feel very excited and happy, once the valium kicks in.” He speaks with heartfelt honesty when he thinks about the distance his friends and colleagues have travelled to be here: “I’m very, very chuffed and honoured actually. They’ve all come a long way; a lot of people have come a long way. A lot of the Wire boys have come and I’m very happy about that. [Last night] was a good night, a great night. One of O’Shaughnessy’s best.” He doesn’t hide the fact that he’s getting ready for round two: “Absolutely. But it’ll be all night tonight. We’re not going to cut it short.”

The bride is late, as all good brides are. Four o’clock becomes quarter past, which becomes half past. Then, from the corner of the castle’s long driveway, Catherine and her father appear in a simple black horse-drawn carriage. The crowds and cameras surge forward, and ripples of applause greet the bride as she dismounts in a classical cream gown that was made for her by a friend, carrying a small bouquet of fuchsia and white flowers. The Knight moves alongside her at a slow, steady pace.

“I feel so excited, really happy,” she said. “It’s like a fairytale.” Listening as her voice creaks from a year’s worth of singing the night before, Catherine smiles and apologises. “I’m afraid I’ve lost my voice”.

The church doors close behind her. The bulk of the crowd scatters. Children scurry around the courtyard during the service, daring each other to go forward and sneak a peak through the inner glass doors of the old church.

As their babies and toddlers grow restless, guests drift out of a side door and sit down on the islands of grass. The official photographer mills around the grounds in a three-piece suit, the sweat pumping down his back betraying the cool air of London calm he tries to sell with his handshakes and smiles.

Dominic and Catherine’s two-year-old son Senan holds a nanny’s hand as he ambles out of the church and approaches the horse and carriag waiting outside. Today is one of the happiest in his parent’s lives, but a toddler has other priorities. He’s lifted into the carriage, puts on the driver’s bowler hat and surveys all around him.

Tomas Coolahan, who drove the carriage, is double-jobbing. Later on, he’ll be in charge of the staff brought over from his pub in Tarbert to work the two bars in the marquee. His grandparents, Tom and Eileen Healy, met while working for the Knight in Glin Castle. Today, he’s working for nothing: “The Knight asked me to help out, and I wouldn’t let him down because of the family connection.”

In a place where no one knows him, Andre Royo - who played Bubbles, one of The Wire’s most powerful characters - moves from strut to stride as he walks up from the village 45 minutes late. “Hey, where’s the church?” he asks.

No sooner after he sneaks in he’s back outside again as the church empties and Saloon Star, after a change of clothes, unpack their instruments and greet husband and wife with an up-step rendition of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’.

Wendell Pierce spins on his heels every three seconds and breaks a fresh smile every time someone new approaches to tell him how much they loved him as The Bunk. He smirks when asked who lasted longer in O’Shaughnessy’s, him or his great drinking partner Jimmy McNulty. “I gave him a run for his money. I’m from New Orelans, you know”.

The groom, who has family ties to old gentry stock in Borrisokane, injects wry rasping prose into his after-dinner speech: “For many generations we looked down upon the rich veil of the Shannon. I have a vision of my ancestors saying that one day, we will take that land. And so, ten generations later I come, Desmond, to demand the hand of your oldest daughter.”

Later, braziers burn fresh cut timber and pine cones around the castle’s old sundial, as the guests celebrate under a sky lit by fireworks and hilltop bonfires. A man and a woman were married, but the day was like no other.

(All pics Dave Gaynor)

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