Marriage Proposals and Friendliness

“May your home always be too small to hold all of your friends.[i]” This is an appropriate Irish Blessing in regards to the Irish. The Irish are more than generous with their family and friends. They would off the shirt off their back, even if it was the last shirt they had. During the hard times, especially the potato famine, the Irish were always helping whomever they could in whatever way they could, from sharing their food to offering a place to sleep. The little towns were very close knit, with neighbors being more like family. Yet this is not the only behavior that makes them stand out. Another weird custom they seem to adhere to is a quick proposal. Throughout our reading, we have read about men proposing marriage very early, sometimes within minutes of meeting the woman. Maybe it is just the warm heartedness of the people and it goes along with their open arms policy.

The quick proposal is seen in “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde. As is the welcoming nature to strangers. Algernon pretends to be Jack’s brother, and pretends his name is Earnest. When he goes to Cecily’s house, she welcomes him there, even though she had never met him before and had heard bad things about him. Yet she invites him to sit and talk with her and then to go into the house with her. That same day, within just a couple hours, Algernon had proposed marriage, although under the pretense of being someone else. Then while Jack and Algernon have gone off, Gwendolen shows up at Cecily’s house and she too is welcomed and led into the house, even though the two women had never met. They start talking and getting on about being like sisters. It is amazing how friendly the two are, having never met before.[ii]

Both the welcoming nature and generosity as well as the fast proposal are seen in “John Bull’s Other Island” by Bernard Shaw. Broadbent is determined to go to Ireland and do some commercial building but he has to win the people over. He hopes that his partner, Doyle, will help him in this regard as Ireland is his homeland. His partner ends up telling him about Nora and Broadbent takes an immediate liking to her, even though he had never met her. After arriving in Ireland, Broadbent decides to go fetch Nora. He comes upon her and the two start conversing. Within minutes of meeting Nora, Broadbent proposes. Nora turns him down and blames it on the alcohol saying that Broadbent is not used to their stronger drink. The next day Nora and Doyle were left alone and had a disheartening conversation where Doyle once again stated that he does not feel as Nora does. Doyle left and Nora started sobbing, which is how Broadbent found her. He offered her comfort and to cry in his arms. This led to a discussion about the previous night’s proposal. Broadbent is still determined that she marry him. Nora reluctantly agrees, saying “I think you might understand that though I might choose to be an old maid, I could never love anybody but you now.”[iii] She feels that the level of physical closeness that Broadbent offered and she accepted was so intimate that she had no other choice but to marry him. Within 24 hours of meeting, Broadbent and Nora were engaged. Not only was there a quick proposal, but the amount of generosity that Broadbent received while staying with Doyle’s family was grand too. The people of the town quickly took a liking to him and even decided to have him run in their politics. Doyle’s family welcomed Broadbent and treated him well, although they had never met him before.

This is a common theme in Ireland as we see it again in “The Playboy of the Western World” by J.M. Synge. Christy was on the run after murdering his father (or so he thought he did). He finally stumbled upon Pegeen’s house and took refuge inside. There he met the men and Pegeen. After getting his story out of him, Pegeen’s father decided Christy should stay there with Pegeen so she was not left alone that night. Pegeen took pity on Christy after seeing him and hearing his story. She was not the only one. Widow Quin as well as a few other local girls wanted Christy for themselves. Yet Christy only had eyes for Pegeen after she took such good care of him. He convinces Widow Quin to help him win her hand. After winning the races, Christy in triumphant and excited to ask for Pegeen’s hand. When they are alone he said, “I’ll have great times if I win the crowning prize I’m seeking now, and that’s your promise that you’ll wed me in a fortnight, when our banns is called.”[iv] Pegeen accepts even though she had only known him for a day. Even her father gives his approval and blessing of the marriage. The whole town, aside from Pegeen’s other suitor, was nice and giving to Christy. Although, after his dad shows up and tells them that he is not dad and what type of man Christy really is, they turn against him. Yet the story still portrays a giving community and a marriage proposal between two people whom had not known each other for twenty four hours before the proposal.

An excellent example of a giving, close-knit community is in the story Lisheen Races, Second Hand from “Some Experiences of an Irish R.M.” by Sommerville and Ross. The two main characters, Yeats and Kelway had been childhood friends. They parted ways as they grew older, Yeats choosing to stay in Ireland and lead a fairly typical Irish life and Kelway choosing to go into politics. When Kelway visits Yeats, it is obvious how different their lifestyle is, with Kelway being more accustomed to the finer things in life. Yeats decided to show Kelway how the average Irishman lived. He decided to take him to a horserace. As the story continues, things constantly go wrong. Yeats just rolls with the punches but Kelway struggles to do so. As mishaps occur, various townsfolk appear and attempt to offer their assistance from a ride, to fixing a broken carriage, to providing food and shelter. This story portrays a wonderful, giving community and shows how one should never be above the help of another.[v]

The previous story is from a collection of stories titled “Some Experiences of an Irish R.M.” by Sommerville and Ross. The collection of stories is about a character named Yeats. They detail the events that happen in his life from his marriage, to the numerous fox hunts, to the supposed paranormal activities that go on when he first moves into his house. Yet a theme that is present throughout these stories is that of a community banding together and helping each other out. The stories chronicle some of the problems that Yeats finds himself in as well as how he gets out of them. They show how sometimes neighbors may turn against you, such as when Flurry accused Yeats of hunting the foxes, as well as how the neighbors forgive and are there in the long run.[vi]

A wonderful story about closeness in Irish communities comes from “The Aran Islands” by J.M. Synge. The main character has decided to travel to the Aran Islands in an attempt to learn Gaelic. Although he first in the bigger city, he finds that he prefers the smaller island where the inhabitants are more primitive. Many people on the smaller island have to rent their homes. There were hard times in Ireland and during the hard times, people had a difficult time paying their rent. After so long, the land would be seized in addition to cattle and other livestock to pay off the debt. It was not unusual for friends and family to give all that they possibly could in order to help pay off the debt so that the people would not lost everything. The main character stayed in an old wooden cabin where he was given room and board. There he met many people. He observed the simplicity of the lifestyle there as well as the friendship and closeness that the people shared.[vii]

The Irish are a group of people who live in Ireland. Although Ireland has many cities and towns, there are certain customs and acts that prevail all over the country. Those of quick proposals and the generosity and kindness of the people. An Irish Proverb states, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” [viii] This Proverb easily sums up the Irish. They are known for their drinking and quick rise to anger, yet, like everything, there is another side to them. They are also charitable and kind hearted almost to a fault. History as well as the stories read show the hard times that Ireland fell upon, especially during the potato famine. People were going hungry and many lost their homes and land. Some were able to go to America as well as other countries in order to find work and send money back home. Other families were not so lucky and often had to rely on the generosity of their neighbors. The Irish are a perfect example of how communities should band together and help one another out during hard times. Even those who had nothing to give attempted to give something. A little kindness goes a long way, particularly when one has nothing. The stories of  Lisheen Races, Second Hand, “The Aran Islands,” and “Some Experiences of an Irish R.M.” all wonderfully display how the communities band together to help and support one another through the good times and the bad and their benevolence towards strangers.

Another thing that the Irish is quick to give is a marriage proposal. Yes, the average life span was younger and people often married younger, but the quickness in which the proposals took place is astounding! “The Importance of Being Earnest,” “John Bull’s Other Island,” and “The Playboy of the Western World” all showed three different marriage proposals that happened within twenty four hours of the man and woman meeting. They seemed to propose on a whim, after taking a liking to the women. As the stories end before the weddings, we never see if the weddings actually took place and how life was after the wedding. Yet in following with the other theme of kindness and generosity, it is easily imaginable that the marriages followed along. “Pós bean oileáin agus pósfaidh tú an t-oileán ar fad.” This Irish saying says “Marry an Island woman and you marry the whole Island”[ix] which ties into both themes. The ties to the community are highly important. When you marry a person, you marry all the people in their community to an extent.

Although the idea of a fast proposal to a stranger sounds unintelligent and unappealing to a modern day American woman such as myself, it was a common practice by the Irish in the 1800s. It was not that unusual that people were dumbfounded or opposed. If the match seemed to be a good one, it was accepted and celebrated. Just like it was common courtesy to be kind, hospitable, and generous to your neighbors as well as to strangers. The close-knit communities are a wonder to behold. It does not seem to be a common thing much anymore. Many neighbors do not even know each other, let alone be so willing to lend a helping hand. It is wonderful that this is a trait of the Irish.



[i] A Irish quote from “Old Irish Sayings” http://www.litera.co.uk/old_irish_sayings/2/

[ii] “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde

[iii] “John Bull’s Other Island” by Bernard Shaw; quote from page 184 of Modern and Contemporary Irish Drama edited by John P. Harrington

[iv] “The Playboy of the Western World” by J.M. Synge; quote from page 102 of Modern and Contemporary Irish Drama edited by John P. Harrington

[v] Lisheen Races, Second Hand from “Some Experiences of an Irish R.M.” by Sommerville and Ross

[vi] “Some Experiences of an Irish R.M.” by Sommerville and Ross

[vii] “The Aran Islands” by J.M. Synge

[viii] An Irish Proverb from http://www.anvari.org/fortune/Miscellaneous_Collections/142736

[ix]  An Irish Wedding saying from http://www.gaelicmatters.com/irish-love-sayings.html