‘The Courting of Katie Earls’



“This seemed to annoy him, and he just said, in a sarcastic old tone: ‘Well Dan, we obviously have very different ideas about the value of your daughter.’”

“I stood up then, and told him straight out that ‘my daughter is of the greatest value to me, and that I’d raise ten thousand pounds for her – if only she could locate a man who was worth that much.’ At this he gave a start, seeming to realise for the first time how far out on a branch he’d walked. But before he could reply or recover, I said ‘goodnight, men’ and let myself out the door.

“Seamus came after me down the lane, expressed real regret at what had happened, and said he had no idea how Mattie was thinking, and hoped – genuinely – that it wouldn’t affect our

life-long friendship. I said sincerely that I hoped not. But I wasn’t a bit sure anymore. About any of the McCanns. How could I be?

“So there you have it, Katie. I have no doubt Mattie will be a successful farmer, he’s a good worker, and he’s fond of you. The only way I can see out of it is to round up some ‘rainy day’ money, and pay the other girls up to what I give him. I have no option. Mona and Nora – and their husbands – will not be made little of – so everyone should be happy about it, in the end.”

Katie was stunned. Heart-sick. Her world turned upside down. She believed every word her father said. The lovely feelings and romantic thoughts of just a short time ago were suddenly of another age – another century – another life, even. We can only surmise about her misery. But, a strong girl she surely was.

“Father” she said – using the form of address she only ever reverted to in a crisis – “I will do what you suggested to Mattie – I will make the decision. You are a wonderful parent to me – to all of us. But if you thought any of your three daughters would be any happier by just getting more money, you’d be wrong.

“We girls have lived a lovely life in this house – with the odd row and riot breaking out, of course – but that’s the way with all young women of spirit. We often laugh about your only rebuke to us – no matter what the provocation – or weather: ‘go out into the haggard, girls, and do ye’re screeching there!’ But I’m not asking Mona or Nora – nor you and mam – for advice. This is about me, my future, my happiness – or otherwise. I do love Mattie, so I’ll think long and very hard about this night’s scene in McCann’s kitchen.

“If you hear me moving around during the night, don’t worry. I’ll be up and down for cups of tea. I won’t sleep much, I’m sure of that. But I want the problem solved in my head before daylight. Mewling and moaning isn’t my way, so you won’t hear me weep about this dowry crux, no matter what.

“There are three things I know right now, father. One is that if I do wed Mattie, he’ll get the very same money as Mona and Nora got. No more, no less.

“Two is that – whatever happens – I’ll never discuss tonight’s affairs with anyone – nor do I want them mentioned to me – ever.

“Three is that I love Mattie dearly, and wouldn’t have wished this to happen for the world, so accept whatever I decide, without any question. If you do – everyone who matters to me will.

“Goodnight now, father, and don’t worry about me. I’m made of Earls’ stock – and they don’t come any tougher.” This with a little smile.

She then put her arms round Dan, and gave him a great big loving hug – another break with the order of things, for the times, on this strange night, in good old Ireand.

We will leave Katie now to her night of soul-searching, and unhappiness. We won’t pry into her little tragic damaged heart, nor will we cheer, or gloat.

The next morning broke bright and sunny, and Katie cooked the breakfast, and was – to all appearances – her old self. At about three o’clock she told her mam that she was walking down to the village to post a letter. No questions were asked by anyone; no explanations were given.

Next day, about noon, there was a loud knock on the door. Ann went out, spoke to somebody, and called Katie.

When she went outside, Mattie McCann was still agitatedly showing something to Ann. On seeing Katie, he started towards her, and made to speak – but she lifted her hand, and cut him off – looking him straight in the eyes as she did so..

“Would you mind going inside, mother?” she then asked; and walked behind Ann as far as the door.

There she swung round, facing out to the white bright day. Saying nothing.

Mattie – shaken, smashed – moved close up to her, mumbling something like “dear Katie , I ……”

She stepped back, and shut the door in his face.

Her mother, interested always in her daughter’s welfare and safety, observed from a side-window, as, through blurred eyes, Mattie looked down at his hands.

Which held an envelope.

Containing: a letter? No. No letter.

Just the little present he’d given Katie in in early, happier, days.

A cheap tin ‘mock-wedding’ ring.

And that was the end of it all….

Addendum. The girl concerned {a distant relation of mine} made a very happy marriage later on. Her husband, I do believe – though he knew nothing of the above-related story – refused a full dowry – and only accepted two hundred pounds to avoid giving insult to Dan. And he gave that to Katie to do as she pleased with.

Of Mattie McCann’s fate I have no knowledge.

Let us hope he had a long and happy life.

But it’s doubtful if he ever forgot sweet Katie Earls, or the delight and promise of that first fine golden day, in the sunlit dusted haze of a summer hayfield.

Ned E


The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of The Kilkenny Observer.


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