‘The Courting of Katie Earls’



The question of a dowry for Katie was hardly thought about, and not discussed at all between the courting pair. In case you wonder, reader, a dowry was practically mandatory within the middle-class fraternity in a lot of the country, and was generally settled by the fathers down the pub, or round an oil lamp-lit kitchen table – or maybe on a Fair Day. Dan wasn’t worried even a little bit – had no fears at all – nor should he. Katie would be the last of his children to ‘fly the coop’. He’d miss her badly, as she was a light in all their lives. A sweet jokester, happy and funny, and bright as a button.

When the message came asking ‘if he might call up to Mattie’s house one night to have a little chat,’ Katie knew the score, and sat home with her mother, playing the local card game – ‘25s’. She knew the whole courtship bandwagon was rolling along nicely, and a few months would see a delightful end to the tensions and frustrations that torment all young things, betimes. In an agreeable-enough way, of course. But she also well knew that such feelings weren’t peculiar just to the ladies …

A bit later than she thought would be the case, the latch lifted, and her father came in. The mammy had gone off upstairs, a firm believer in the old ‘early to bed etc’ craic.

So, Katie put the kettle on straight away, and sat down at the fire, across from Dan. He didn’t say anything for a few minutes; then – in a very un-Irish gesture for the times that were about – he leaned across, and took her hand in his: “You’re a great girl, K,” he said, “and lucky the man who will have you for a wife. You’ve been a right good daughter to herself and me..” Then, after a few seconds, he released her hand, sat back in his chair, and went silent again

A calm girl was Katie, so she said nothing – but she wondered. The kettle boiled, she took it off the crane, made the tea, then brought it over to the fire, with a few cuts of brown bread, plastered with their own home-made butter. Still saying nothing, she stirred the fire, ‘readied’ the ashes, got up again, cleared the table, and sat down once more.

At last her father spoke, quietly. She’d guessed something was amiss, from when he’d walked in. Katie knew his ways well – so she ‘waited him out.’ That was the way they operated.

“Katie” he said, “I’m not going to stand in the way of you being happy. I’m going to do everything in my power to set you on the high road in life. I liked your young man, and I’ve always got on well with his parents.”

He paused again. A long one, this time. {What was this ‘liked’ business?} … Katie’d pricked her little ears up at that one. She knew that however things went, this night at the fire would affect, in one way or another, the rest of her life. So, better get on with it….

When Katie spoke, it was in her usual straightforward fashion: “Daddy, we’re walking round each other a bit now, in big circles. There has to be a problem – that I can tell. It is the dowry – isn’t it? Talk, Daddy, please.” But in her heart she was thinking: ‘That rotten dowry! Surely that bloody thing can’t ruin everything! Can it?’

“Aye, we got round to the dowry after the tea” said her father. “Old Seamus go ‘whatever you think is a fair thing, Dan.’ I didn’t think young Mattie was going to be staying, sitting in at the other end of the table, listening – it wasn’t that way with Mona’s or Nora’s men. I thought it a bit odd. But I got round to the main point, anyway, and said: ‘I gave my other girls five hundred pounds each, Seamus. What do you think of that?’ Before he could reply, Mattie stood up and said: ‘You’re dealing with me now, Dan – not my father. It is I who’ll be marrying Katie, and I know you have plenty, so the least I will accept is a thousand pounds. And I’m not going to argue about it, either.’

“I must admit I was very surprised, Katie. The demand was a bit high, all right – but it was the look on his face that really shook me. It was the face of a very hard man – one I had never dreamt existed in the frame of young Mattie McCann. A face that told there’d be no ‘go-back’ in that quarter.

“Still, I put my point of view. I told him that my other two girls, not all that long married, had each received half of what he was now asking, and there’d never been a wrong word about it. As a matter of fact, their future husbands had been delighted, not expecting so much. So I go; ‘now, Mattie – how am I going to face them all, and tell them you’d be getting as much as both of them together? And this farm that you’ll get in the end is a lot bigger than those of my son-in-laws..’ But I could see, Katie, that I was ‘up against it.’ Now, had I given the others a thousand each, I couldn’t complain about his demand. But we can’t change the past. So I continued, quiet enough: ‘We won’t fight over it, Mattie. I’ll have a word with Katie, and see how it goes’. At this, he stood up and said, in a very tight, controlled voice: ‘I don’t see what it has to do with Katie, Dan. You came up tonight to discuss the dowry – it’s got nothing at all to do with her.’ At this, I got a bit nettled, and said: ‘Well, if that’s the way with you, Mattie – I was actually asked up for a chat. Nobody mentioned the word ‘dowry.’ And if Katie is to be ruled out of the bargaining – why not you, too?’

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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