My Confirmation shoes

By Betty Doherty

The year I made my Confirmation my brother Anthony made his also. In the parish we lived in, Confirmation was only every three years. Anthony was too young the last time so he had to make it with me this time. He was only eleven and I was just over nine, so needless to say my mother was not too happy with two of us to rig out.

Two months before our confirmation my Granny Kelly who was also my Godmother came in a Hackney car and took me to Monaghan. There, she bought me a beautiful Confirmation dress and veil. The dress was white damask material with little imprints of shamrocks. The veil had a wreath of little silk flowers. Everything was going great for me and I was as happy as larry.

Mammy got Anthony a lovely navy serge suit with short trousers, because boys wore their trousers short then until they were a lot older. Mammy also knitted him a V-necked, sleeveless pullover. She made me a petticoat and knickers from flour bags. (Nearly everything in our hourse was made from flour bags, the roller towel behind the door, sheets, pillowcases and the valances around the big iron beds). Mammy used to say “you couldn’t get better, the more you washed then the whiter they got. As white as a hounds tooth.” Anthony got nice new grey socks and garters to keep them up nice and tidy, and new black laced shoes. I got new white ankle socks and white gutties.

In the meantime life was tough at school because we had Catechism all day, everyday. Soldiers of Christ, we were going to be, the Holy Ghost and tongues of fire. I thought I was going to be a very different person after this Confirmation.

The primary school we went to, consisted of four classrooms, girls and boys junior rooms and girls and boys senior rooms, and of course separate play grounds, to make sure never the two should meet. Anthony was talking all the time about all the money he was going to get. We girls were more excited about our style. Sometimes we really got carried away and were living in a fantasy world. Then, doom and gloom happened. Some of the girls said they were getting black patent shoes with square silver buckles like dancing shoes. There was only one shoe shop in the town were we went to school. We used to look in the window of O’Brien’s shoe shop at the black patent shoes with the square silver buckles. We’d stand and gawk at the shoes for ages. In the end we all got carried away and said we were all getting these shoes for sure.

I rushed home and said to Mammy, “I didn’t want those gutties, I wanted black patent shoes with square buckles.” Well, she really lost her head, and said she couldn’t afford fancy shoes like that. She said it would only be “the very rich man’s child” who would be getting them. I told Mammy everybody was getting them but she said “oh no they’re not my girl, because you will not be getting a pair of them.” Everyday I stood and gazed at those black patent shoes with the square silver buckles, in O’Brien’s window.

Then, lo and behold, what do you think I did one day, I told my friends that I had got a pair of the black patent shoes with the square silver buckles. I told them they were size 12. I think I did it because one of the girls who was very rich and seemed to have everything said that her mother had got her a pair in Belfast. So that is when my lie started and it spiralled from there. I knew I could not ask Mammy again because she would just start another sermon and tell me how I was such a thankless child.

Sunday in our house was not a very good day because Daddy was at home. He got drunk on Saturday nights and was like an antichrist on Sunday’s. Daddy worked away on a farm all week and came home on a Saturday. He left again on Sunday night or early Monday morning. There were two masses in our chapel on Sunday, at 9am and 11.30am. Mammy and Daddy went to early mass but not together. Daddy always sat on the men’s side and Mammy on the women’s side. Daddy would get the newspaper, the Sunday Press on the way home. He would sit near the window to read his newspaper. We would have to keep quiet and not go near the window. Mammy got the dinner ready and baked some bread as well.

On one of these Sundays I was coming home from mass with some friends and again we looked into the shoe shop window. I was getting very desperate because of this big fib I had told. So I ran into the house and asked Mammy again if I could get the black patent shoes with the square silver buckles. She shouted at me, “You are lucky to be rigged out as well as you are and only for my mother you’d be in rags.” To my surprise Daddy put down his paper and asked what was wrong. I told him everybody was getting these shoes for their Confirmation. I felt my words were falling on barren ground . Well, said Daddy, “if everybody is getting those shoes my daughter will get a pair too.” Out of the side of my eye I could see my mother’s mouth tighten. The bread was good that day as Mammy kneaded it with vigour. A couple of days later I asked Mammy, “do you think Daddy will get the shoes for me”? She said “Have a bit of wit,” and anyway “the gutties you have are lovely. Your father promised me the moon but never got a ladder long enough.” The hatred for those gutties was getting worse every time I looked at them. Plus the fact, of how was I going to get out of the mess I had got myself into.

The next couple of weeks before Confirmation were hell at school. Rumours were circulating that if you could not answer the question the Cardinal asked, you could not make your Confirmation. Oh the shame of that and having to wear the gutties as well! Then some of the girls said the Cardinal would give you a big slap on the jaw. I didn’t mind Mammy giving me a slap around the legs but the Cardinal to hit me in public would be awful.

The night before Confirmation, Mammy put me first into the big tin bath. She scrubbed me with Lifeboy soap until I shone like a sixpense. Then she dried me with a big flour bag sheet. She added more hot water and started to scrub Anthony. We had to sit beside the fire until our hair was dry, because if you went to bed with wet hair you could end up deaf or blind or with some ailment. I sat with a very heavy heart, looking at my clothes which Mammy had hung up carefully and at Anthony’s shoes and those horrible gutties sitting beside them.

Our neighbour Mrs Millar, a Protestant woman came in and gave Anthony a lovely blue pair of rosary beads and me a lovely white Confirmation book. We went to bed but it took me ages to sleep because of the worry about those shoes. Could I say that I lost them or that the pigs ate them? I knew the pigs ate the clothes off the line once when Mammy forgot to put it up high enough. Oh, I don’t know, maybe I will not know my question and oh the slap on the jaw! At long last I fell asleep.

The next thing I knew Daddy was lifting me out of bed. It was about 3.30 in the morning and I could smell the drink of Daddy. He took me into the kitchen. There was a box sitting beside the range. He took the lid off and inside were my black patent shoes with the square silver buckles. Then Daddy put his hand in his pocket and took out a brown paper bag and inside the bag was a pair of new white nylon socks. The new kind that didn’t get wide and fall over your ankles. I fitted on the black patent shoes with the square silver buckles. They were the right size. Daddy had kept his word. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I was dreaming.

My Confirmation day turned out to be one of the best of my life. The Cardinal did not ask me any questions and he gave me a gentle tap on the face. My other Granny (Daddy’s mother) came and we all went to the donkey derby out the road. Anthony and I got lots of money and loads of ice cream. That night Daddy brought both of us to the pictures. It was our first time to see a film on the big screen. The film was called “The Quiet Man”. It was just like magic. I have watched the film so many times since and still love it.

Many years later I went out the door dressed in white, on the arm of my brother Anthony. He was dressed again in a fine navy blue serge suit. It was another very happy day as it was my wedding day.
Anthony gave me away. Daddy was not available, probably because it wasn’t Sunday. Daddy ended his days in a nursing home. He had lost his memory. I called to see him many times. Mammy successfully ran a second-hand store for many years.

Taken from Monaghan's Match
December 2003