My cousin Conor and his lovely bride Annie chose county Sligo at Markree Castle as the site of their wedding. It’s an actual Irish castle, not like some sort of Vegas mock-up hotel.
Conor & Annie make a delightful couple.
200 guests journeyed over to the homeland and got a full taste of the castle life. We stayed in the town of Sligo Friday night, then drove 15 minutes outside of town to Markree Castle. Legend has it the castle is inhabited by a friendly ghost (daughter of a housekeeper who fell down the stairs) who accepts teddy bears as gifts. Johnny Cash stayed at the Markree, even performing impromptu songs on the grand stairway. A bartender told me Johnny once returned from a walk on the grounds and jumped behind the bar to pour himself a Guinness. As any good bartender knows, you don’t stop Johnny Cash from serving himself a Guinness.
Some stayed in the castle, we stayed on the grounds in a cottage. I roomed with my cousin Mike (our White Sox writer), his wife Kari, my cousin Tom (Mike’s brother) & his girlfriend Hannah. Tom, Hannah & I hit up a little market in Sligo to load up on snacks for our cottage fridge. Bought a multi-pack of Tatos, the dominant brand name potato chips of Ireland and some strip cheese. Not string cheese. This tube of cheese peels off in pre-sliced skinny strips.
Plus, it rhymes with strip tease. So that’s fun.
We got settled and meandered over to the castle for the rehearsal dinner, much of which was spent at the adjoining bar. Massively fun castle bar with bartenders who aimed to please. Guinness was flowing, as was the whiskey. I actually opted for a lot of the Murphy’s Irish Red Ale from the tap that evening; it was hitting me right. In the game room, I discovered my cousin Riley (sister of the groom) is a Connect Four genius. Like, Bobby Fischer-esque. She sees the board in a way no one else could. I tried to get Riley to explain her strategy, but she couldn’t. It’s like asking Muhammad Ali to explain how he sees an opening for a jab. They just see things mere mortals can’t. One-by-one my reasonably smart family members stepped up, only to be smoked in Connect Four.
We kept the bar open all night. An Irish bartender was impressed, remarking to my sister Meg that Americans can’t usually drink at an Irish level, but our group put up a good showing.
We arrived back at the cottage 3 sheets to the wind and I decided I needed a frozen pizza. I cooked up a pepperoni and polished it off solo. Full and sleepy, I squinted at the controls on the Irish oven, unable to be certain I’d turned it off properly. Not wanting to asphyxiate the inhabitants of our little cottage, I decided to make damn sure it was off before I passed out. I pulled a kitchen chair over to the oven and googled “Irish oven controls” until I was pretty sure it was shut down. But I hovered my hand near the open door and it still felt hot. No sense in risking tragedy, I figured. So I sat in that chair, periodically opening the over door until it cooled down completely. Probably 45 good minutes of chair time. Gave me time to digest the pizza and crush a couple mini-bags of Tatos.
Slept well and rose in time to grab an Irish breakfast at the castle, with some prodding from Mike & my Uncle Tom.
Sean & Colin, my Milwaukee-native cousins now residing in Chicago, accompanied me to the giant chess board on the grounds. What kind of castle doesn’t have a giant chess board? No castle I care to know. About the time Sean was capturing my queen and securing a decided victory, the castle dog – an Irish wolf hound puppy – paid us a visit. 11 months old and 150 pounds! Playful and friendly, despite the fear on Colin’s face as she gave chase.
Such a sweet pup. After getting my ass kicked in giant chess, it was time to go get showered for the 3pm wedding. I went no tie, because dress was cocktail attire. Mike called a last minute audible and added a tie, I liked the color scheme he had working.
This photograph is part of a series directly from the mind of Mike Leonard. Last summer Conor’s brother Pat got married in Newport, Rhode Island and held the reception at Fort Adams, which dates back to 1799. Mike envisioned a series of historical reenactments depicting us scaling the walls of the fort. Here’s a taste:
This time around, his vision went far deeper. Multiple intricate scenarios. Much like a Tarantino film, violence is a central theme. Without further ado, I bring you Mike Leonard’s “Storming the Castle” – featuring guest appearances from my sister Meg and our cousin Riley. Cinematography award goes to Kari, who captured each action shot with aplomb.
Fin. Filmed over the course of the day and deep into the night. Next family wedding is Sean’s in Wisconsin. Told him he’d better select a historic site for the next Leonard film.
Take a gander at this chapel inside the castle:
The ceremony played out like a poem written by some Irish wordsmith. The quiet history inside the chapel with eternal love the focal point enheartened every soul in attendance.
The bride’s brother served admirably as minister and the happy couple pre-ensured the proceedings wouldn’t last longer than 20 minutes. The crowd spilled out into the main reception area for Guinness and wine. I was honored Conor & Annie offered me a role as master of ceremonies and I gathered everyone for speech time atop the giant staircase.
The groom shared a few tearful words before passing the microphone to Annie’s dad. The father of the bride brought with him a dusty letter from Gillette Stadium(home of the Patriots) informing him that teenage Annie was banned from all events at Gillette stadium – the product of some youthful indiscretion. Hilarious inflection on the re-reading. Best man and brother of the groom Pat recalled Conor’s threatening the life of youngest brother Pete with a paintball gun. Andrew, man of honor, choked up as he shared stories of true friendship and bonding via reality television. Tears shed and laughs aplenty – it was time to eat.
Again, it was grand being in a castle and dining like royalty. Conor & Annie cut the cake with a sword:
We adjourned to the cellar where two bars surrounding a dance floor awaited our party. The live band filled the room with music until about midnight, then a DJ took over until 4am. The dance floor was lit and the bars were open for the entirety. Saints be praised, we had ourselves a good time. All 200 guests. The father of the groom’s good pal even brought out a handle of Fireball out on the dance floor to pour in open mouths. It got wild and reckless until just before dawn.
The next day we gathered ourselves and any remaining brain cells for a drive back to Dublin. Credit to my cousin Pete for mastering the other-side-of-the-road driving on his first overseas venture. Not sure I could’ve gotten us there.
One final night in Dublin, how to spend it? The Kilkenny hurling team won a monstrously huge game the night before and fans were out in mass to celebrate the victory. I’d liken it to a Blackhawks Stanley Cup type of atmosphere. We checked into the Morgan Hotel to get settled. Hours ticked away and it became apparent to Pete, Meg & myself that all we wanted to do was order food and watch TV. That’s what we did. Pete spotted a place called Thai Orchid and went to pick up the mega-order Meg placed over the phone. We watched X-Men, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. Dublin offers the best Thai food I’ve ever tasted. Of course, I’ve never been to Thailand. But the yellow curry chicken and the pad Thai – holy noodles – did that hit the spot! Casey emerged from his room one floor above to snack on some chicken fried rice leftovers.
Our energy had been spent, clearly. We drifted off to sleep and each rose at a different time to catch our various flights the next day.
Ireland. Done. Right.