It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and in the United States, many will wear green, drink green beer and greet each other with a friendly “Erin go bragh!”
In the household of Kevin and Ursula Tuohy, of Enid, there will be an Irish celebration of a different sort.
“We were married 25 years ago. In Ireland. On St. Patrick’s Day,” Kevin said.
That is reason enough to lift a glass of Irish brew and offer a toast, but there is much more to this Irish story.
“It’s leading up to that day that is the best part of the story,” Kevin said.
In 1987, Kevin was visiting Ireland with his family.
His grandfather emigrated to the United States from Ireland when he was 22, and his grandmother had done the same when she was 18. However, this trip was Kevin’s first visit to Ireland, in a town called Bunratty in County Clare.
“After having been in Ireland for a couple of days, I was at a pub called Durty Nelly’s having lunch with my family,” Kevin said. “My sister and I had gone across the street to a business called Bunratty Cottage.”
Bunratty Cottage was a little shop that sold souvenirs, gifts and clothing. It also happened to have a local girl by the name of Ursula working that day.
“Ursula just happened to be the salesperson who came out and waited on us,” Kevin said. “I don’t know if it was the fact that I was almost 30, or if it was just the accent, but I was quite taken with this woman.”
Ursula waited on Kevin and his sister in the shop, and even walked them out and waved across the street to Kevin’s family.
“That night, I could not get Ursula out of my mind,” Kevin said. “I knew what her name was, because it was on the sales receipt.”
Before the trip was over, Kevin and his sister went back to Bunratty Cottage to ask Ursula whether she would like to have lunch with them — but she was not working that day.
Eventually, the vacation ended and Kevin and his family flew back to the United States.
“This woman was still on my mind,” Kevin said, “so I sat down and wrote to her. I asked if she would like to correspond.”
Kevin addressed the letter to Bunratty Cottage’s mailing address and sent it, he said, with a bit of a panicky feeling. For all he knew, she could be married or seeing someone. He didn’t know anything about her.
“Three weeks go by, and I come home from work, and sticking out of my mailbox is letterhead from Bunratty Cottage,” Kevin said.
He said he still remembers the first words he saw after nervously opening the envelope. The letter read, “Dearest Kevin, I was thrilled with delight to receive your correspondence.”
“We started writing letters back and forth,” Kevin said.
The day he came home from work, on his birthday, and found a package from Ursula at the door, he decided it was time to take the relationship up a notch.
“I decided now was the time to make a phone call,” said Kevin.
He woke up at 5 a.m. the next morning to make a call to Bunratty Cottage, the first international phone call he’d ever made — but Ursula was not working that day.
However, she was working the next day and he tried. After that first phone call, Kevin and Ursula spoke on the phone about once a week.
“I could tell there was something developing there,” Kevin said.
The long-distance friendship continued, and Kevin made plans to go back to Ireland in March of 1988. But before that, on Feb. 13, 1988, he did something else.
“Anybody can propose on Valentine’s Day. I proposed on the day before,” Kevin said. “And she said yes.”
Three weeks later, Kevin’s flight was making its descent into Shannon Airport, and Kevin was feeling nervous once again.
“I’m thinking, ‘I’m about to meet my fiancee who I’ve known in person for about 20 minutes.’”
When Kevin and Ursula met at the airport, both were so overcome with emotion that tears came to their eyes. They shared their first kiss in the parking lot of Shannon Airport, and Kevin proposed in person, with a ring, at Ballyalla Lake on the west coast of Ennis in the County Clare.
After a few days and some phone communication between the priest at Ursula’s church and the priest at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Enid, Kevin and Ursula decided to get married immediately.
“We were married on St. Patrick’s Day,” Kevin said. “We had a honeymoon for two days, and I had to come back to Oklahoma without my bride.”
Six months later, Ursula joined Kevin in Oklahoma, and their Irish love story has continued ever since.
So, the very Irish couple will celebrate this St. Patrick’s Day a little differently. In fact, the holiday is observed very differently by the Irish compared to the way Americans celebrate.
“I don’t drink green beer,” Ursula said.
“They don’t even wear green in Ireland,” Kevin said.
“Corned beef and cabbage is an Irish-American thing,” Ursula said. “Corned beef is a substitute for Irish bacon. When they came over to America, they couldn’t find Irish bacon, so they used corned beef.”
If the Irish don’t eat corned beef and don’t drink green beer, what do they do on St. Patrick’s Day?
“It’s a religious holiday in Ireland,” Ursula said. “St. Patrick is associated with bringing Christianity to Ireland in the fifth century. Before that, Ireland was a pagan country. Today, the holiday is celebrated in a huge way.”
Ursula said the holiday is big for the Irish living in Ireland, the Irish economy and the Irish tourist board, as many visitors flock from all over the world to celebrate in Ireland.
“I remember as a young girl, getting up early for this day, putting on my Sunday-best clothes and going to Mass,” Ursula said. “We would watch the parade afterwards. Then we would go to the seaside and walk the beach.”
In Ireland, the people celebrate St. Patrick. In the United States, the people celebrate Ireland.
“Ireland is a magical place. It truly is,” Ursula said.
With Ursula, some of Ireland’s magic has made its home in Oklahoma. Between her charming Irish lilt and the many bits of Ireland she has brought to Oklahoma with her, stepping into the Tuohy house is like stepping into Ireland.
“Tea two times a day,” Kevin said. “Afternoon tea at three o’ clock and evening tea at eight o’clock.”
“I have to have a teacup,” Ursula said.
“It can’t be a coffee mug,” Kevin said.
Kevin and Ursula still make their home in Enid, but visit Ireland as frequently as possible. They have a 21-year-old son, Kegan, who attends Oklahoma State University.
This St. Patrick’s Day, Kevin and Ursula may look back over their time together and say, “The craic was mighty.”
Or, as we say in the United States, “It’s been a lot of fun.”