All this talk of girl squads has everyone reaching for their ‘goals’ hashtag, frantically pursuing the type of affection only TayTay + Co. can offer, i.e. the blingy, mutual (public) appreciation, big-upping girl love that to be truly expressed must only happen on Instagram / Snapchat / E! News – all the glossy stuff, none of the mess. And it is precisely this decidedly conspicuous lack of mess that attests to the fact that I will never be a member of such squad; I’ve given it some thought. Thankfully, though, neither will any of my perfectly imperfect girl gang (sorry ladies – not meaning to dream shatter).
When I became engaged to be married in 2015 the news was received with much fanfare, delight and celebration, most of which was – initially – solely online. This was due to the fact that we were the other side of the Atlantic when it happened, and still for some time after. Between us we received hundreds of Facebook messages sending love, affection and well wishes. Some of the messages were brief – ‘congrats guys’ – and some more detailed – ‘YES! Love you two and can’t wait to celebrate with you both sooooooooon’ – the latter is an example of those that were always from girls, my girls, one of my real life messy chicks that I dig so much. We would celebrate together soon because we would definitely see each other soon, at some stage. It would happen.
As any soon-to-be-married girl, lucky enough to have a super girl crew around them, will hopefully know, much as your pals are exactly as excited as they proclaim (on social media or otherwise), it would be foolish to believe that this very excitement was solely in honour of your future nuptials. No, no, NO. Much of the anticipation comes from the certainty that where there is a wedding, there is first a big-ass, no holds barred, giddy, winey, chaotic party just for chicks; it’s going to be called a Hen and all of those able are going to be in attendance looking tanned, photographing shiny, and smelling ready – with a thirst queerer than that of a desert explorer. It. Is. On.
Now I was by no means the first of my school pals to get married. We watched the childhood sweethearts say their ‘I do’s in Leitrim. We witnessed the Leaving Cert holiday romancers tie the knot in Galway. We felt very grown up as we attended the first of the gang to marry without having any of their own children join the wedding party in Mayo (so retro!). We sang Love’s Young Dream into matrimony as a choir in Bohernabreena. We saw the eternal joining of the (originally unlikely) J1 coupling, in Meath; and most recently we saw our very own Posh and Becks getting hitched in Achill. We’ve been around; we know the craic. Sessions were had to celebrate all of the females in the aforementioned couples and consequential tales have been saved, treasured, rehashed and embellished (for prosperity) from each of the adventures. It’s a rite of passage. Everyone was set for another.
But then I had never been ‘The Actual Hen’ before, so I forgot that this next time around I would know nothing of the activities ahead. I would not only be left out of the mails but soon would see only tumbleweed greet me on Whatsapp as they evidently created a new group to plan the occasion, this group then becoming home to all pals’ communication leaving me to receive only pictures of my dog on her dedicated family group. And, although she is very cute her Doggy Park antics didn’t quite make up for the loss of friendship, pointed slagging and important female dialogue covering everything from solicitor recommendations to the pill. And boy, was I missing out.
This was to be the hen of hens, you see. This was going to be epic, the shizzel, the proverbial bomb. I could flatter myself and think that this effort was because it was in my honour. The reality, however, was twofold. Firstly, there was the organiser/s. My wedding party was made up of bridesmaids (sisters) and Duckeens (messers). As such, hen duties fell to them. Oh but wait, three of the five live abroad and, while I know their input was invaluable, for the most part they got to watch from the sidelines. So: bridesmaid and Duckeen. Remaining Bridesmaid credits Remaining Duckeen with pretty much the entire idea and execution; this means that the first fold of the success was down to Remaining Duckeen. (Keeping up?) And by God would she love a bit of that. Absolute craic planning while meant to actually be working? Right up her street! Thinking up every single thing that this ‘Actual Hen’ loves, buzzes off, exists for – having lived with me back in the London days and witnessed / partaken in all of my favourite Tomfoolery from before then until now, this was gonna’ be her show, her time to shine in the event management stakes. And how…
Second fold contributing to the eagerness ahead of this weekend was: the gang; every single one of those included were set to get down to business. See, as can likely be deciphered by the many weddings that I listed above, there are 21-year-olds floating around these parts. These are grown up chicks with impressive careers; they’re property owners; they are business developers; idea executors; they are parents of dependents – children and K9 – they have real-life responsibilities. So whereas in the past, when just any old weekend away with all the girls would satisfy, now they are far more discerning as to what they would commit their precious time. Whereas the aforementioned Leitrim bride was thrown around a stripper pole in Edinburgh wearing a teeny tiny pair of gold hotpants as the group downed 2-for-1 vodka and fake Redbulls (no shade – I missed it because of being in Melbourne and I still hate when it’s talked about. FOMO endures through decades) each of the ladies signed up to this particular ‘do’ wanted to make sure that at least some of the happenings could be considered luxury. A few of those invited couldn’t come and in all honesty, although I was gutted that they wouldn’t be there, I genuinely felt worse for them. I already knew that it was going to be a shocker to miss…
So how does such a hen develop?
It started with brunch; Dublin Bridesmaid (big sister) took me for hair blow-drying and scrambled egg consumption. Both topnotch. For some reason, Special Gentleman was brought along to the latter. That was cool though, he then drove us to the train station. As soon as we took one right instead of an anticipated left, I was thrown – my internal narrative as to how things might unfold was developed the night before when I looked to some of the group for packing advice. What an utterly confusing exercise. So I knew nothing, once again. We arrived at Heuston Station and joined the girls in the bar. Surprise #1 was my most stylish of London pals standing in the middle of the group as if she was meant to be there all along (she was; I just didn’t know). Tears. Excitement. The offer of the ends of some of their now warm wine. Much mocking due to the size of my massive bag compared to all of their cabin baggage (I didn’t know what I needed!). There was another hen party gathering nearby in which we expressed short-lived mild interest. Our happening was happening right here, with us.
As we made our way from the bar to the platform, we chatted noisily about nothing and everything. Making my way down the steps from the bar, something to the left caught my eye. I turned to clock a life-size Special Gentleman cardboard cutout, shaking back and forth, a little voice from behind saying ‘room for one more?’. Out popped a Russian hat and sunglasses with a human underneath. My oldest non-family human relationship was there in the flesh, looking ridiculous and ready for a party. She was here! Far-away-in-Canada-Duckeen was here! She was meant to be in Toronto but she was here! Your head does crazy things when you’re surprised and I was immediately racking my brain wondering how it happened? When had I spoken to her last? Was she still coming to the wedding? Mostly I just blubbered all over my freshly blow-dried fringe. It was magical and there were a number of ugly face crying photos taken to prove it – not just of me, but also all of the rest of the group (blubbering away as though they didn’t actually know it was happening all along).
Suddenly I was drunk without having accepted any of the offers of backwash dregs. This was the craziest, funniest, most wonderful day – and we hadn’t even gotten through the ticket barriers yet. What ensued was an unintentional takeover of our carriage: chatter, champagne, international phone calls, wedding outfit discussion, the locking of one of the party in the toilet with a stranger. (It wasn’t an elaborate hen prank. She did it all by herself. We’ll blame the jetlag – although she’s sticking to the story about the automatic sliding door). It was the best journey I had ever taken. My sister fondly refers to it as her worst.
It turned out that the plastic Tesco bags being carried by so many of the girls were actually rather posh: they contained bubbles and lots of them. Cliché though it may be, I accepted too many refills and rejected too many offers for tea. Suffice to say that by the time I arrived at Westport I was having the somewhat elevated time of my life.
We were brought by bus to the town where Dublin Duckeen and her co-conspirator for the day waited on the pavement to welcome us like royalty – overexcited, inappropriately violent-waving royalty. You’d swear we were stepping off a tour bus: hugs, cheers, elation, a fine smell of booze. We were brought straight into the restaurant behind them and served an awaiting banquet. Ok so it’s a bit hazy but I do remember it being yummy. The wine was definitely delicious. Soon I was brought back outside and joined the gathered group that were amusedly observing a 4×4 driver making its way toward us, the wrong way down the one-way street. I laughed at the goings-on; my friends laughed louder; I laughed again; they went up the decibels clearly now laughing at me, this time pointing: ‘LOOK WHO IT IS…!’ Wasn’t it only my favourite pair of vino sisters making an absolute show of themselves, holding up all of the traffic in the town without even the comfort of anonymity. They were here! They were really here! They may have wished to sheepishly slink into their parking space and slide out of the vehicle without extra attention but I was beside myself with excitement, you see. I couldn’t help but skip up to them with loud glee. (My older sister and older kind-of sister had already taken the piss out of my hen demeanour. Apparently, my enthusiasm brought on an involuntary skip and finger click as I moved, everywhere, for the whole weekend). For God’s sake, this day was the BEST.DAY.EVER!
We proceeded to another bus for transport to our ‘boat’. Apparently, a few of the girls had asked if they could drive onto this latest transport. The answer was evident when we were provided with lifejackets and positioned on what can only be described as a banana boat. So, no, no drive on here ladies. I screamed my heart out with excitement as we splashed upon the waves ‘sailing’ into the unknown; I bruised Dublin Duckeen by repetitive walloping of her back, squealing ‘where are we gooooooooiiiiiiiing?’ as my omnipresent widest of smiles made my sea-bashed face ache. In a very short amount of time, we approached an island where the most surprisingly young hosts awaited us (I’ve no experience of island-keepers but I figured they’d be nearer 60 than 20. Not true, apparently). Soon we were welcomed into a grown-up playground, Narnia for the adult set. We got us a private darn mansion, folks.
The night progressed with a briefing from our landlord on the dancefloor (a real one), 100-something ‘cheers!’ in the kitchen, dancing around the island (the stationary kitchen kind), giddy antics in the sitting room, culminating in a front-tumbles-off-the-couches competition. And, for me, a decision to take to my vast, inviting bed in a room with a view. I didn’t see the view right just then but I know it was there and that it was beautiful. I slept through the combined insistence of a return by a number of the party eager to bring me back to life at 5am.
The next day began with sizzling bacon, a walk around the island (the real-life variety), the best darn Bloody Marys I ever tasted, champagne and Guinness cocktails – a keg was brought in especially to ensure that I had access to my favourite hangover cure. How it held on to the banana boat trip I’m still none the wiser). Then we spent some time reminding each other of the times we came back from travelling with a few extra pounds, or ‘Sydney stones’ – the slagging was brutal, unforgiving, excellent - evidence of said physical transformations shared via old Facebook albums. My body ached from laughing. In the name of relaxation, we took ourselves off to the pool in the basement. Yep, another real-life ‘how the hell did we get here?’ part of the mansion. In the hot tub, my most shameless of pals regaled the group with stories of her Burning Man / general life antics. I think they may have gotten collectively poisoned from chlorine as their chins hit the tiles. My Bridesmaid sister didn’t join us in the actual water but instead she stayed on the indoor sunbed, fully dressed, enjoying the opportunity to read five magazines at once. When we left she stayed on to finish her article consumption. It was only when she took a lazy stretch sometime later that she noticed the lifeguard still in position, smiling at her from the end of the pool. ‘Oh my God, are you here for me? I won’t jump!’. Mortified, she swiftly left. And the lovely lifeguard could finally finish her shift.
The next hour was a haze of perfume, GHDs, makeup swapping and tunes blaring from the iPhones. What music? Oh, just the bespoke playlist created for my hen pleasure – all those songs that soundtracked my life so far. Absolute TOOOONES! We preened like our lives depended on it; at the very least like we were actually going out. But no, we were going downstairs for another party – just us. And really, that’s who we always get tarted up for anyway, each other. I giddily donned by ‘new’ Vintage dress that my mum bought as a sruprise for me after I tried it in Dirty Fabulous when looking for a dancing dress for the night of my wedding. Green, sparkly and fabulous – it fit the bill perfectly (and was the lift my hungover little body required). As I came down the stairs I found banners, sparkles and boas awaiting my arrival. The chef was finishing off her cooking (did I mention we had a chef? She was there from early doors, creating all sorts of fabulousness and joining in the constant craic). The shoes were off because the floors were new – cue much disgust from the group and lots of Carrie-esque ‘this is an OUT-FIT’’. The most hungover from the bunch had finally surfaced and suddenly we were all back on it again. We sat down for food, drink and Mr + Mrs. (I was actually pretty good; I think they were all rather disappointed in me).
After dinner, I was escorted to the sitting room where we all sat around a screen and a little introduction was made by video producer, Canada Duckeen. This was my ‘Life Before Wife’ video, I was to sit back and enjoy. Or perhaps cry my eyes out as transpired – out of joy, overwhelmed gratitude, bubbling emotion, long-forgotten memories and from being blown away by the effort, thought and time that putting this together must have taken. I had an inappropriate video message from Doha Duckeen in Qatar; a video poem from Melbourne bridesmaid sister and sister-in-law, a video cheers from New Zealand pal, a video Bonnie Tyler duet from Vancouver and dozens of long-forgotten photos; footage from the years of knowing this amazing, hilarious, couldn’t-live-without group of girls; gems of family photos that I was literally seeing for the first time. As I stood up to thank them I couldn’t get my breath for crying but then I looked at them and their mascara stained faces and couldn’t help creasing up at the scene I saw before me. ‘I’ve never been to a Hen where I cried before! exclaimed one bewildered pal’. We all had a little tipple to recover.
Just as I was ready to get back up for a night-two boogie, a number of people started streaming in the door. How did they get here? It’s an island! Who were they? And… and… who are all these kids?? As they walked by one by one, a west of Ireland nod and smile from each of them I realised they were a shaggin’ band. A trad band just for us. Basically ANOTHER of my favourite things. I was gobsmacked. So were the girls apparently. There were whispers about child labour. ‘Listen, we were on a budget – you take what you can get!’ What transpired was an evening of Sho The Donkey, singalongs with printed lyrics, – it transpires that we’ve been singing completely incorrect lyrics all these years – serious direction from the lead lady of the bunch (the kind you wouldn’t be ignoring, now), Sean Nos dancing, freestyling trad song takeovers (us, not them), a weird bit of couples dancing where we all paired up together but one of the gang found a conspiciously non-performing band guy (maybe a priest?) hovering at the back to swing with, and then general, pseudo-wholesome mayhem. When the band and unlikely entourage left, it was time for another night of kitchen banter. This time the oh-so-grown-up 20-something island host had found her way back to us and, at our insistence, joined the party. If we were worried she wouldn’t feel comfortable enough to get stuck in, we needn’t have been. The next morning I found a note in my ‘hen book’ saying ‘you ruined my island, bitches. Never come back!’ I think she got into the spirit of things, somehow. After that, it’s all a bit blurry but I do distinctly remember a competition that involved throwing limes at the cardboard Special Gentleman, the aim being to try and floor him from across the island (kitchen variety). The video footage helps the memory. It also reminded us just how absolutely hilarious we all find each other to be – like funniest people ever. Strangers would have been allergic to us. Basically, it was riotous, ridiculous and bloody brilliant.
Had we taken the time to notice, there were probably plenty of ‘Instagramable’ photo opportunities. Only one of the gang had the presence of mind to camera operate – it’s been her thing for years, pre-social media. Hell, pre-digital. And, although we deemed the images to be delightful, we also decided they were best kept socially-private.
It’s taken me about 3,000 words to log the memories but if I were to share the full experience it could fill a novel. A not-for-consumption by anyone but us novel, but a novel all the same. Suffice to say it was the best damn girls’ weekend of my life, and that’s really saying something. You see, I’ve had hundreds of amazing weekends with these girls in all sorts of configurations. And they’re not always so well thought out; they’re never created just for me, with every one of my favourite things included. Sometimes these nights will end up with someone crying over an outlawed cigarette in a smelly beer garden; fake driving of imaginary cards through the Drive Thru in collective desperation for a Maccy Ds; challenging strangers to Religion class sings-offs in Ray’s Pizza. They’re always different. Mostly hilarious. Constantly messy. Gloriously imperfect.
You won’t see glam photos of us on the beach; if you find us in posh frocks you better snap that early doors before the ties go around the heads; We’re not likely to big each other up on social media too often (it’s always midnight of the birthday that you remember you should have posted a slideshow). In fact, the majority of my friends aren’t even on Twitter and we’re still thinking Facebook poking is pretty rad so, ya know, know your limits.
Each of the friends in attendance or involved were made in a variety of ways: primary school, secondary school, Ballyfermot college, drinking in fields, a love of Vintage, family, ex-boyfriends, friends of friends, sisters of friends, friends of friend’s boyfriends, can’t actually ever remember meeting them for the first time. That’s the thing about real, true female friendship, you see – it can happen anywhere, at any time, in any circumstance. Once it’s made, once you really commit, it’s solid. Be the contact annual, once a decade or daily, you’re locked in and that’s it for life. And because of these messy, brilliant females, I would consider myself the happiest of prisoners.
Squad Goal (skwäd/ɡōl) (noun) (plural noun: squad goals): an aspirational term for what you’d like your group of friends to be or accomplish.
You girls ROCK!
Thank you, so, so much.