To the tune of love

Posted on: 4th February, 2019

Category: Features

Contributor: Mary O'Brien

Above: Mary and Barry Kingston today in their business Shanahan’s Nurseries.

In the words of the great William Shakespeare ‘If music be the food of love, play on.’

Barry and Mary Kingston have been dancing to the same tune since they caught each other’s eye across a crowded pub on May 1, 1988. Barry was playing a gig with some friends when Mary, also a musician, “breezed” in to the bar with her friend Fran. The session that night led to a great partnership in both music and life. There aren’t too many in Clonakilty not familiar with the advertisement ‘Music tonight with Barry and Mary’. The couple played together every Monday night in DeBarra folk club for almost nine years.

Mary was postmistress in Reenascreena; Barry had been working in his uncles’ nurseries and garden centre ‘Shanahan’s’ in Clonakilty since the age of 14 (he celebrates 40 years there this year). Both 23, life was fun and filled with the sound of music. A couple of years later the couple set off on an adventure around Europe, surfing from couch to couch and busking for their supper along the way! “We spent six months in Antwerp before hitching around Europe without a penny in our pockets,” says Barry. “We had a pocketful of dreams I suppose,” he says nostalgically. “We made some great friends, many of whom we’re still in touch with,” says Mary. “The guitar was a plus when we were hitching, as anyone anyway left of field picked us up.”

Although their paths never really crossed when they were younger, Barry and Mary both learned how to play the guitar from the great Noel Redding. “He charged a fiver a lesson but part of the deal was that you had to look after the cats and dogs when he was on holidays,” says Barry laughing. “Noel and Carol were very good to us,” says Mary “they always turned up before a gig to make sure that everything was ok with the sound and so on before heading off to their own gig.”

After their tour around Europe, Barry and Mary returned home to Clonakilty. “We knew we could live together after that so when we came home we decided to get married,” says Mary. “I think it was mid-argument as we passed the garden centre one day that I popped the question,” says Barry laughing. “Something very romantic like ‘right will we get married so’!”

The wedding was a bit of a ‘hippie’ affair! “It all just fell into place somehow…to be honest afterwards we wondered if we were married at all,” the couple say laughing.

However the easygoing couple did manage to book a venue for May 1, 1993 – the old Inchydoney hotel; and a buffet for 100.

The postmistress in Rosscarbery made Mary’s dress and Barry went off and bought his own suit. “I was going to go open necked but on the morning of the wedding but I found a tie in the pocket of the suit, a big flowery bright red and blue creation.” 

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw this big colourful tie across from me at the altar,” says Mary with a smile.

What happened after that was magic; musicians who were also good friends from all walks of life (including the likes of Noel Redding and Bill Shanley) turned up to play at this celebration by the beach. “It was a small wedding with a big party after. There was an open house for the night and to this day we are still meeting people who tell us they were at our wedding.,” says Mary smiling.

Mary and Barry on their wedding day.

Afterwards the couple started their honeymoon in Galway and of course the guitar travelled with them.

Although over the years the tune has changed somewhat – the couple have two teenage children (Brendan is 19 and studying languages in college and Annie is 16) and now run Shanahan’s Nurseries and Garden Centre together – the music is still there.

“We’re good friends and we’ve similar interests but we give each other space too,” says Barry. Both enjoy walking and have a penchant for Nordic Noir. “Although we don’t play music together in public anymore (life took over) watch this space, as now the kids are older, we’ve been able to make time to start practicing together again.”

Running a small business together is something this couple always aspired to. And a life surrounded by plants is a satisfying one. Mornings start off with a cup of coffee and a stroll around the nurseries together to see what’s in flower or in need of attention. 

“It has been a challenging few years with the recession and extreme weather conditions last year but it’s a good life and we love working together,” says Mary. 

As in the world of plants, it’s the little things that are often the most special. “Over Christmas, Barry brought me coffee and toast in bed every morning and that was heaven,” explains Mary. “I think the last time I got that kind of treatment was when I was home sick from school. It’s the small gestures that really matter.”

Barry and Mary enjoy going for long walks together and every year, rain, hail or snow, they return to Inchydoney beach on May 1 to celebrate their anniversary.

This year they’re really looking forward to seeing one of their favourite Irish folk bands ‘Lankum’ perform at the Drimoleague Singing Festival.

Right now they’re still waiting on winter to arrive. “It’s so mild that gardeners are being lulled into a false sense of security…they feel like they should be planting,” explains Barry, “My uncle would have said stop and take your time.” 

The garden centre is open five days a week, six in the summer, from 9-5.30pm every day. Mary usually heads home a bit earlier than Barry to get the fire lit and dinner started. 

While they would like to travel again some day, Mary and Barry are very happy in life and work. “We’re living our dream,” says Mary “and have no plans to retire any time soon. Barry agrees “My favourite saying is one by Eddie Furey when he was asked if he planned to retire – ‘I’m too old for that’ was his response.”

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