Love, Vacuously

A tale about dating in modern Ireland

There’s usually a valid reason why people in their late thirties are single.

Perhaps they were the victim of a dishonest partner. A messy breakup. A bereavement. Mental health issues. Or, they haven’t just met the right person.

There are many reasons. Shay’s reason for being single was; he was a massive gobshite. A harmless gobshite, but a gobshite nonetheless.

Shay was the type of gobshite to go on a date to an expensive Mexican restaurant and pretend he left his wallet at home so the lady would pay. He’d get that second helping of guacamole, but not a second date.

He was the type of gobshite that told dates truthful answers to rhetorical enquiries about how they looked. ‘Well the dress does accentuate your huge boobs, but I hate the colour. Makes you look anaemic.’

A gobshite that took the phrase “be yourself” to the extreme, and was far too honest and open with ladies on his first dates. Nobody wants to hear the answer ‘I spent it mostly googling celebrity sex tapes’, to the question, ‘How was work today?’

His parents were worried. Shay was their only child. His father yearned for a grandchild that he could dote on. Someone that he could teach to run the farm, seeing as Shay was so bloody useless.

His mother, Celine, wanted him to settle down so she’d be finally able to boast about it in her ladies club meetings. All the other haughty bitches had their kids married off to solicitors and primary school teachers from the big town over. She was sick to death of the faux sympathetic looks Anne Smith gave her when she explained Shay hasn’t met someone, but was happy. ‘Well, as long as he’s happy!’ Anne would say, tilting her head to the side and clucking her tongue. ‘Fuck you Anne’, Celine would think, ‘Everyone here knows your husband is riding the parish priest. Everyone but you, you silly bitch.’ Celine would take solace in that, and hope that Shay would get his act together soon, if not for her sake, but for his own.

Shay wasn’t a bad looking fella. He was tall, broad, lean, and had a full head of thick black hair that he kept at a length that was long enough to put in a ponytail if required, short enough to look neat for work.
He wasn’t short a few bob either. He helped out on his dad’s farm at the evenings and weekends, and had a well paying office job with the department of agriculture during the week. His uncle, a disgraced former politician, had got him the job back in the boom. Nobody really knew what he was supposed to be doing there, including Shay, but too much time had passed, so nobody thought to ask. He carried on showing up every day for the past few years, always twenty minutes late.

Shay was now 38. All his friends were married. Some even had kids. He was running out of people to go for pints with. But more importantly, he was running out of local women close to his own age that he could ask out. He had tried chatting up some girl in the village pub the last bank holiday, but was informed that she was a 5th year in the local school. He was a gobshite, but he wasn’t a creep.

An article in the local paper recently had said that rural single men would be better off moving to the city to fìnd love. Shay couldn’t comprehend living in Dublin. The thoughts of it terrified him. Double decker buses, the Luas, concrete and steel everywhere. It was like something out of science fiction. Shay needed greenery, wide open spaces, the ability to do a u-turn on public roads without using your indicators. Traffic lights and stop signs. That’s what you had in the city. Too restrictive. Too alien. Too expensive. €6.50 for a pint of Guinness? Fuck off!

And the women. Jaysus, the women. They knew stuff. They knew stuff about sex. They talked about sex! Openly! Sex wasn’t supposed to be discussed openly. It was like money, your aunties nervous breakdown, or how many acres you had – that shit was private, and had to be kept to yourself. Society would break down otherwise.

No, Shay wouldn’t be going to the Big Smoke to find love. He’d have to find it in a fifteen mile radius. But who? And more importantly, how?

One Tuesday morning, Shay was sitting in the canteen having his usual two hour coffee break. Phil from finance came in to replenish his water bottle from the filtered tap.

‘Hey Shay, just the man!’

‘Phil, well? How are you? Biscuit?’, Shay slid over the packet of chocolate fingers he was methodically devouring. Phil patted his stomach and raised a hand to politely decline.

‘Nah man, I’m looking after meself. Which is what I wanted to talk to you about.’ Phil said, with a big grin on his face.

Shay made a big show of getting up out of his seat, walking to the sink and rinsing his cup. He pulled back his sleeve on his left arm and glanced at the watch that he didn’t have.

‘Ok, make it quick, I’ve to go on lunch now in fifteen minutes.’

Phil chuckled. ‘Jaysus you boys in…what team are you on again?’

Shay shrugged.

‘Well, you boys have it hard, eh?’ Phil winked. ‘What I wanted to ask you was, are you free on the 21st?’

Shay looked up at the calendar over the coffee machine. That was a Saturday. He would probably have to help his dad on the farm. So yes, he was free.

‘I am, yeah. Why?’

‘It’s my wedding. John and Alice from my team just found out they were having a baby. They’re flying to Glasgow that weekend to tell her parents. We’ve room at the work colleagues table. I’d love if you could come. A plus one for you too!’

Shay knew he was sloppy seconds here, but he didn’t really care. Weddings were great for two things – drinking and riding. And he loved both.

‘Ah, fuck it sure. I’ll go.’ Shay reached out to shake Phil’s hand. Phil took it, obviously relieved. ‘But, my present to you is filling the seat. You can forget about a big lump of cash in an envelope.’

Phil grimaced, lifted his water bottle and walked out of the canteen mumbling. Shay thought he heard ‘miserable bastard’, but he didn’t care. This plus one invite was exactly the kick up the arse he required to get himself a lady.

He was so excited and determined, that instead of going for his usual three hour lunch break, he went home to research wedding dates. How do you get them? Where do you get them? Will the internet help? How much money will they expect?

According to the internet, the best way to get a date these days was through an app called Tinder. To register required Facebook. Both were supposed to be used on a smart phone.  Shay had none of that stuff. He drove in to the big town and bought the most basic smart phone he could find. The greasy man in the phone shop tried to convince him to buy the latest and greatest device on the market. But Shay saw right through him. €700 for a yoke to make phone calls with? Madness. You nearly wouldn’t get that for a bullock these days!

Shay set up his Facebook and Tinder profiles that evening. It wasn’t long before he got his first request. Mia Tan. She was stunning! And according to her profile, she was only five kilometers away. Shay thought this odd at first, he’d never seen her at mass. Maybe she was Church of Ireland? Anything was possible, and he’d no time to be fussy. The wedding was three weeks away.

Shay sent her a quick flirty message:

U ave nice round arse sexy baby. Want 2 meet up? xxx

Shay thought it best to go with his a-game straight away. No time to be wasting with pointless small talk.

She replied:

Hi there! You have no profile picture, but I can tell you’re gorgeous from the way you’re typing. I’d like to meet tonight. Where are you?

‘Profile picture? What the fuck is a profile picture?’, thought Shay. He’d figure that out later. A meet and greet in Mulcahy’s would break the ice.

I’m 5km away from u. Cn meet u in Mulcahy’s in the village f u like? 8 o’clock? I’ll bring my profile picture.

Shay tapped his fingers nervously on the table. Maybe she wouldn’t reply. Maybe it was a wind up. Five minutes passed. He forgot about it. He got up to make a cup of tea. The phone buzzed.

Be outside Mulcahy’s at 9pm. Wear a green shirt. I’ll meet you outside. Can’t wait to see you. I’ll buy the first drink. xxx

‘Yes! This is too easy. A date and a free pint’ Shay jumped up, ran in to his bedroom and had a look for a green shirt. He found an old Irish rugby jersey from the 2003 world cup. It was faded to bits, had a bleach stain on the front, but was the only green shirt he owned. It was a wee bit tight, but all the hipsters were wearing tight things these days. Shay didn’t know that. He had no idea what a hipster was, and if he did, he probably wouldn’t have liked it.

He called his mother.

‘Mammy! Will ye drop me to Mulcahy’s later? I’ve a date with a woman.’

Celine was only happy to oblige. She arrived at Shay’s house at a quarter to nine. She was horrified when he came bounding down the driveway in a tattered old rugby shirt.

‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Seamus! What are you wearing?’

‘Look mammy, it’s part of the date. I have to wear green, ok? This is the only green shirt I own.’, Shay whined.

‘Could you not have gone in and bought a new one in town? Of all things to be wearing!’, clucked Celine.

‘Didn’t have time. Only organized the date an hour ago.’

Celine groaned her disapproval. ‘Well, who is she anyway?’

‘Mia Tan is her name. Protestant girl I think. Lives over the road.’

‘Oh.’ Celine sighed. This could cause scandal at the ladies club. Nobody in modern Ireland really cared anymore about religion, but there were a few of the older wagons that would use this information as a stick to beat her with. Shower of old fashioned crones that they were.

Celine pulled up to the pub. Shay went to get out, paused, looked back at his mother.

‘You hardly have €50 on you? I forgot to go to the ATM.’

Celine groaned, reached back for her purse and handed Shay a crisp €50 note.

‘Look after that girl now. Use some of this to pay for her taxi home!’

Shay took the note and got out of the car. ‘I will mammy…’ he closed the door, ‘…in me bollix.’ Shay put the €50 in his wallet, adding it to the other ten notes inside. Shay felt naked without at least five hundred quid in his wallet at any time. He was never going to spend it, but just knowing it was there made him feel safe.

He assumed his position outside the pub. Fifteen minutes passed and no sign of Mia. Shay was beginning  to think he wasn’t going to get that free pint.

A battered looking transit van pulled up in front of Shay. A guy in the passenger seat rolled the window down.

‘Sorry bud, are you waiting for Mia?’ he shouted.

‘No, I’m not waiting for you, mate. I’m waiting for Mia. A woman.’ Shay called back.

‘That’s what I said you thick fucker! Come here, I’ve a message for you.’

Shay leaned in the window of the van to ask the lad what he was talking about. The last thing he felt was a pinch and pressure on his neck.


He was cold. Very cold. The coldest he had ever been. He couldn’t feel anything between his chest and his knees. His arms were ok, and he could wiggle his toes.

Shay looked around. He was in a large, mostly empty room. It was lit with the type of lamps you normally see on construction sites during the winter. There was a low hum of a generator, possibly powering the lamp. The door to Shay’s right resembled the entrance to a butcher’s store room. It was a large steel door on tracks, and had plastic strips reaching to the floor. As he gradually became more aware, Shay realized that he was completely naked and in a bath full of water. The water was a pinkish colour and had the remains of ice cubes floating around the top.

Shay begun to panic. There was a sutured red line on his side above his hip. Someone had cut him open and taken something from him. Or put something in him. He looked to his right again. Where was he?

Now he was really panicking. Where were his jeans? He tried to stand, but couldn’t. He looked to his left, but all that was there was a sink and some medical instruments. There was a blind spot behind him that he just needed to see. He had to figure out what was behind him. His life depended on it.

Shay took a deep breath. He gripped the side of the bath in the middle and pushed with all his strength. He managed to rotate himself, like a sloppy gymnast on the pommel, and face the previously blind spot.

Then he saw it and knew that everything would be ok.

Draped across a chair were his jeans and t-shirt. Sticking out of the jeans was his wallet. Still full of cash.

‘Oh thank fuck’.


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