I was going to wear this blue dress, but as I approached the wedding, I decided, do you know what? I may be 70, but I am still a bride and I am going to wear white.”

Phyllis MacNamara – radiant as any newly-wed – is positively shining as she flicks through the photographs from her 2021 wedding to her husband, Jimmy McGing.

“Isn’t he gorgeous?” she whispers conspiratorially, as she shares the details of the day; from the full-length Max Mara dress she bought online, to the intimate ceremony in the Augustinian church in Galway, followed by a reception at home in Oranmore.

Then, a pause.

\ Claire Nash

“Isn’t it amazing to think I’m 72 in March and I could have this great joy,” she reflects. “And I do want to tell the whole world about it, because I want to say, ‘It can be yours.’”

This is not the first time that Irish Country Living has interviewed Phyllis, who is well-known in the west as the owner of the exquisite Cobwebs jewellery shop in Galway city. A decade ago, she shared with our readers her very honest account of life after losing her much-loved husband, Michael, to suicide in 2008.

Then, a few weeks ago, an email popped into our inbox from Phyllis. Not only was Cobwebs celebrating 50 years in business, but she had also remarried.

“My story is one of hope,” she wrote, “and I want to shout from the rooftops that I have survived all that has happened.”

Business of love

It’s also a story of love, and not least because many newly engaged couples make the pilgrimage to Quay Lane to meet Phyllis and find that perfect ring.

“The hope and the belief in the future together is such a marvellous thing,” she smiles, though she has witnessed proposals go the other way too.

“The girl said no in front of us,” she recalls of one occasion. “But those moments stick out, because they are rare.”

Much of the engagement jewellery sourced by Phyllis utilises antique stones in new settings, and little thrills her more than matching the right piece to the right person.

Her advice when it comes to making the final decision, though?

\ Claire Nash

“I always say to them, ‘Unless your heart is beating faster, this is not the ring for you,’” she responds. However, she is keen to point out that jewellery not only represents romantic love, but self-love. “We are seeing more and more women buying that right-hand ring for themselves and, at the moment, that ring is ?often an aquamarine,” she says. Many people also buy a piece of jewellery to commemorate somebody who has died.

Indeed, she explains, there are many examples of “mourning jewellery” in the antique world, be it a brooch inscribed with the date of a loved one’s death or a locket encasing a lock of hair.

“Whether that gave them the chance to face the grief, but not speak about it, I don’t know, but there’s lots of jewellery dealing with pain and suffering,” she says. “So, the pain of love, as well as the joy of love.”

Life after loss

Perhaps nothing illustrates that juxtaposition more poignantly than a strand of pearls given to Phyllis by her late husband, Michael.

She explains how she had coveted the necklace for months, and was so thrilled when Michael bought it for her as a present in early 2008.

“But six weeks later, Michael was dead,” she states, devastatingly, of the anxiety attacks that escalated with tragic consequences in such a short space of time.

“The importance of those few beads to me, it’s just breathtaking.”

\ Claire Nash

In our last interview, Phyllis explained how in losing Michael, she very nearly lost herself. She is so grateful to the people who stuck by her side during her darkest days.

“I have a friend who’s a monk and he used to come and say to me, ‘I’m here.’ That’s all he needed to say. He didn’t need to say platitudes like, ‘God fits the back for the burden.’ It’s just, ‘I’m here.’ It’s a really simple thing,” she says.

A clear turning point, however, came as an almost startling revelation at her 60th birthday party, where – surrounded by her loved ones – she felt suddenly compelled to make a speech.

“I stood up and I said, ‘When Michael died, I thought I had lost love forever. But when I look around me today, I see I still have love. I have it all around me, I just have to look in different places,’” she explains.

“And that moment was another life-changing moment, because sometimes people can look for love in the wrong places and love can come pouring out to you in areas that you had never expected.”

Second chance

Which brings us, so tenderly, to Jimmy.

Phyllis explains that she was attending an antiques event in Dublin when she was asked if she would like to join the Royal Dublin Society (RDS). Despite some initial reluctance, she agreed to go along to their stand to find out more.

“And there’s Jimmy on the stand,” she takes up the story.

“I walked over and I said to him, ‘Why did you join?’ And he said, ‘My wife’s just died and I’m completely lost.’ And I said, ‘My husband has just died and I’m totally lost.’ And that’s how we met.”

\ Claire Nash

They got to know each other better by phone, as they supported each other through their respective losses of Michael and Jimmy’s wife, Ann.

“Jimmy would phone me and say, ‘How did you get on?’ And I’d say, ‘Well do you know what? I didn’t cry until 4pm today.’ And he’d say, ‘That’s amazing!’” recalls Phyllis of their early conversations.

One day, however, he asked to meet for lunch in Dublin.

“I asked all my women friends and they said, ‘It depends on where he’s asking you. Like if he’s at One Pico, it’s a date, and if he just says someplace ordinary, it’s not a date.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m definitely not able or ready for a date.’ He suggested Brown Thomas upstairs, so we decided that’s a safe place to go,” recalls Phyllis.

“So, I met him at half twelve and we came out at half three. Only because they were closing, we’d be still there. It was wonderful. I just thought, ‘Oh my God, what a wonderful man.’ I just thought he was the last word.”

And when Jimmy visited Galway shortly afterwards, Phyllis knew this was something special.

“I remember just sitting in the living room and we were both reading the papers and I just thought, ‘Oh my God, this is bliss,’” she recalls.

“Happily doing what we always did, but we were doing it together.”

Saying yes

That said, they moved “very, very slowly”, as they were both still “fragile”.

Certainly, Phyllis had no intention of remarrying and even when Jimmy proposed in Paris one weekend after a number of years together, she said no. Instead, they had their own commitment ceremony to each other, which involved a deeply symbolic exchange of jewellery.

“We went to this restaurant and we took off our wedding rings that we had from our previous marriages and we put them into a little silver box and we put a lid on it,” explains Phyllis.

“We proposed a toast to Michael and to Ann and then we gave each other a ring and we committed to each other for life.”

COVID-19, however, would prove an unlikely catalyst for making things official. Having lived with Jimmy through lockdowns, Phyllis explains that on the morning of St Patrick’s Day 2021, she had been sea swimming with some friends when two of the group produced instruments and started playing tunes on the pier.

\ Claire Nash

“We were all dancing around in our swimming togs and in our Dry Robes in the freezing cold. We were roaring laughing and the next thing, we saw the guards coming in the car. ‘Run! Quick, quick! What’s wrong? What’s wrong? It’s an illegal gathering!’ A group of 70-year-old women dancing on the pier in their togs,” exclaims Phyllis.

“So, I ran home and I was laughing so much. Jimmy came into the kitchen – I was still laughing, and absolutely paralysed with the cold – and he said, ‘Would you marry me? and I said, ‘Yes, I would definitely. Yes, yes, yes!’”

What does Phyllis think had changed the second time?

“I was ready. I was ready,” she states. “In the beginning, I still felt married to Michael, even though he wasn’t here. And then that slowly dawned on me that he wasn’t here. And that it would be alright. I can’t put it into words. But I was ready.”

Celebrating 50 years

Life and love are good and so is Cobwebs. Celebrating 50 years in business is no small achievement, but Phyllis measures her success differently these days.

“After 50 years, I now own the building and I own the stock, so my success now is in matching the item to the person and that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning,” she says.

That and her love for life.

“Never, never, never give up,” she advises. “Open your arms to the universe. See the joy in nature. Say yes to everything and have hope and give out love and love will come back to you.”

Visit www.cobwebs.ie

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