MB recently went on a trip to the Irish island of Inisheer, where she met a local man named Kevin at a bar.
“We went outside for a cigarette and he proposed to me. Like legitimately got on one knee and had his grandmother’s ring. I was so confused and I didn’t know what to do, so I took the ring and just didn’t reply.
“The next day I was like, ‘I need to return this ring.’ I went back to the bar because no one has like any form of communication. And I was like, ‘When does Kevin come?’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, he’ll be here after work.’ So I hung out until Kevin showed up. And then I was like, ‘Look, I can’t marry you. Here’s your ring back.’
“Kevin was like, ‘Oh, no, no, no, wait. I owe you a sheep. Do you want a sheep?’ I was like, ‘What do you mean? I’m leaving tomorrow. What am I supposed to do with a sheep?’ And he was like, ‘No, no. In Inisheer tradition, when you propose, you’re supposed to give a sheep as your proposal gift.’ I was like, ‘What do I do with a sheep? What do you expect me to do with that?’
“Kevin said sometimes people turn the sheep into a rug, so I was like, ‘Oh, okay. I’ll take a sheep rug, I guess.’ And I wrote down my address on a little piece of paper.
“I thought it was hilarious because I was not expecting to get an actual sheep rug in the mail from Kevin. But low and behold, two weeks after getting back to L.A., a box showed up with this sheep rug. It’s gorgeous. So yes, I did, in fact, get an engagement sheep rug from Kevin, the rubbish collector.
MB is a 20 year-old college student from New Jersey currently living in Los Angeles. She has traveled extensively and was in Ireland to film a documentary when this proposal occurred.
While she was not familiar with this specific Inisheer tradition, MB said she had heard of similar customs in other cultures. “It’s a tradition to present the woman with something that would appeal. So I feel like I had seen it, but I didn’t know that was an Irish thing.
“But this island also is super traditional, so it wasn’t super surprising. For context, the island is very small. Not a lot of technology. It’s a tourist destination now, but year-round, I think less than a hundred people live there. It’s all farmland. The only things that people do are own a shop or work on a farm or work on the ferry that runs to the mainland. So it’s very traditional. They all know each other, so there’s no need to text. They just go to the same place at the pub and knock on each other’s doors.
MB said she plans to keep the sheep rug for a long time and keep telling this story for the rest of her life. “I cherish this sheep rug so much. I think it’s the best souvenir I could ever receive.
She also admitted that sometimes she feels like she insulted Irish marriage tradition, even though Kevin was very insistent. “Obviously, because I was doing the documentary, I wanted to talk to people and actually get to know the culture. But I did not expect to be proposed to. And coming in and then leaving … I don’t know. But he really didn’t give me an option. And who am I to turn down a sheep rug? That sounds awesome.”
Marriage is one of the most celebrated life milestones across cultures. Historically, marriage is what brings two families together, establishing kinship networks and serving to reproduce not only life but culture. Thus, as one of the most important societal rituals that transforms identity, marriage is surrounded by many traditions, including those related to the engagement as MB experienced.
MB was told that she would be given an older sheep. It is unclear to her whether the sheep rug she received was already made at the time of the proposal, so there is no way of knowing much about the sheep it came from. Nonetheless, it is interesting that she was not given a young sheep to symbolize fertility, which is an important theme across diverse wedding traditions. Giza Roheim’s research, “Wedding Ceremonies in European Folklore,” explores other iterations of such themes.
Ultimately, Kevin’s insistence in giving her the sheep speaks to the immense power of ritual. Even though MB declined the marriage proposal, he insisted on following through with the whole proposal ritual. This demonstrates the belief that rituals must be performed correctly and in their entirety, or else the occasion loses its transformative power. In Kevin’s case, it is possible that he believed a failure to follow through on the engagement ritual would give him bad luck with future proposals, or alternatively, not release him from his commitment to MB. Whatever the reason, it is clear that he was acting under the weight of ritual obligation, rather than reason.