Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

My family and community would have nothing to do with me... because I married a Catholic

An 87-year-old Presbyterian has told how her family shunned her for decades after she married a Catholic man.

Widow Ruth even had to be smuggled into hospital to tell her dying mother she loved her, because of the family rift.

Ruth, who lives in Newry, was speaking at the launch of Mixed Emotions: Real Stories Of Mixed Marriage — which tells the stories of couples who married across political and religious divides.

The book, produced by the Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association, was printed on Belfast’s Falls Road and bound on the Shankill. It was launched at Stormont yesterday.

Aged 19 in 1943, her community and family shunned her after she defied a family minister and Orange Lodge worshipful master to marry Pat, a Catholic man.

They married in Dundalk after securing the Cardinal’s permission — and returned home to find they had lost their jobs and the affections of their community.

She recalled watching her father’s funeral in the shadow of a garage door.

Years later she was smuggled into a hospital ward to tell her dying mother she loved her.

Over decades she built bridges with many of her 11 siblings and they later broke ranks to visit her husband on his death bed in 2003.

But her ordeal has not quelled her faith in the power of love.

“Despite everything, I would do it again tomorrow,” she said.

“One of the Pat’s favourite sayings was ‘we’ll stick together like the ivy on the old garden wall’. We did it all together.

“I would advise any couples thinking about marrying to be true to themselves, to talk to each other and to work together.

“Times have changed for the better, but love doesn’t change and that’s the important thing.”

She added: “Oh, and by the way, the worshipful (Orange Lodge) master who terrified me back in 1943 — his granddaughter has married a Catholic.”

Around one in 10 relationships in the general population is between Catholic and Protestant.

Minister Wilfred Orr, from St John’s Church, Newtownbreda, said the book carries fundamental lessons for the clergy who contributed to suffering endured by couples of different backgrounds.

He said: “As part of a whole cultural, historical and political context, the Church has often contributed to that pain. That I deeply regret — and I regret also, as a minister of the Church, that our attitudes have distanced some couples from the Church.”

Author Paul McLaughlin said it was a humbling experience to interview the 10 couples.

“It was a privilege to be taken into their homes and their lives. One husband said he heard things during our interview that his wife had never told him. They were horror stories that had happened to her before they got married, that she never told him about.”

Mixed Emotions: Real Stories Of Mixed Marriage is published by Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association, funded by The Big Lottery Fund. For more, log on to www.nimma.org.uk

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