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How U-turn brought Mary back to her true love Martin

By Louise Kelly

Published 22/08/2015

Mary McAleese and her husband Martin
Mary McAleese and her husband Martin
The McAleeses with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh during their visit to Ireland in 2011
The McAleeses with Barack and Michelle Obama in the same year

Mary McAleese got engaged to another man before eventually realising her heart actually belonged to her previous fiance Martin, it has been revealed.

The former Irish President first met her future husband-to-be though a debating competition when she was a 17-year-old girl attending St Dominic's High School in Belfast.

She only invited Martin to her 18th birthday party because she was romantically interested in his friend, but the pair got together and eventually became engaged, only to break up.

Mrs McAleese then got engaged to another man before she and Martin became a couple once again.

"She ended up with me!" dentist Martin joked in an interview with the Journal of the Irish Dental Association. "She got engaged to another fella... but she got sense! I would say that anyway."

In the wide-ranging piece, Dr McAleese also delves into how he became a dentist and the important part he played in the peace process.

Raised as a Catholic in a loyalist area of Belfast, he told how he was verbally abused as a child and felt that he "could bring this to the table" when talking to loyalist paramilitaries.

"They couldn't say: 'You don't understand'," said Dr McAleese. "I knew their streets, their pubs, their clubs, their schools, their churches. I had lived among them and their people."

He also revealed that his favourite moment of his wife's Presidency was when the Queen visited in 2011.

"It took 14 years and I thought I would never see the day, but it happened," Dr McAleese added. "That was the highlight."

In 2002 the dentist began to reach out and forge links with loyalist paramilitaries that eventually proved crucial in establishing the Northern Ireland peace process.

"When I first sat down with some loyalist paramilitaries and began the process of outreach and engagement, the greatest asset that I could bring to the table was the first 20 years of my life," he said.

"I understood their accents and could share their sense of humour.

"All of those things conspired to give a great street credibility that was absolutely crucial in that engagement and the subsequent development of relationships.

"It is an aside, but what I was leaving behind came back as a tremendous asset."

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