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'Like the Queen and Philip, our marriages have staying power'


Today is the 70th wedding anniversary of the Queen and Prince and to mark the historic event, Kerry McKittrick talks to two NI couples who wed in the same era as the monarch.

'We just kept talking to each other and have a wee hug ... we always hold hands'

Tommy (87) and Kathleen (84) Sands, who have been married for 66 years live in Dunmurry. They have seven children: Anne, Geoffrey, Linda, Carol, Hilary, Elaine and Heather.

Tommy says:

I was 21 and Kathleen was 17 when we got married. We met at a social evening up at First Dromore Church. You would go up and have a wee dance with all of the girls in the hall. I ended up leaving Kathleen home one night and that was the start of it. Nobody minded us getting married at that age - we got married in the Unitarian Church in Dromore on March 30, 1951. I was a bricklayer and did it my whole life. I built the garage and the walls around my house.

It was a hard life. It's different now because everything's (lifted) on cranes - I had to do everything with my hands. I would come home with a sore back at night.

Helping hand: Tommy and Kathleen Sands

We moved to Dunmurry because I did a lot of work around here. I even worked on this estate where we live now.

We had seven children - six girls and one boy - so Kathleen didn't have much time for working. I had to keep working. I worked during the day and then I would help out at home at night too. It takes a lot of work to feed a big family.

We have 12 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. We've been around for a long time and the secret is good, clean living. Mind you I did smoke.

I was in the Orange Order, the Black Preceptory and the Masonic Lodge. We never saw the Queen but we got sent a card and a poem when we had our 60th wedding anniversary - we weren't expecting that.

We were able to get a car later on in life and were able to take holidays. We went a few times to Portrush in a caravan and rented bungalows in Portstewart and the Isle of Man a couple of times. That was with the four younger ones as the three older ones were already away and working.

Kathleen did work later at RDF - it's called Survitec now, and they make life rafts and life vests. She worked in the factory putting them all together. It was tough work, heavy work and she had to use solvents doing it.

Tommy and Kathleen Sands on their wedding day

I'm surprised we're living as long as we have - we really didn't think we would be around this long. We've had our wee ups and downs along the road. You can't go through life without some wee problem so I'm not going to say that didn't happen, especially with seven children as I think most of the arguments came from them. We just kept talking away to each other and had a wee hug every now and again to keep us right. We've always held hands when we were out walking - still do.

We don't go out as much as we used to. We used to out walking every day. The whole family is still in or around Belfast and we go to somebody's house for Sunday lunch every week. We're all very close."

Kathleen says:

He always held my hand - I say it's to stop me from running away. He's always been very good at looking after me, he still drives and takes me to the Day Centre in Dunmurry. Tommy looked after everyone in the family. He taught all the children how to do jobs like wallpapering and tiling. He did jobs for all of them for as long as he could. The Queen and her husband seem to have been well suited to each other."

'My secret to being wed this long is keep saying yes dear'

Geoffrey (90) and Kathleen (89) Jeavons, who live in Lisnarick, Co Fermanagh, celebrated their 70th year of marriage in March this year. They have three children.

Kathleen says:

We met in the church Army canteen in Omagh in 1946. Geoffrey was in the Army - he had been called up for conscription as a young boy. I would volunteer at the canteen with two friends every Sunday and Monday night. We would make tea and sandwiches for the troops and wash up afterwards.

Geoffrey was in with the other boys for his coffee - they always had a game of pool or cards going. One night I was standing drying all the dishes and Geoffrey came up to me and asked if he could help. I handed him a tea towel and said 'yes', he could indeed.

Geoffrey was originally from Staffordshire in England, so he had to go back to England for training. We had met in March and he came back to Northern Ireland again in November to stay with friends of ours and when he came back we got engaged. On March 18, 1947, we got married. The funny thing is, both of our birthdays are on the same day - March 5. It's like we were meant to be together.

Platinum couple: Geoffrey and Kathleen Jeavons celebrated their 70th anniversary in March

We were 18 and 19 when we got married. It sounds very young today, but in those days it was perfectly normal and nobody had anything to say about it. I didn't want to be an Army wife, so Geoffrey came out of the force and returned here to live.

He did a few different things, but he ended up as a male nurse at the Tyrone and Fermanagh Hospital for 31 years.

I didn't work for some time - our first child came along just a couple of years after we got married and then there were two more after that. I did go back to work when they were a bit older. I got a job at the hospital too, where I was an auxiliary nurse for a number of years.

We have three children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

We're both retired a long time and we both use a stick these days - but we still try to get around and get to church.

Unfortunately our children are quite far away from us; Patricia lives in Madeira, Audrey is in Scotland and Geoffrey is in Carrickfergus. We don't get to see the family as much as we would like to.

I would never have dreamt at all that we would be married for 70 years. There are good things and bad things about being together for so long.

As long as you can hold your temper - which can be difficult at times - and as long as you can stick together at times and agree. Being agreeable means a lot."

Geoffrey says:

We were actually married just before the Queen. There is only one secret to being married for that long, I just keep saying, 'yes dear'.

I met Kathleen when I was called up - you didn't volunteer in those days.

I'm very happy that I settled here. Fermanagh is one of the best places in the world I could have picked. I've been here so long now my accent is completely gone - I used to be a real Brummie. I'm a proper Northern Irish man now."

Timeline of a 70-year remarkable Royal love story

In 70 years of marriage Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip have rarely spoken a word about the other in public, but on a couple of rare occasions they gave an insight into their special bond.

At their golden wedding anniversary lunch in 1997, the Queen thanked Prince Philip for being her ‘strength and stay’.

Prince Philip has said: “You can take it from me, that the Queen has the quality of tolerance in abundance.”

Key dates:

June 10, 1921

Philip Mountbatten was born in Corfu to Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg.

April 21, 1926

Princess Elizabeth was born to the Duke and Duchess of York.


Elizabeth and Philip met at a wedding.

December 11, 1936

King Edward VIII abdicated in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Princess Elizabeth’s father became King George VI and she heir to the throne.


Elizabeth and Philip began to write to each other after meeting again.


Elizabeth and Philip became engaged, however the official announcement was not made until the following year when Elizabeth turned 21.

November 20, 1947

Two thousand guests witnessed the wedding at Westminster Abbey, and 200 million people worldwide tuned in to listen to the ceremony on radio.

November 14, 1948

Prince Charles was born.

August 15, 1950

Princess Anne was born.

February 6, 1952

King George died at the age of 56.  Princess Elizabeth was in Kenya, on her way to a tour of Australia and returned to Britain as Queen Elizabeth II.

June 2, 1953

The coronation took place at Westminster Abbey of Queen Elizabeth II.

February 19, 1960

Birth of Prince Andrew.

March 10, 1964

Prince Edward was born.

November 19, 2007

The Queen was the first British monarch to celebrate a diamond wedding anniversary. A service was held at Westminster Abbey attended by 2,000 people including 30 family members. Prince William read from 1 John 4:7-16, which includes “let us love one another, because love is from God”.

February 6, 2012

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee was celebrated throughout 2012; she was the only the second British monarch to reach such a milestone following Queen Victoria in 1897.

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