Belfast Telegraph

How do some couples stay married for 50 years? Kindness, homour (oh, and love) helps

In what's essential reading for anyone about to wed, Jane Hardy talks to three wives and their husbands.

Noreen McIlroy (8), a retired teacher, has been married to chemist Stanley (87) for 56 years. The couple live in east Belfast and have a grown-up daughter, Susan, Noreen says:

We met on the boat going to Glasgow in 1954 when I was doing teacher training and Stanley was going to play bowls with an Ulster chemists’ team.

The next morning he asked Pat Hamilton, one of my best friends, for my address and phone number. He wrote them down on a paper napkin which we still have.

We got engaged 18 months later and were married on Easter Monday, 1957, in St Anne’s Cathedral. There were about 100 guests and we had our reception in the Midland Hotel; it had to be close as we were in the middle of the Suez crisis and there was no petrol.

As my father had died, my uncle gave me away. We only had a week for our honeymoon and we stayed in the Regent Palace Hotel in London. Because Stanley worked for Yardley, I went to their store at 33 Old Bond Street and they gave me the full treatment. I never had to buy perfume and cosmetics.

Susan was born seven years later. It’s hard to say what’s made our marriage last, but there’s a lot of give and take. We’ve both got a sense of humour and do a lot of things together, including charity work. Our faith is a bond, too. Oh, and I also think it’s important to give him a kiss before he leaves the house.”

Stanley says:

There were 17 girls on the boat but the one I noticed, Noreen, was the one I married. What attracted me to Noreen first of all was her hairstyle — she was brunette with a centre parting and had brown eyes. I asked her to take a walk on deck but I didn’t get her address and phone number until the next day.

I’m not over-romantic but we share the same ideas and faith. Noreen was already worshipping at St Anne’s Cathedral when we met and now we’ve outlasted six Deans of Belfast. Noreen’s father was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary and was one of the people who carried Lord Carson’s coffin into St Anne’s for his funeral in 1935. My father had a bakery in Kilkeel.

We do everything together except for my involvement with the Masonic Order. We also do a lot of charity work and we have raised £800,000 for Cancer Research with events like charity balls at the City Hall.

We like holidays, especially in Tenerife. Our arguments don’t last long and she holds no grudges. Affection and kisses remain important, very much so.

Peggy Bainbridge (87) lives with her husband Geoff (89) in Portrush. They have four daughters, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren and have been married for 66 years. Peggy says:

We met when I was 20 and he was 23. I was working for the air ministry at Aldergrove and he was with the RAF.

I helped at the door at the Saturday evening dance at the base. Geoff asked to be introduced to me.

He was very handsome, not very tall at 5ft 6in, but I was only 5ft, and he had blue eyes and blond hair.

I have a feeling we danced a quickstep. We danced the next Saturday and he saw me again on the Sunday.

I remember we had nowhere to go and walked round and round. I couldn’t take him home as we’d only just met. On May 12, he was invited home. In July I met his family and while we were visiting, we were walking along the high street and passed a jewellers.

Geoff said, ‘Right, we’ll go in and choose a ring.’ I wasn’t really surprised.

We were going to be married on my 21st birthday but my father died, so it was postponed until March 1947. It took place at All Saints’ Church, Antrim, with a reception at the Massereene Hotel.

We honeymooned at the Red Lion Hotel, Dublin, for a week.

We set up home in a flat near Oxford as Geoff was still in the forces.

We’re not into Valentine’s Day but he does buy me flowers. What’s important is we blend well together, and I still feel a lift when I see him.

Geoff Bainbridge says:

There was an immediate attraction and I can even remember what she was wearing. A pink gypsy-style blouse and a dirndl skirt. Peggy was a particularly good dancer too. I’d danced since I was 15 and we’ve often been asked if we’re professional dancers.

How you keep a marriage going is by being romantic, and good food’s important, also give and take.

I buy her nice clothes and I choose very nice things, from blouses to jackets. Pink still suits her. Although now Peggy’s like me, grey-white, she used to be very fair.

After 25 years of flying in all weather, with the aircraft sometimes not in total control, it was a bit like marriage!

I don’t regret anything, I don’t know what I’d do without her.”

Gertrude Hesketh (72) lives with her husband Robert (76) in Lurgan. They have been married for 52 years and have six daughters, two sons, 18 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. She says:

Robert and I met in Edward Street in Lurgan. He asked me if I was going to the dance later on in the evening and would I save him a dance. I said I might. I wasn’t quite 18 and thought Robbie was a cheeky Belfast boy.

I liked his good manners, though, and his humorous way. We did have that dance and I knew right away, it was a romance from the beginning. There was a spark.

We saw each other once the next week, then two nights a week, then four nights a week until he almost moved in.

Six months on we were engaged. We had a very quiet wedding, just us and our friends, very simple, no family. It took place at Watford Holy Rood Chapel on August 15, 1960, as we’d gone to London to work and save money.

After 11 months, I fell pregnant with our first child, Donna, and wanted to return to Northern Ireland. We make each other laugh. You take the good with the bad and kiss and make up quickly if you have an argument.

He’s very romantic, although I’m not. He’ll get me my sweets and flowers and perfume on Valentine’s Day, but he never gets a card from me.”

Robert says:

When I met Gerty I liked her good looks and cheeky attitude. Working together on everyday things and listening and supporting each other is what makes our marriage work.

Yes, we do sometimes argue, but we do try and solve the problems quickly. I am fairly romantic and have bought my wife a Valentine’s card and will buy her a present as well, but she never buys me one. She keeps her money to herself. You could say I’ve become used to that over the years.”

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