Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Royal wedding: Happy ever after ... our advice to Prince Harry and Meghan

The Park Avenue Hotel in east Belfast is today celebrating the Royal wedding in style by hosting a party for many of the couples who have said 'I do' in it over the past 60 years. Karen Ireland talks to some of those attending the gala occasion

Margaret Baxter (86) is married to Sam (86). They live in Belfast and have two daughters, Hilary (61) and Sharon (58), as well as five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Today marks a very special day not only for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle but also for this Belfast couple who are celebrating their 62nd wedding anniversary.

The couple, who met at a dance and then married two years later, celebrated their big day at the Park Avenue Hotel which was then known as Cranethorpe House.

"We had a beautiful wedding day," recalls Margaret. "I wore a white dress and we had over 70 guests at the reception in what is now the Park Avenue Hotel.

"My sister Bessie was my bridesmaid and my niece, Iris, was flowergirl. Sadly they are no longer with us as is the case with many of the people who were at our wedding. It goes without saying that both sets of parents have passed away too."

Another change with the passing of the years is the amount that a couple would typically spend on their big day.

While now it can run into thousands of pounds, Margaret and Sam's wedding was a much less costly affair.

Margaret says: "Although I can't find any of the receipts from the wedding day, I know it wasn't that expensive - certainly not compared to today's weddings.

"Having said that, it was a very special day and we have great memories. It is going to be wonderful to be back at the hotel on our anniversary and to celebrate Prince Harry and Meghan's wedding on the same day.

"Over the years we have made a point of coming back many times to the Park Avenue Hotel and have celebrated a lot of special occasions here."

Following their wedding on May 19, 1956, the couple honeymooned just a few miles away by the seaside in Bangor, Co Down.

"We didn't get very far as back then going far away on honeymoon wasn't the done thing," Margaret explains.

Over the years though the couple have more than made up for that, enjoying many amazing family holidays including to Canada, New York, Las Vegas and Florida, where they attended the wedding of one of their granddaughters.

They also had the pleasure of revisiting the Park Avenue Hotel again a few years ago for the wedding of one of their other granddaughters, who followed in her grandparents' footsteps with her choice of venue.

"We've led a busy and active life together," explains Margaret, who worked in printing before retirement while Sam worked as a joiner in the Harland & Wolff shipyard.

Nowadays, they don't travel as much as Sam has been unwell but they haven't ruled out a short break over the summer.

"We don't get out and about as much as we did as Sam has been ill but we will go out for days with the family and we do hope to get a week away together at some stage soon," she says.

She adds that holidays have been an important element of the marriage over the years. "We always saved up the money so we could have a good holiday together. Spending quality time has always been important to us.

"We also love just spending time together at home. I also enjoy cooking for Sam."

So, what is the secret of making a marriage last? "Life hasn't always been easy but we worked at it," reflects Margaret.

"We don't always agree on everything but we talk things through and communicate with each other. We've had our trials over the years such as bereavements in both families. I also had breast cancer over 30 years ago and had a mastectomy which was pretty traumatic but I survived and am here to tell the story.

"Sam and the rest of the family were exceptionally supportive to me back then and got me through a difficult time."

If anything, their trials and tribulations over the years have only made Margaret and Sam more appreciative of their own special occasion today - their 62nd wedding anniversary. "It is easy to walk away from a marriage," says Margaret. "Sometimes making it last isn't easy but we would both say that putting that hard work in is well worth it."

And her advice for the newlyweds today?

"Keep each other happy and keep loving each other and make sure you make the effort to make your marriage work."

Patricia McCarthy (71) is married to Brian (74). They live in Lisburn and have three daughters, Carmel (50), Julie (49) and Gail (45). They also have four grandchildren.

Last year, Pat and Brian McCarthy, who married on St Patrick's Day in 1967, celebrated 50 years of marriage.

Recalling her own wedding just over 50 years ago, Patricia smiles and says: "It was a wonderful day and we had a breakfast afterwards in the Park Avenue Hotel.

"We had a fry which was lovely and then afterwards we listened and danced to music on a cassette recorder.

"I wore a white dress for the ceremony and then later changed into a green suit for St Patrick's Day.

"I don't remember how much it cost as it was so long ago but it certainly wasn't expensive the way weddings are today," she adds.

After the wedding the couple honeymooned in Arklow, just outside Dublin. "It was wonderful," says Pat, as she is known to family and friends. However, the years that followed were not always easy - and the couple have faced considerable challenges together, including the deaths of both of Pat's parents from cancer.

"Marriage is hard work but we worked through the tough times," she says now. "Back in those days you got married and got a place together.

"If things got tough then you stayed and worked it out as you had nowhere else to go.

"The husband went out to work and the wife stayed at home and looked after the home and family. Today couples are both busy with careers and are both working long hours to pay for big mortgages.

"We might not have had a lot but we always had each other."

According to Pat, the one thing she and Brian always ensured the family had was a holiday.

"We went to Butlins down south in Mosney or stayed for a few days in Millisle. It might not have been far but we saved up the money for those breaks and really valued that family time together. We have many good memories. The fact I don't like flying also meant we never travelled that far afield.

"Once our three daughters were a bit older, I went back to work in Gallaher's cigarette factory. Funnily enough, I was on such a good wage and the main earner in the family at that time as I had a better paid job than Brian."

Pat says her advice for couples starting out is not to take married life for granted but to always make time for each other.

"As for Meghan and Harry, it will be a big change for her marrying into the Royal family. I wonder if she will find it difficult not to have her freedom and will miss being able to just come and go as she pleases? Still, as long as she has Harry's love and support she should be okay. I was 19 when I got married and back then you married for life. Now people are waiting to their 30s and 40s to get married and it is a huge change for them."

Pat also can't help but reflect on what Diana, Princess of Wales would have made of the event: "It's sad to think that Diana won't be there - Harry's mum would have loved every second of the wedding and been in the middle of everything."

Diane Martin (53), an assistant care manager, is married to Jim (54), an aircraft fitter. They live in Comber and have two daughters Laura (31) and Nicola (29) and two grandsons.

Love blossomed at an early age for Diane and Jim. They first got to know each other by chatting over the CB radio when she was just 15 and he was 16.

A little while later, they met in person for the first time and a year after that first hesitant conversation on the airwaves the pair got engaged.

"Looking back, we were very young but we just knew it felt right and we wanted to be together," explains Diane.

When it came to picking a venue, the couple had no deliberation to make. "My sister got married before us and had her reception in the Park Avenue Hotel so it just seemed like the perfect choice for us. We loved the setting and the character of the hotel and all the staff were very friendly."

The couple set their wedding date for July 18, 1985. There was no big romantic proposal. Instead, Diane says they simply talked about the prospect and Jim started giving her money to put away for a ring.

When the wedding day dawned, the sun was shining. "It was a beautiful, warm day and I wore a traditional white dress and a veil. We had three bridesmaids and two pageboys," recalls Diane.

She adds that the Park Avenue Hotel provided a stunning backdrop for their reception. "We were able to have our photographs taken outside the hotel. All our friends and family were there and it was lovely."

After the wedding, the couple honeymooned in Mayo - a destination chosen primarily because Jim is a keen fisherman and knew it was a good area for the sport.

Almost 33 years later, and despite many ups and downs over the years, Diana says their relationship is stronger than ever.

What's the secret of their happy union? "I think we've lasted the distance because we have put the work in and not just walked away when the going got tough.

"We are honest with each other and have a lot of trust in each other.

"We've been through a lot together as a couple and have lost relatives on both sides. We've had difficult times but we always come through things and are closer and stronger than ever."

Diane's advice for Harry and Meghan starting out on married life together?

"I'd say be patient with one and another. Be honest and talk things through together. Be considerate of each other and never forget there are two people in the marriage."

She adds: "I think Princess Diana would be delighted for Harry and Meghan.

"She would be happy that he had the freedom to choose who to marry and that he is marrying the woman he loves.

"I think she will be watching over them."

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