3.1 Background prior to meeting partner
Respondents came from a variety of backgrounds. The majority however were from Northern Irish parents and again the majority had been reared in Northern Ireland. Several were themselves products of a mixed marriage in these cases they had all (with one exception) been reared in the Roman Catholic tradition. Respondents varied in the amount of religious input there had been in their childhood, some for example had been brought up with a great deal of religion, for example, Presbyterians who went to church maybe twice on Sundays and were not allowed to do anything else on a Sunday,
'we didn't go out to play on Sundays. We were allowed out to walk or we would have had aunts or cousins come visiting, but you wouldn't even have gone out in the garden really on a Sunday to play' (Presbyterian woman in her forties who had been brought up in Belfast)
or Roman Catholics who not only attended every church service but also had prayers at home each evening,
'Mass every Sunday, devotions every day that there was one and Rosary and prayers at home' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties from Belfast)
Others had less religious upbringing but everyone had some religious element in their childhood.
They also had various experiences of mixing with the other religion, as children many people had no contact whatsoever with a member of the other religion and certainly those who had had close friends from the other religion were in a minority. This was largely accounted for by the fact that the majority attended schools where there was only either Catholics or Protestants. There was some mixing brought about by area of residence.
'I mean we never played with the Catholic children, we knew them but we never played with them' (Church of Ireland woman in her forties who had been brought up in a rural area)
'I would have had virtually no contact with any of the Catholic community at all' (Protestant woman in her forties brought up in rural town)
'It was 100% Catholic where I lived and I never really had any dealings with Protestants until, as I say, I met David. ... I mean I never ever knew what it was to sit and talk to a Protestant' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties from predominantly Catholic area of Belfast)
'I had Catholic friends from when I was very young and always have had' (Protestant woman in her forties from South Belfast)
'As I say I went to a Protestant school, was brought up in the Church of Ireland but always had and always can remember having had Catholic friends' (Church of Ireland woman in her thirties brought up in Belfast)
As people got older they reported slightly more mixing chiefly through university, technical colleges or work. While a lot of people said that it never made any difference to them what religion someone was one Catholic man summed up an opinion expressed by many when he said
'I think it's like most normal people in Northern Ireland; religion doesn't strike you but it's essential to know who you are talking to and what religion they are in case you put your foot in it' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
With this increase in mixing many people realised some of the views that they had held of the other religion were not accurate;
'Oh, they don't have horns' (Protestant man from Belfast in his thirties).
Some of the respondents had had previous relationships with the 'other' religion. These relationships in many cases led to some family friction
'I remember saying to my mother 'I think I will end up marrying a Protestant someday'. And she just turned round to me and said 'well, if you keep going out with them you will" (Roman Catholic woman in her forties from rural area)
'it was pretty serious for her because she was from Fermanagh, a border town and it was mustard. Her parents wouldn't talk to me ... they were very anti her going out with a Catholic' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
One woman talking about a previous relationship with a Protestant said
'the relationship dwindled because I wouldn't give up my religion and he wasn't prepared to give up his and that was the 1960's and it wasn't just as easy then.., to even contemplate a mixed marriage where you would have been married in the chapel and he went his way and you went your way' (Roman Catholic woman in her sixties originally from rural area)
Another man recalled
'There was one girl that I did go out with for a while but we were forced apart at one stage. The local hoods came on the scene and made the usual threats to me and I was young enough to be intimidated Out of the relationship' (Protestant man in his thirties then living in Protestant area of Belfast)
Respondents varied from those who were very active in their faith at the time of meeting their partner to those who had to all intents and purposes given up any association with their Church. It was often the case that respondents reported a dropping off in religious involvement in their late teens and early twenties. This was often associated with being away from home, perhaps having gone to university or having started to work. However while many of these people did not return to the Church some of them reported that their faith became important to them again as they got older and particularly when they had children.
Some people had been involved in cross-community initiatives such as Corrymeela, Holiday groups for children and PACE (Protestant and Catholic encounter).
While people were not asked directly about their perceptions of the other religion prior to their relationship many volunteered information with comments like;
'I would still say that Catholics are more fun' (Protestant woman in her forties) 'the fact that they (Protestants) are so clean-cut and ... we used to notice that they always had more manners I think, than the Catholic fellows' (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties)
'I thought Northern Protestants were a funny lot. I even had that sussed back then. I thought that they were very bigoted, they were the ones that were really intransigent. They were the 'no-surrender" (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties)
'Another attitude that prevailed when I was growing up, was about property and land. There was this balance between the communities, that you didn't want to lose what you had, so the Protestants weren't keen to sell land to the Catholics or to sell houses to the Catholics. It was known as 'going wrong' or 'letting it go wrong" (Protestant woman in her forties from rural area)
'I mean I was indoctrinated in the Catholic church, we were the right religion and that was it. And I used to really live in fear my father would go to hell because he was a Protestant' (Roman Catholic woman in her forties herself the product of a mixed marriage)
'I wasn't brought up any way bitter. Granted, when I was a kid like, it came to the twelfth, you went out and kicked the Pope and all that there' (Protestant man in his twenties from Belfast)
Many people recalled their parents opinion on mixed marriage that they would have heard as they were growing up in the home;
'My father ... once said to me that if any of us were to marry in a mixed marriage, within the context of Northern Ireland, he would advise us to live elsewhere, because he thought marriage was difficult enough without having that to contend with' (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties from rural town)
'My father always said 'Don't go out with a Protestant because there are enough problems in marriage without that one'. He always said that and I always intended not to go out with a Protestant' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties from rural area)
'my mother said to me 'better the good Protestant than a bad Catholic" (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties)
Many people had had previous experience of mixed marriage in their families and while a few could not recall any difficulties with these previous marriages for the majority there had been some problems,
'One sister was married to a Catholic person and I know that she was very much an outcast' (Presbyterian woman from a rural area speaking of her fathers sister)
'but there was nobody in the family apart from distant Ballymena cousins who had disgraced everybody ... by all of them marrying Catholics' (Protestant woman in her forties from rural town)
'I mean we were lucky too most of our friends were involved in mixed marriages, out of six marriages that we attended in that year ... five were mixed, so it was good from that point of view because you had support from people who were going through exactly the same thing' (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties, university graduate)
In summary then the background information provided by our respondents
suggest that they are a diverse group. Some had very strict religious upbringings
while others had less religious input. Some had maintained their faith
and still practised regularly while others had little or no contact with
the church. Most had had little contact with the other religion until they
were adult. A majority would have had previous experience of mixed marriage
either in their family circle or among friends.
People met in a wide variety of places, work, dances, sports clubs, university. Most people said that because of going out with their partner they would have gone to places where they might not previously have gone. On the other hand especially in rural areas people said that once they started going out with their partner they no longer felt comfortable in certain places, for example one young woman from Fermanagh said that she would not bring her husband along to Badminton Club dances because Catholics were not allowed to become members of the Club (played in local Church hall). In Belfast many people thought that being with a member of the other religion gave them an immunity or pass into area where they would not venture on their own. One Catholic woman said that if she was walking in a Catholic area she could say she was such and such a persons daughter, while if she went to the leisure centre in a Protestant area she would use her married name.
The vast majority of people were aware from the point of meeting that their partner was of the 'other' religion. This was most often realised either by name, school or intuition.
'I just knew. His name was Protestant, it's a Protestant name' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties)
'there aren't too many Prods called Teresa' (Protestant man in his forties).
However they did not necessarily admit that at home. One woman referred to her boyfriend by a nickname for months to conceal his identity from her parents.
'I didn't tell my parents anything about it because I knew what the reactions would be' (Protestant woman in her thirties from rural area)
Most of the people who took part in this study would have been a little wary about telling their parents that they were going out with a person of the other religion. But for some the worry was so great that they kept it a secret,
'I remember at that stage coming up in absolute dread and nerves that anybody we would know would meet us, and at the end of the evening I just said 'Look you know I have enjoyed the evening very much, but my parents would go round the bend ... and I just don't know if I could put up with the stress of all this' (Roman Catholic woman in her forties from rural town).
Parents like the respondents themselves very quickly realised that the new boy or girl friend was not a co-religionist;
'Yes, of course they knew. As soon as I told them his name they knew' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties from rural area), 'I'm sure the alarm bells were ringing 'Aidan, yes Catholic name" (Protestant woman in her forties)
'They knew from the surname'(Roman Catholic woman in her fifties)
'I can't remember how I ever got him in home, I think I got him in without saying what religion he was. Because I knew he wasn't a Catholic, I knew by his name he wasn't a Catholic, I knew by his language he wasn't a Catholic' (Roman Catholic woman in her fifties, married over 25 years)
Families reacted for the most part in one of two ways. There were those who initially were welcoming to the new boyfriend or girlfriend but when they realised the relationship was becoming more serious then began to put up obstacles to the relationship and, in some cases, they refused to accept the partner at all. In the other case parental reaction was initially hostile but as they realised that the relationship was serious and that they were not going to break it up gradually accepted the situation.
'It was rather a reverse situation, I never really received any resistance from my parents up until we got married and then there were problems. There was resistance from Sandra's parents up until we got married, but after we got married or got engaged, there was no resistance' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties in Belfast)
'But it is different, that is fine until suddenly a definite something was going to happen' (Roman Catholic woman in her forties married over 10 years)
'we were up till four o'clock in the morning battling it out with my mum and dad. Not me and Julie, just me, but we had really heated arguments with me probably being over-sensitive' (Protestant man in his thirties married 5 years)
'He was horrified when he discovered that his son was going out with a Protestant' (Protestant woman in her forties married over 10 years)
'My dad locked me out of the house and said it was either Jimmy or the family, but then he let me back in again, but there was quite a bit of friction at the beginning and even till we got married he was still against it. He wasn't against Catholics as such; he just thought that we didn't realise what we were getting into and he could see what troubles we were bringing on ourselves' (Protestant woman in her thirties then living in working class area of Belfast, married 9 years)
'unfortunately at that stage my father did stop me from seeing Derek ... not because he didn't want me to marry a Protestant as such, but because of his religion, he saw me going into a religion where there would be birth control and divorce and all the things that were alien to him as a Catholic' (Roman Catholic woman in her forties who left school at 17 and moved to Belfast because of her fathers opposition to her relationship)
'it was very very stressful and the stress went on for years to such a degree that I got a white stripe down the back of my hair and was exhibiting all these physical symptoms of stress' (Church of Ireland woman in her thirties whose mother did not approve of the relationship)
In some cases people were shocked by their parents reaction
'the priest will be on your doorstep all the time and all this sort of thing. Really quite horrified me because I had never heard those views expressed in our house before and quite taken aback because I would have thought my father was fairly liberal and it hurt' (Protestant woman in her forties)
'I didn't think they would react like that, because they had never, ever said things like that to me before, but my own experience is, not only with my own parents, but with a lot of other people I've known, that it's okay till it comes to your own door' (Roman Catholic man in his fifties whose mother refused to let him bring his girlfriend home less than 10 years ago in working class area Belfast)
One woman who faced so much hassle at home eventually decided to leave home and move in with her boyfriend
'I'm sure that was the worst possible thing that could ever happen ... how were they going to explain this to the other members of the family, that their daughter, not only did she leave home ... but she was going to live with someone ... not only that but he was a Roman Catholic ... I was in a terrible state at the time ... but I just knew what I wanted and knew that I wasn't going to give him up' (Presbyterian woman in her thirties recalling events 10 years ago living in a rural area)
Obviously these are extremes but the majority of cases would have fallen into one of these categories. Even in cases which were not so extreme there was a coolness on behalf of the family which respondents felt would not have been present if they had been going out with someone of their own religion. It is true to say that in only a handful of cases did the couple get total approval of the relationship right from the outset.
'Well, she didn't say anything openly but it was quite obvious you know - when Christine phoned or anything like that - she wasn't that pleased. I think she just sort of hoped it would go away' (Catholic man in his thirties in Belfast)
'It was just a wee bit cool' (Catholic woman on the reception she got from her in-laws 10 years ago)
'farming background and I worked in Belfast and met my husband at a party here. He was a Protestant and I was a Catholic. It was totally irrelevant and it really has never affected our relationship from that day to this. I can honestly say that you know' (Roman Catholic woman in her forties living in Belfast married 8 years)
'but I do remember telling my Mum and again it was, it didn't really matter, you know, she was told and that was it, there was never anything made of it, you know. It was never a worry or a problem' (Church of Ireland woman in her thirties living in Belfast)
During the period of courtship the friends the couple had were important. In a lot of cases the friends had been fairly mixed but occasionally when one partner would find themselves in predominantly Catholic or Protestant crowd problems did occur. For example one Protestant man recalled how
'sometimes the banter went on a bit too long you know and I remember thinking a couple of times 'God, here they go again" (Protestant man in his thirties in Belfast)
'her name was Eileen McIlroy that was her maiden name, and in Northern Ireland that would be more akin to a Catholic name than a Protestant name, especially the Eileen. Therefore when we first went out to-gether a lot of my friends automatically assumed that Eileen was a Catholic. In conversation somebody would drop a danger and I would always take great delight in saying 'By the way Eileen is a Presbyterian' and watch them disappear into the nearest hole' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
Security was another issue for some of the couples, particularly in Belfast where parents and indeed the respondents themselves occasionally had reason to worry about going into certain areas. One Catholic woman living in a republican area would have been told
'Now you watch yourself and as her mother got to know the Protestant boyfriend better 'You make sure David is alright going home' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties who lived in a republican area of Belfast prior to her marriage)
Some of the respondents reassured their parents by being flippant
'Sure the only thing that could happen to me is that I could get shot' (Protestant man in his twenties from Protestant area whose girlfriend lived in republican area of Belfast)
For others the security issue was related to the fact that they had family members in the security forces.
'as things went on I got very worried, I have two brothers in the security forces so I always had the fear of somebody using me or Teresa to get at them' (Presbyterian man in his thirties living in a small rural town in the West of the Province)
In more working class areas the problems were even more apparent. One young Roman Catholic woman said
'The place he works is a Protestant Club ... and the first time he took me down there, they were all talking about this and that and the other and Protestant this and Fenian this and Fenian the other and they all turned round and looked at me, they apologised, and William was out in the toilet and one of them came in and says' You shouldn't have brought her in in the first place" (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties in Belfast)
For such couples the links between religion and politics was more in evidence. The same woman recalled how her mother in law watching the news about some IRA killing
'turned around and said 'that's your people that did that' and I says 'it is not my people, I have nothing to do with people like that there' but she says 'you are one of them anyway' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties living in Protestant area)
Some of the relationships were publicised in the local press
'trying their utmost to make it difficult for us' (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties in rural area)
Very few people mentioned any problems encountered from friends or the wider community although one woman remarked,
'it would have probably appeared to people like a very difficult relationship, because he would have been from a very unionist family, a very Protestant family and I would have been from a very Catholic family involved in the SDLP' (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties in rural town)
Again, only a few people reported any problems at work although a couple of the older respondents were able to recall incidents, one Catholic woman said
'he actually got a hiding for going with a Catholic' (Roman Catholic woman from working class background)
While another Catholic woman reported that her husband had had 'Fenian lover' written on his locker at work.
Many relationships split up for periods over some issue but in many of the cases interviewed the respondents had split up specifically because either they themselves were worried about the difficulties they would encounter because of the religious difference, or because they did not want to upset their families by going ahead with the relationship.
'I began to get a bit worried about this Protestant, because I knew at that stage I was very very fond of him. So I stopped going out with him' (Roman Catholic woman in her forties now married over 10 years).
'actually we only went out together for about six months and then I went through this kind of ... a feeling, if you like. A feeling that this was not going to work. I didn't really want to hurt my family, I was very close, particularly to my Daddy, being an only daughter and I thought, 'I really love my Daddy and I don't want to hurt him" (41, Protestant woman in her forties from loyalist background)
For some of the couples the religious difference was not seen to be a big issue because one partner was not really interested in his or her religion.
'he wasn't really a church goer as such, so that too made, I suppose, things easier. If he had been a very strong Methodist I don't know' (Roman Catholic woman in her forties now married over 10 years)
It is interesting that for many people there was a difference between a Roman Catholic or Protestant from Northern Ireland and one from elsewhere, and especially when they recounted tales of previous relationships,
'Until Aidan, I think I really only had one other Catholic boy-friend. No, two, but the other one was a Scot so it didn't really count, you know!' (Protestant woman in her forties)
'there is a difference between an American Protestant and an Irish Protestant' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
'Oh yes they liked this guy very very much from Dublin ... then maybe it was different, he was from Dublin, somehow that didn't seem to matter as much, I don't know why' (Presbyterian woman in her thirties from a rural area on a previous relationship with a Roman Catholic)
In the early stages of the relationship people did tend to discuss religion to some extent or the related politics, while many people said it was not a big issue for them others had heated debates
'at the beginning, it still happens now, we get too deep into it and you can't start rowing about it, because she has got her views and I have got mine. No matter how many times you argue or discuss it, you are not going to change each other's view.' (Protestant man in his twenties)
For couples who were married longer it appears that clergy from both sides were often called in to try to dissuade the couple form continuing the relationship
'we were dragged to my church and his church to see the ministers and these men tried to persuade us to give this whole thing up' (Roman Catholic woman married over 25 years)
To conclude this section on courtship our respondents had met in a wide
variety of settings. They were almost all aware, from the first meeting,
of the other person's religion. Likewise their parents were immediately
aware. The other's name was particularly important in this respect. Parents
reacted for the most part in one of two ways. There were those who welcomed
the new friend initially but, as the relationship became more serious attempted
to oppose it or even rejected the friend altogether. Others were initially
hostile but gradually came to accept the situation. Reactions from friends
were usually accepting and few people had experienced any problems at work.
3.3 The decision to marry
While in this report we are concerned with supports and constraints experienced because of being in a mixed marriage it is important (and perhaps encouraging) that in some cases other issues were seen to be at least as important and in some cases more important than the religious difference. Several people mentioned class differences. One man speaking of his in-laws said
'it was difficult for them to accept that I was not a Catholic, but at least I had a good job and was well-off.
On the other side one woman said
'I know their expectations were that I would marry somebody who was a Protestant and from a similar background, and he didn't fit any of those categories.'
Another woman said
'I wasn't just a Catholic, I was from Andersonstown'.
In another case the fact that one partner was disabled was seen to be a bigger issue than the fact that they were of different religions. Similarly in several cases where it was a second marriage the difficulties associated with the Catholic churches position on divorce and difficulties with step-children as one woman put it
'the religion thing seemed to pale into insignificance' (Protestant woman in her forties whose partner was a divorcee)
Difference in age between the partners was also seen as a problem. However people who were older when they married said that this seemed to help them get over the religious issues with their families as families tended to think (s)he is old enough now to know what (s)he is doing.
'I think she (mother) was prepared to accept him being the Protestant because if it meant I was going to settle down at long last, you know what I mean. But it still was as long as the children were going to be brought up Catholics' (Roman Catholic woman in her fifties who woman was in her early thirties when she married)
Some couples put off the decision to marry because of the difficulties they perceived would face them
'Oh God no, I'll not think about that because it's too complicated and it's too big an issue. We'll not worry about it' (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties)
'I mean we went out together for 8 years before we got married because we couldn't resolve it. Not that we couldn't resolve it, we couldn't get the families to accept it and we saw so many clergymen of every denomination even Methodists and Presbyterians that we thought might have some influence ... what we wanted was a perfect compromise and that we were told wasn't possible' (Church of Ireland woman in her thirties from rural area but living in Belfast)
Others admitted that if their partner had been more staunch in their views they might not have gone ahead at all,
'If he had been very strong willed and very keen on his own religion we would probably, may not have never have got married. In many ways and with respect I always think that the Protestant partner has to do all the giving, I accept that, that they have to do all the giving. I mean there he married me in the chapel, my children were brought up as Catholics, they went to a Catholic school' (Roman Catholic woman in her fifties)
The decision to marry can be a stressful time for many couples regardless of whether they are mixed or not, however for many mixed couples this time of decision was a particularly difficult one. This was primarily because the couple were striving to please their families. Many couples looked around for information at this time, some talked to other couples they knew, others (very few in fact) contacted NIMMA, one girl read a wedding handbook which contained advice for people entering a mixed marriage.
'We knew the worst thing we could do was announce something half baked. It was important that we should feel the same and feel very strongly about it, that we were determined to do what we were going to do' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
'Well we got engaged in April and we tortured ourselves coming up to that, to try and get it clear in our heads what we were going to do and to try and make sure that we presented things as acceptably as possible to both sets of parents' (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties)
'We actually joined NIMMA, when we got engaged and we sort of investigated the various aspects of the future relationship and what would happen' (Protestant woman in her thirties).
For couples living in more working class areas the safety aspect also had to be considered. One couple decided to get married in the Presbyterian church (the man's church) with his Catholic friend as best man but
'he got threatened. He was a Catholic and he got threatened and if he set foot in the church ... he would get knee-capped and something would happen to me' (Roman Catholic woman in her late twenties who lived with her husband for 3 years following this threat before they actually got married)
There were a few people who said they just decided to go ahead with what they wanted to do,
'I don't think I mean I suppose at that age you didn't really discuss things like that you just decided you are going to do it really, I wouldn't say it was a question of to hell with everybody else but you just decide what you are doing and you go for it' (Presbyterian man in his thirties)
Some parents were delighted or at least accepting of the news that the couple were to marry but for many couples the decision to go ahead and get engaged brought about the first major flash point with parents. Many people broke down at this point recalling parents refusing to look at engagement rings, mothers crying and lamenting,
'I could probably say that it was one of the worst days of my life ... what should have been a happy day wasn't very happy and I felt very sorry for Christine' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties whose mother was distraught when she realised that despite her opposition her son had gone ahead and got engaged).
His wife recalling the day wept and said
'Gary, poor Gary, he had a rotten time ... I don't think he would have told me absolutely everything but in short, no, it wasn't possible, she wouldn't allow it, she wouldn't go and she didn't want me back over' (Protestant woman in her thirties)
'Och, she (mother) took the hump and wouldn't speak to me for donkey's ages, which was like water off a duck's back' (Roman Catholic man in his forties)
'Like he threw me out of the house one night and told me not to come back' (Protestant woman about her father-in-law who reacted to the news that his son was going to marry in a Protestant church by throwing her out, this was just at the start of the troubles with both families from working-class areas)
'he (brother) had always been very friendly to my wife and all of a sudden, he stopped talking to her' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
'Mummy, of course, I will be perfectly honest, it was nothing to do with religion, it was neighbours, my Mum worried more about what neighbours would say' (Protestant woman in her fifties who was thrown out of her home)
'It was a very difficult time because I was torn really between my loyalty to her (mother) and my love for my wife. I just always hoped that there would be some kind of a way where I could keep them both happy and I realised that that wasn't going to happen' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
In some other cases however parents who had previously refused to meet the girl or boyfriend invited them to their home and in emotional scenes apologised for their previous hostility.
Once the decision to marry had been taken the couple were faced with several major decisions. Firstly decisions about whether or not one partner would change religion or 'convert' as it is popularly called. In practice we actually only met five couples where this had happened. In each case the partner had converted to Catholicism, however in only two cases did the partner practise after the wedding.
'Kenny had said 'if your parents would like me to turn I will' so I said it to my parents and they were absolutely delighted' (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties)
'I mean it would only be fair as I thought at the time, still do, I mean stupid me staying a Protestant, him a Catholic and the children maybe going as Catholic which meant I would be missing out in a lot with them so just thought it would be better for the two parents to be the same' (Protestant woman in her thirties)
Most people thought it undesirable, irrelevant or unimportant to do so. While many of our respondents were not practising at the time of engagement they still preferred that they would retain their own religion.
'In some ways it would be like working in two different offices and all of a sudden just because you're married, why should you both work in the one office necessarily?' (Protestant man in his early thirties)
'I don't go to church a lot. I mean I still consider myself a Protestant, very much so' (Protestant woman in her forties)
In some cases this decision was accompanied by a sort of crusading spirit
'Well we'll show them that it works' (Protestant man in his thirties)
Secondly decisions had to be made about where to marry. The options open to couples included a church wedding. If so, whose church? Another option was a registry office, in fact only five couples chose this and this was principally because in three cases it was a second marriage for one or both partners. The decision was mostly made on the basis of the bride's church although this would appear to be a more recent trend. Those respondents who had been married for longer were less likely to have got married in a Protestant church.
'by tradition as much as anything, you always get married in the girl's church and I suppose the fact that it is a sacrament for us (Catholics) and it isn't for Simon' (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties)
'Geoff found it quite difficult to agree to get married in the Catholic church ... but I didn't even understand at the time that it was such a big thing for him really to have to agree to' (Roman Catholic woman in her early 30's talking about her husband who came from a working class loyalist background)
'Christine obviously wanted to get married in her own church as most girls do' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties about his wife)
'I said 'look I want to get married in my own church and I want Daddy to give me away and why would he give me away in a chapel' he had given my sister away and I wanted the same' (Presbyterian woman in her thirties married under 10 years)
'We wanted a joint wedding service, straight down the middle and we just weren't offered it' (Church of Ireland woman in her thirties married 6 years)
However although there was some trend to marry in the bride's church for a lot of people the decision was made on the basis of who was the most religious or whose family would object least. For those who decided to marry in church, once they had picked whose church, for some there was an added dimension of whether it would be their own local church or another one. Many people did not marry in the local church for several reasons. Some people who lived in Belfast felt that their families would not feel safe going into certain areas. For some people who were from rural areas the decision was to marry in Belfast somewhere where all the neighbours wouldn't know it was a mixed marriage. For others in the country there was a fear of negative reaction from locals to a mixed marriage. In several cases a neutral venue such as the chaplaincy at Queen's University was chosen because it was not such a 'Catholic' Roman Catholic church.
'Rather than go to Julie's own chapel, we went to the chaplaincy at Queen's, because that wasn't as ornate and intimidating for the Prods that would be coming' (Protestant man in his thirties)
Once the decision to marry had been made most couples then made some contact with their churches to try to arrange the wedding. Some people found their priests and ministers very helpful and supportive however many found the reverse.
'I had come under a lot of pressure from the parish priest who in fact refused to marry me. I mean I had it all planned the wedding and everything, he said he would marry me in a small church two miles away with no congregation' (Roman Catholic woman from a rural area who is married more than 20 years, they eventually got married in Belfast)
'and we said,'there's a bit of a problem' and we told him what it was. He said, 'that's not a problem" (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties)
'When I went back to the priest, he suggested that I get married in Belfast and I thought, 'why? no, I want to get married at home" (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties from a rural area)
.. he was very unhelpful actually and if anything, he basically said 'I think you are making a huge mistake. I think you are mad, you know what the rules are and either you live by the rules or you go outside the Church'. This Catholic man was very embarrassed by this going onto say 'This is the guy I brought Christine along to saying 'I know this priest, he's very liberal, he'll help us' and we both came out practically in tears.'
'He (priest) was helpful, I don't know what sort of strings he pulled with the Bishop to get it (dispensation), ... he also talked to my mother which made it that wee bit easier for her to accept'(Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
'I think Brenda had sort of picked the priest carefully' (Protestant man in his twenties)
'he (minister) got quite aggressive is nearly the word, he said that I was being swayed by the Catholic religion and this was only the start of it and I would get married in the church and they would have me bringing my children up as Catholics and you know they didn't respect the Protestant faith and religion at all' (Church of Ireland woman in her thirties speaking of her ministers reaction when she told him that for various reasons she had decided to marry in the Roman Catholic church)
Another Roman Catholic woman who had married about 25 years ago said
'we got it (dispensation) as long as it was all very quiet and we kept quiet about it' got married in the sacristy.
'He (priest) took pains to put me at ease and when we were planning the service, he couldn't have done more for us' (Presbyterian man in his twenties)
'Her Presbyterian minister said 'Yes I'll marry you. You will be the first mixed marriage in this Church but I won't have a priest in the Church' he went on to spout about how the Catholic religion was not only different but it was wrong, which got my goat up a bit' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties talking of Presbyterian minister in a rural town)
'We eventually got married in the Church of Ireland with a priest participating in my parish church. In the end we discussed it and we decided right we are going to have a certain number of these religious ceremonies in our lifetime, we will do them time about. The bride's church is usually the way, we will get married in the Church of Ireland, our first child will be baptised by a priest, our second child by a minister and so on' (Church of Ireland woman in her thirties)
We will look at the support or lack of it from the churches in more detail later when we examine where the couples actually did marry.
It is necessary to mention here pre-marriage courses. These courses, run mostly by the Catholic church, but also in a less formal way by some of the other Churches posed another difficulty for some couples. In some instances the non-Catholic partner while agreeing to marry in a Catholic Church refused to attend and in most of these cases the couple managed not to have to attend. Some couples did attend and for most they seemed to be an enjoyable and useful exercise. However the experience of one non-Catholic woman in a rural area was that she was reduced to tears by the end of the first evening session by an insensitive priest who she felt picked her out and made her feel very much an outsider. The story goes on to illustrate how differences between priests in their attitudes can affect a couple. This woman refusing to return to the original course was persuaded to attend a special week-end course and there found a much different experience, a helpful Priest who was sensitive to he being a non-Catholic and who went out of his way to welcome her and put her at her ease. Two couples who attended a joint pre-marriage course were interviewed and they found this to be useful. Chiefly they felt because of the opportunity it gave them to meet other couples in a similar position.
'It was great to meet people in the same situation ... again the big question we really wanted help with was children and there aren't any answers' (Protestant woman in her twenties)
Thirdly the couples were faced with decisions about any children they might have. One older woman felt that
'the mother has responsibility for the religion of the child' (Roman Catholic woman in her fifties).
For some couples the discussions they had about children before they married seem to have been quite easily resolved with the partner who was most involved in his or her church taking responsibility.
'Well, my husband wasn't a church goer, you know, he doesn't go to his own church and hadn't been going the whole time I was going with him or even before I met him. So to start bringing children up in a faith that nobody was going to was going to be stupid really. I enjoy going to church' (Roman Catholic woman in her forties).
For others where both were practising the decision was perhaps more difficult.
'what right had Ito say 'my faith is more important than yours, so they have to be brought up Catholics'. We got talking about it and it was Simon who said that the children would be brought up as Catholics, because he felt Catholicism was so hard to grasp if you weren't brought up with it' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties) 'We reckoned it wouldn't be fair on the children to try to bring them up in sort of two religions at once, because they would end up confused and they would end up stuck in the middle with nobody' (Protestant man in his twenties).
'about the children, he (the priest) knew we went to each other's services and he thought that it was good that we'd found out more about each other's religions and when we said that the children would be Catholic, he also thought it important that they know something about their Presbyterian background' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties)
'we decided that because Chris is the man in the house kind of thing that we would bring the children up as Protestant' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties)
For couples where neither has a strong religious commitment the decisions they made in these early stages were not always easy
'I don't have enough justification for saying 'this child must be a Protestant' '(Protestant woman in her forties).
Why should it be so important for those who do not have a great attachment to their religion that their child be brought up in that tradition?
'I think this is just back to the up-bringing you know, and I think it's as much a feeling of loyalty to my family' (Protestant woman in her forties)
However many people expressed their worries of being closed out if their children were brought up in the 'other' religion
'I just felt that I would be closed out, if they went to Catholic school and Catholic church and I wouldn't be any part of it, and I would always be an outsider on that and they would have been taught that I was wrong and I couldn't see how I could take that on board if they were going to be my children' (Protestant woman in her forties)
Some couples argued long and hard about this matter,
'she said 'the kids are going to be Catholic' I said 'what if I say the kids are going to be Prods?' That went on for ages. She said 'What do you think my mum would feel about bringing her grandson up a Prod?' I said 'Well, what do you think my mum would feel bringing it up a Catholic?" (Protestant man in his twenties). This couple finally decided to bring the children up as Catholics but the Protestant man went on 'saying that it maybe took me four or five months to come to that conclusion because being told that your child is going to be Catholic when you've been a Protestant for twenty-odd years ... you have to take a step back'.
Some couples simply didn't think about the issue at all and hoped to cross that bridge when they came to it. Other felt you couldn't decide about something that might not happen. Others did discuss the issue but could not reach a decision.
'We talked about it a bit because I mean, a lot of the books said you needed to think about this and you really needed to have this decision made before you got married. I think maybe mum and dad might have mentioned that as well, but we talked about if of course, but we just couldn't do it. We couldn't decide that because (a) it's a difficult decision and (b) you know we sort of said we'll see what way we feel when we have the kids and who feels strongest about it then or who feels most religious then, that's the way we'll do it' (Protestant man in his twenties)
'In hindsight, I would have preferred to establish the ground rules firmly, as to what the child or children were to be brought up' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties) 'Oh, we had decided that they would be brought up in the knowledge of both religions, but it slipped through where we were going to get the children baptised' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
For some the discussions on religious up-bringing of the children also included schooling, with some people both Catholic and Protestant not happy for their child to go to either a Catholic or Protestant school,
'I don't feel that religion ought to be brought into schooling' (Protestant man in his thirties)
Many people who had felt terribly hurt by their parents or churches reaction to the fact that they were going to marry their partner went out of their way to try to understand the reaction and make apologies for it.
'I have the feeling that he wouldn't marry other Protestant denominations.., that's just the way he felt' (Roman Catholic about Presbyterian minister)
'He wasn't particularly nice, but he wasn't a priest who was particularly nice anyway' (Roman Catholic about priest)
'my mother put her religion ahead of her relationship with me which at the end of the day hurt me, but at the same time it's how she feels and ... I don't agree with her but I respect her in some ways for it' (Roman Catholic man about his mother)
Finally couples had to decide where they were going to live. Again, for the respondents in Belfast this was perhaps more of an issue. Some people seemed to just decide to buy a house they liked, but as many remarked they were lucky to be able to afford to buy a house in a middle class area which would be fairly mixed anyway. For others regardless of financial situation it was something they considered very carefully.
'We thought about where to live for a long time' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
'We were very careful where we went to live and we paid more for this house' (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties)
'What we did was ... we waited till it was coming up to the twelfth ... we went around all the areas to see who had the Union Jacks out' (Protestant man in his twenties)
In summary the decision to marry was one which very few took in their stride and irrespective of the views of others. Some put off the decision because of the difficulties which they anticipated. Others admitted that without a lot of give on one side, the marriage would not have gone ahead.
The decision often caused the first major flashpoint with parents. The
decision was accompanied by a series of other, often difficult, decisions
which the couples had to make: whether one partner should convert; where
they should hold the wedding; how they would bring up the children; and
where they would live.
3.4 The marriage
The first item we need to discuss here is the dispensation which the Roman Catholic partner must get to marry a non-Catholic if the marriage is to be recognised by the Roman Catholic church. Remember there is also another dispensation from form required if the marriage is not to take place in the Roman Catholic church. The inconsistency with which people are treated when they make application for these dispensations is surprising. However, from the experience of our couples it has become easier to obtain a dispensation over recent years.
'So we went to him and he said 'forget about the dispensation, you marry in the Catholic church or you're not married and that's all there is about it' (Presbyterian woman in her thirties in Belfast)
It is a condition that the Catholic partner must make a promise to do all in his/her power to bring the children up in the Roman Catholic faith to obtain a dispensation. For many people this was indeed a serious matter and they only signed or promised when they believed that they would be bringing the children up as Catholics. However many made an insincere promise
'at that stage we were so besotted and so in love that we would have signed our lives away, because all that mattered to us then was getting married' (Protestant woman in her thirties in Belfast)
'I can't honestly remember, but I think I had to sign forms of some kind about 'doing my best to bring any children up in the Catholic tradition' which I signed quite willingly, because I had no intention of doing so' (Roman Catholic man in his forties who was not practising)
'but we felt that as something we had to do, it was important for, I suppose, to bring my family along and we felt that we would pledge our eyes or commit perjury if necessary to do that, even though it was a fairly serious thing to have to say' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
In other cases where the couple have been married since before 1970 some people simply refused to sign yet they received dispensation to marry in a Catholic church.
'They did ask my husband to sign something to say the children would be brought up as Catholic. And he just said 'well, if they couldn't take his word, there was no point in signing'. So he didn't ...' (Roman Catholic who married at the time when the Protestant partner had to sign a promise).
Where did the service take place? In many cases this was complicated some people had a mass at home for the Catholic family, followed by a church wedding. Others had a Catholic wedding followed by a blessing in the Protestant church
'We got married in the chaplaincy in Queen's, followed by another service immediately afterwards up in her Presbyterian Church ... we got married in the chaplaincy with a minister and a priest and then we went on to the church and the minister and the priest went there as well' (Protestant woman in her forties)
Of course many people simply elected for a straightforward Catholic or Protestant service, but many people wished to have a representative of the other religion take part in the service and indeed in some cases this happened. For others there was great disappointment when a minister or priest refused either to go into a church of the other denomination or to invite the other priest or minister to take part in the service in his church.
'The thing was his Methodist minister wouldn't come to the wedding, which we were totally shocked about. Robert was shocked and that's why he never went back' (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties in a rural area. Her husband did not retum to the Methodist church)
'So he said that he would love to come up to it but he would not take part in it' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties speaking of her husbands Presbyterian minister who would not take part in the service in the Roman Catholic church 1 year ago)
'I wanted to get married in our church ... and he (minister) said yes but he wouldn't be able to allow a priest to officiate' (Presbyterian woman from a rural area getting married less than 10 years ago)
As already mentioned in many cases the wedding was celebrated in a neutral church. This was often something of a disappointment to the bride,
'You've these wee notions as you grow up that you can picture yourself getting married in white and going up the aisle and it's obviously the aisle of your own church you are thinking of. so in a way I was a wee bit put out, because my sisters had got married there and it is actually a lovely church' (Roman Catholic woman who married in the QUB chaplaincy as it was more acceptable to her husband's family)
'I mean I would have loved it had it been different, I would have loved it to have been number one in my own church' (Roman Catholic woman who married 25 years ago in a Roman Catholic church but not her own church)
A few couples had gone so far as to get married in Dublin, England or Rome. While another woman said
'we thought better of inviting all the Catholic ones to the Methodist church, so we went to a hotel and got a room and had the whole service there with a priest taking part as a friend' (Methodist woman in her thirties marrying a Roman Catholic man from a very Catholic area of Belfast)
There was also a tendency for the wedding to be a quiet affair. In some cases family members refused to attend or only agreed to attend late in the day.
'she (mother) did (come) at the end of the day ... but again wouldn't speak to me the whole day long' (Roman Catholic man who married in a Catholic church)
'it went okay and you see, we weren't really sure whether my dad would give me away or not. Practically up to the few weeks before we got married, we weren't sure whether he would do it or not, but he did' (Presbyterian woman in her thirties who married in her own church 9 years ago)
'the night before the wedding she said she would come ... she had a very cross face all day but she was there' (Roman Catholic woman speaking of her Mother-in-law who wouldn't initially attend the wedding held in a Roman Catholic church over 25 years ago)
'we got married in January and there was no-one on my side of the chapel at all, nobody' (woman in her fifties married over 20 years who converted to Catholicism)
In many cases one relative who was sympathetic to the couple persuaded the reluctant relation to come. In several cases though parents did not attend. In one case no other family member would attend because the girl's parents were not attending.
'he (father) didn't come, and I was very disappointed in that' (Roman Catholic woman)
Her husband was also upset
'I was pretty hurt that none of them came down to the wedding ... I don't know whether it is personal or whether I'm a Prod'.
In this case the woman's parents were themselves a mixed marriage although her father the former Protestant had become a very active member of the Roman Catholic church.
'Some of his relations just couldn't come. They belonged to the Orange Order and Geoff I think was quite hurt by that' (Roman Catholic woman who also explained that they were careful not to show that they were hurt by these relations decision.) 'We didn't actually tell Danny's Daddy that we were getting married at all, which when I look back on it now, I think it is just awful' (41 Protestant woman who got married in 1970 just at the start of the troubles. They didn't tell his father because of fear of his reaction, he had already thrown her out of the house)
Many couples and particularly so those who had married more recently went to considerable effort to organise the service so that it was acceptable to both families.
'We had booklets so that everybody knew what was happening - when to stand up and sit down and that' (Presbyterian man in his twenties who married in a Roman Catholic church)
'We had an order of service and that printed, and there were hymns to be sung and we had an organist ... more of a Protestant wedding but in a Catholic church' (Church of Ireland woman who married in a Roman Catholic church less than 5 years ago)
This included sometimes excluding the communion if the service was in the Catholic church as the non-Catholic partner would not have been able to participate,
'We didn't want to have a Mass, we'd made this decision, mainly because we thought Steve was giving up enough, compromising in quite a few things ... the first thing we would be doing as a married couple would be that I would be receiving communion and he wouldn't. That was just divisive, so we decided not to have a Mass' (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties)
In some cases though the decision was to have the communion but have the Protestant minister lead the Protestants in hymn singing.
'I think if there was ... any disappointment for me ... (it) was the fact that we couldn't have communion together' (Presbyterian man who married in a Roman Catholic church 1 year ago)
It was surprising that despite all the tension and difficulties many couples experienced in the months prior to the wedding a majority felt that the day itself was enjoyable and worked out well.
'It was perfect. Everything went perfectly from start to finish' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties)
But for others it was a relief to have it over and be away on honeymoon.
'That to me was strain and the day probably should have been a happy occasion to me was quite forgettable' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
'it was a sort of a.nightmare of a day' (Roman Catholic woman in her forties)
The actual wedding then was in recent years at least most often held
in the bride's church. Couples received very inconsistent treatment as
they applied for the relevant dispensations which caused them a great deal
of pain. The promise the Roman Catholic partner had to give to do their
best to bring any children up in the Catholic tradition was in some cases
made insincerely. Where the priest was helpful the couple were particularly
grateful. In many cases the couples wished to have both churches represented
at the service regardless of venue. Where this happened the couple were
pleased as it helped parents accept the service. However in many cases,
and this especially applies to the Protestant clergy, this wish was denied.
For the couples who had children they had to make a final decision on how they were going bring up their children and this often caused another flashpoint with families. It is important to note that baptism is recognised as valid by all churches, no matter what church it is performed in. A specially designed certificate of Christian baptism, recognised by all the main churches, is now available.
As we have already described many couples did discuss in great depth the upbringing of any children they might have before they married. However for both them and those who had not made any decisions pre-marriage the issue still had to be finally resolved when children were born. It could be put on the long finger no longer. Central to the decisions was the issue of identity and schooling.
'They need to have an identity, and a big part of that identity is religion, so kids need to have a religion' (Protestant man in his thirties)
The difficulties some couples can face at this time is perhaps best illustrated by one man who said
'I remember when David was born, and I still don't know why I didn't do it, put an advert in the paper and say 'who else is in this position, what are you going to do? I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll hire a priest and hire a minister, we'll hire a hall and let's all get together and we'll do it (Baptise the children)' (Protestant man in his thirties) 'But it was never until we actually had this baby that needs to be baptised did it hit us it wasn't as easy as we thought it would be and that is when the problems really came into being' (Presbyterian woman whose eldest child is 4 years)
While some couples make their decisions and stick to them others find that as a child is actually on the way their feelings change
'We both found that we had very strong feelings about it ... we started to become more aware of our prejudices against the other religion' and the woman continued 'we'd argue and argue about it and get absolutely nowhere, because when push came to shove, one of us had to say 'okay, I'll go along with that" (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties)
'it has caused an awful lot of hassle between us really and I don't mean arguments I mean just separation kind of thing. ... I feel that if you make him be one or the other he loses out so I would like him to be both. ... But Geoff s church don't believe in baptism, which makes it a big thing to try to decide what is right ... I can see that argument, I can see it very well but it is not what I want for him' (Roman Catholic woman in her early thirties describing the difficulties she and her husband are experiencing trying to decide what to do about the baptism of their first child who is just a few months old)
The decision can be about whether or not to baptise the children at all for those couples who are not very involved in their religion. Again it comes back to the feeling of the importance of being a member of a community
'I mean although I'm not a practising Catholic, I still feel like a Catholic, and I still feel that that's where my loyalties lie and I felt that I would be letting down my community and my family by having him baptised a Protestant. Richard's a wee bit the same (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties)
'Then it just came to me more and more that I was maybe denying them something: that fair enough, I didn't want this all enveloping thing of the Catholic religion, but I felt that I wasn't giving them any choice at all' (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties)
For those couples who were more ecumenically minded and wanted their children to be Christian there was a difficulty in deciding which church should be used. This was particularly true of the first child and it is true that it seemed to be of even greater importance to the Catholic partner who would have been reared with the tradition of having babies baptised very shortly after birth.
'We don't care which Church they go to at all, but just for making life easier for them maybe later let's say, they were christened, one in the Catholic Church and one in the Church of Ireland' (Protestant woman in her forties)
'I think we had come up with the idea that it was probably completely stupid, but we came up with the idea that we would have one child, the first child baptised Catholic and then the second one Protestant, which was probably completely wrong. In our view we would see that as a, although it took place in one particular church, we looked on it as Christian' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
'the primary issue was that we were both Christians, we both loved God, we both wanted our children to be brought up as Christians' (Protestant man in his twenties)
Many of the couples felt that a home baptism would have been an ideal solution for them
'we asked if it could be done in the house which we thought would be quite nice and we were told no ... and there was no such thing as joint baptism' (Church of Ireland woman in her thirties with a new baby)
'We both felt strongly enough that we wanted any child baptised a Christian ... it's hard to measure how much of it was for ourselves and how much was for our families because it's important obviously to keep your families happy as well' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
'Sandra became more vehement about you know, 'well, we got married in your church, I want him baptised in my church" (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
'Andrew is not going to be a Catholic or a Protestant, he's going to be a Prodlick' (Protestant woman in her thirties)
For one couple the decision on baptism took several years to reach and eventually both partners decided to join a different Protestant church,
'We've actually both made a change and I've never realised before, but for Protestants it's quite a thing to change your church ... so I feel as though we've both sort of given, a wee bit on that' (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties)
As we said above this can be another flashpoint for families and can be a particularly hurtful time for couples who have maybe just managed to re-establish a relationship with their family after the initial upset of the marriage. In some cases this occurred because the families had presumed because the marriage had taken place in one church that the children would automatically be brought up in that faith.
'They had assumed because I had agreed to get married in a Catholic church that meant the children would be brought up as Catholics' (Protestant woman in her forties)
In some cases christenings were quiet events because as one Catholic partner whose children were being baptised Catholic said
'it would be like rubbing their nose in it' (Roman Catholic woman in her fifties)
For most however the baptisms were seen to be a day of celebration and family were invited along. In many cases some family member refused to come and this was particularly hurtful for the couple,
'So none of my family came to that at all, except for one brother and his wife. The rest of them all stayed away. I must say, on the day I felt very very upset' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
'the father was a bit ... he just said 'I'm going to have to get down on my knees for the second time' (Roman Catholic woman about her father-in-law)
'We didn't get the children christened or baptised or any of those things and she didn't take to that either, so that was another three or four months of silence' (Roman Catholic man in his forties)
Associated with the decision of where to baptise the child was the family name. Children traditionally took their fathers name and in some cases respondents could recall their parents pride in saying that there had never been any Catholics/Protestants in our family. Now they were perhaps changing that.
'This will be the first person of that name at St. Patrick's (Roman Catholic) Church' (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties)
Naming the children was another issue for many couples. A majority of couples decided on neutral names, that is, names that would not identify the child as coming from either the Catholic or Protestant tradition,
'if Teresa has decided to call him a Catholic name I would have objected ... simply because Teresa has been labelled all her life ... and all kids in Northern Ireland are labelled by their names' (Protestant man in his forties)
Many people simply rear their children in one tradition or the other either because one partner is not interested in his or her religion and doesn't bother or because they feel that it would be confusing for the child to have them involved in both. Others hope to bring the children up in the knowledge of both but do not really put this into practise. A minority do work very hard to ensure that their children are aware of both. Perhaps the most interesting case was a woman from a very republican and Catholic home in a working class area of Belfast whose children were baptised Catholic, went to integrated schools who said,
'I do go to the chapel every Saturday night and take the children with me, but in saying that they go to Bible classes in the church on a Sunday morning because they are in the BB' (Roman Catholic woman in her forties)
Many people used Church organisations especially Protestant organisations to provide their children with some link to their Protestant heritage.
'We will never be able to take communion in the Catholic church as a Family. But as long as as a family we can do it in one church you know, that is fine. ... We want them to feel that it is an inter-church marriage, so it will be an inter-church marriage.' (Church of Ireland woman who has alternately baptised her children Church of Ireland and Catholic but is bringing them up in the knowledge of both on the importance of sharing the communion which is open to them all in the Church of Ireland)
The issue of identity is a complex one and one that could not be fully addressed in this study but many couples did worry both about their own identity and that of their children,
'The main thing that would bother me, would be the kids, they have no sense of identity I have no real identity with either Catholic or Protestant, and I feel the kids are going to be the same' (Roman catholic woman in her forties)
'I think ... that you don't really feel that you belong to one community or the other' (Roman Catholic woman married for 20 years living in Belfast whose children had been baptised as Roman Catholics)
'I feel sorry for him because when I hear my elder sister, she brings her wee boy and girl to church every Sunday and the church organisations, I just feel we don't have that side of life at all to our family life' (Presbyterian woman who is hoping to bring up her children in the knowledge of both traditions)
Finally in this section we need to consider those couples who have decided not to have children because of their religious differences
'we don't have any children which is probably something to do with it (being in a mixed marriage)' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
Only two couples actually said that they did not have children or did not intend to have children for this reason.
'No children. Well we both fight the case why we want them brought up in our own faith' (Protestant woman just about to marry who has decided not to have a family)
The schooling of children is another in someways related issue and the decisions on where to send the children were often difficult. For some people the decision had been made easier because of the fact that an integrated school was available in their area. However a lot of people were at least equally if not more concerned about the standard of education that the child would receive.
'I was happier that he go to a Catholic school because to me it was more of a social mix' (Protestant man in his forties whose children were being brought up as Catholics)
'if we didn't contribute to it in whatever way, somehow we wouldn't be faithful to ourselves and faithful to the vision and the future we would see for Northern Ireland and also we wouldn't be faithful to, I mean mixed marriageism in a sense, people who have done something a bit braver than most' (Protestant man in his forties)
'but the only thing that did annoy me, was that I did seem to be choosing her friends' (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties whose daughter was attending a Protestant school and so they decided to try and get her into things where there would be Catholics)
'ideally a mixed school, but having said that, it would only be a mixed school if it was a good school' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
'my husband was against that. He said it made children different. He reckoned that if you went to an integrated school, there was a reason and people knew that and it would make them question. He actually thought it might make more difficulties' (Protestant woman in her forties)
'I really do believe that more mixed schools, that is one part of the answer, kids together, we were all segregated at school, and they are together, and they are going to grow up and realise that they are all the same' (Roman Catholic woman in her forties) 'people say you could send them to the State school but ... when you drive past the local school and it is painted red, white and blue, 'Taigs out' on one of the mobiles, and I mean to me that isn't an option for us' (Presbyterian woman in her thirties whose eldest child is just about to start school)
For those whose children did not attend an integrated school parents were often astonished to see their children pick up a Protestant or Catholic identity
'but you know they learn things in school and occasionally.. I mean she made my hair stand on end one day when she said something about Fenians' (Protestant woman whose children were attending a Protestant school)
'then we realised that Patrick had in fact adopted the Protestant culture by the time he was seven and I was quite shocked... he said all Catholics are in the IRA' (Protestant woman in her forties)
Contraception no longer is an issue for most couples. Only a few Roman Catholic people interviewed would not be happy to use some form of contraception. This was definitely something which had changed over time with older women in particular having had a difficult time making the decision that they would limit the size of their family.
The birth of a child then forced more decisions for the couples. Decisions
had to be made in effect about the child's identity. The first step in
this procedure was the baptism. Only three couples chose not to baptise
their children. Some couples tried to have a joint baptism but this proved
practically impossible with only one couple achieving this aim. Likewise
home baptisms were not easily obtained. Regardless of the fact that baptism
is recognised by all of the main churches the couples still had to decide
on which building to have the service in. Again this caused more problems
with parents for many couples. A majority of couples attempted to choose
neutral names for their children given the importance of names in Northern
Ireland. Where integrated schooling was available a majority of our couples
chose this option. For those who did not have this option the decision
to send their children to either a Catholic or Protestant school was usually
made on the basis of the academic record of the school and convenience.
3.6 General family life
For some couples the estrangement from family took a long time to heal. In some cases this meant no contact with the couple at all but in other cases the son or daughter could visit with their children but not their partner.
'we didn't see him (father-in-law) again until we'd been married about two years and I was pregnant' (Protestant woman married in 1970)
'for a full year after that Mummy didn't contact me at all although I wrote to her ... was only after my daughter was born, that I got a letter from Mum ... All my relations on Mum's side of the family, haven't spoken to me at all since' (woman in her fifties in Belfast who converted to Catholicism, married over 20 years)
'So, in the end he never spoke to me for three years ... even if I met him in the street and walked over to him, he would ignore me. We sent him Christmas presents and things and they were sent back' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties married 7 years living in small town)
But this was the case for a small minority of couples. Most couples found that their parents came round reasonably quickly and of course in a lot of cases the marriage had been accepted, if not enthusiastically right from the outset.
'Mum has just totally turned around ... she would actually be scolding about people who would say something against Catholics or whatever, sort of 'how could they have that attitude, they are totally uneducated" (Protestant woman in her twenties
In many cases the arrival of children helped smooth tensions as grandparents all loved their grandchildren. (However the baptism could pose problems as we outlined above)
'Oh yes, she loves them and she makes no difference at all' (Presbyterian woman whose mother-in-law refused to attend the baptisms held in the Presbyterian church)
'It seems to be since the kids were born that they started to mellow a little bit' (Roman Catholic woman from a working class area of Belfast whose in-laws were very hostile to her)
For some of the Belfast couples in particular area of residence was a problem, one couple were firebombed out of their home, others were careful to hide the fact that they were a mixed marriage. Others as we have already said could afford to chose to live in mixed areas. One Protestant woman living in a predominantly Protestant area, when going away over the twelfth week-end secretly put up a Union Jack in the window.
'There have been a few instances here just before the Twelfth the kids come crying because other kids aren't going to play with them because they were fenians' her husband interrupted 'That is simply because of Teresa's name' and this family is attending the Church of Ireland church.
For another Roman Catholic girl who married a Protestant in a working class area of Belfast she has not only been intimidated out of one home but also has to endure the fact that her former friends have all shunned her 'Oh you married an Orangeman, you turned your coat'. However there were also some problems for people living outside Belfast. In one rural town about 25 years ago a woman explained,
'Grandma bid for the house, she knew, she knew that if the people who were in power at the time who would have known them very well and known the situation would try to keep us out, me out' (Roman Catholic woman)
Another couple moving to their dream residence in the country were met by a neighbouring farmer who wanted to know what sort they were because they didn't have the other sort in the area.
In a majority of cases in this sample only one partner remained active in their Church but in some cases both did,
'most Sundays Steve would come to Mass with me and I would go to church with him' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties)
'You owe it to the two churches to keep them involved: you owe it to the child to keep the two churches involved and you owe it to yourselves' (Protestant man in his forties living in town outside Belfast married 8 years)
The very first woman who was interviewed brought up the issue of religious symbolism in the home. She was a Catholic whose husband was not happy for such items to be placed in public parts of the home. For some other couples this was also the case although some people felt that while their partner would not mind they would just prefer not to do it.
'I have one as well but it is discretely placed' (Roman Catholic woman in her forties talking about crucifix)
'I mean, I do have holy water in my bedside table and when I travel abroad, I have holy water in my bag, but Steve doesn't really know that' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties)
People varied about how open they were about the fact that they were in a mixed marriage.
'In Northern Ireland you don't exploit the fact that you're in a mixed marriage, you tend to keep it quiet' (Roman Catholic woman in her forties)
'Now my friend is also a mixed marriage and she told me that very early on she nails her colours to the mast. She has taught in Protestant and Catholic schools and she lets everyone know the first day that she's in a mixed marriage, but I've never really done that' (Protestant woman in her forties)
'You just don't want to talk about it openly in case it puts you in a position of danger' (Church of Ireland woman in her thirties living in Belfast)
Some people mention the loneliness they feel in going to church on their own
'Sometimes I would feel lonely going off to church by myself' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties)
'The only occasion that I was disappointed was traditionally I always go to Midnight Mass at Christmas Eve whereas Steve would traditionally go out ... so I was disappointed that he didn't go to Midnight Mass, or didn't seem to think that it was as important as I thought it was' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties)
People in Belfast thought that they were safer than those in a mixed marriage in more rural areas, while those in the country saw Belfast as a dangerous place.
'I just feel that being in a mixed marriage in this part of Derry isn't a problem. I wouldn't want to be in any part of Belfast' (Protestant man in his thirties)
However people tended to think that it was easier to actually get married in Belfast and this may be related to the number of marriages there as we saw in the earlier figures.
'I think it would have been a lot easier for me to have got married in Belfast. The priests there were a lot more understanding. They had a lot more experience of mixed marriages. They knew what they were talking about' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties)
Many respondents, themselves middle-class, felt that it was easier for them to enter a mixed marriage than it was for people from the working classes.
'it's an awful thing to say and people think that you're being snobbish, but it's a fact of life that it's easier to be in a mixed marriage if you're middle class' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties)
Voting habits was not asked specifically during the course of the interview but some respondents did volunteer information on this subject,
'As soon as the Alliance party was formed we joined it. We felt here is something at long last that we can be in together' (Roman Catholic woman married over 25 years)
'we have our differences of opinions at times, neither the two of us vote, there is not a party that would impress me enough to go for, and he doesn't vote. I used to laugh and say 'you go into your wee unionist box, and I'll go into my wee nationalist box" (Roman Catholic woman in her fifties)
We did ask if the respondents felt any fear for their safety or for their family because of their being in a mixed marriage. Most people said no. However this was an issue for others.
'his fear was from the Protestant para-militaries now that they might know that he had a Catholic wife and children ... yes that was bad early on and we would still be very careful about who we would talk to about it even today' (Roman Catholic woman married 25 years)
'no more than a family in the security forces' (Presbyterian man in his 30's living in a town outside Belfast)
The issue of death and where to be buried was also raised by a small number of respondents,
'the thing about being buried together has never been questioned. I suppose realistically one should face up to these things you know but ... ' (Roman Catholic woman in her fifties)
When asked about the effect, if any, on their relationship most people felt that they had had to be more sure about their relationship before they married than maybe a couple of coreligionists would have to be,
'if we hadn't felt very strongly about each other we would have broken it off ... before we got engaged, because it really has to be very strong to go against your family and all the rest' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
'If we have a tiff ... I would say 'don't forget how difficult it was for us to get here" (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
'I think we very blindly just rushed into things, just assuming that everything would work itself out when it came to it and it did, but it has certainly made us much more willing to sort out problems and, because we came through such a very difficult time even before we married, it has kind of always made me want to hang on to what I've got' (Protestant woman married over 20 years.)
'Even if we hadn't gone through those things, I still believe that our relationship would have been as strong. I really believe that we're very well suited and we get on very well to-gether and probably the fact that all those things happened strengthened us, but at the same time, if they hadn't happened, we would probably still be in the same situation today' (Protestant woman in her thirties)
'Also the very fact that you marry somebody of different religion it means you are more ready to compromise, you are more moderate in your thinking, that alone must make a difference' (Protestant woman in her thirties)
These other aspects of family life show that in general parents will
come round eventually. Area of residence was really only a problem for
those who could not afford to buy in a mixed area. It was recognised that
being in a mixed marriage was easier for middle class people. There was
no evidence from the interviews that the mixed marriage per se caused problems
for the couples. In fact most couples felt that being in a mixed marriage
had had a positive effect on their relationship.
3.7 Marital breakdown
As we have already said we only spoke to four people whose mixed marriage had broken down and in none of these cases did they believe it was as a result of religion although at times they felt the religion became another piece of ammunition especially if parents were seen to interfere,
'I don't think it helped in the sense that it possibly added to the strains and then developed through other aspects of it' (Roman Catholic man whose marriage broke down after 8 years)
'Except when we had rows and his family would say to him 'like sit back and think, like she done a lot and she turned' but I mean religion was never really brought into it. I mean the rows we had was nothing to do with religion ... just drinking' (Protestant woman in her thirties who converted to Catholicism)
All the people concerned felt that they would not rule out a future
3.8 Suggestions for help and support
When we asked about help or advice that could be given to couples about to enter or living a mixed marriage, a majority of people felt that more help, of some kind, should be available.
Some people stressed the need for more information to be available.
'How to go about getting married in different churches and procedures and stuff like that ... things like that you just don't know where to turn to or what to do, nobody ever seems to tell you' (Protestant woman in her twenties just about to get married)
Others felt that it was essential that couples do find out as much as possible before they marry both about the differences in their religions and the potential problems they may encounter.
'I think they should have it well thought out beforehand' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties)
'I think find out as much as you can about the other person's religion really, because people tend ... you'd think they were so different but really they arent' (Roman Catholic woman in her twenties)
For others a counselling service was a possible support for couples.
'There were not many places to turn for help. We would have very much
liked if we had been able to sit down with someone who would explain all
the pros and cons and rules, so we could have all the information to make
decisions' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
'also being there to speak to after marriage, and maybe the gilt starts to wear off a wee bit and the arguments start, I really do think mixed marriages have more stress' (Protestant man in his forties)
It was a majority opinion that the Churches could be more helpful with respect to mixed marriages, although some couples had received a lot of support from individual clergy.
'Certainly I feel that the churches don't make it easy, probably deliberately, they don't make it easy. They don't encourage mixed marriages, it's not in their vested interests to have people who are half one and half the other' (Roman Catholic man in his thirties)
'I think that something else that really helped us was that we had ministers who were open to the whole Catholic/Protestant thing ... the priest said 'I like to think in terms of solutions rather than in terms of problems' Protestant man married in the last year)
The inconsistency of treatment of couples was probably the fact most commented upon,
'at the minute I think it very much depends on the minister or priest' (Presbyterian man in his twenties)
'it's not I feel that they are contributing to the break up of marriages, but the stress that really is caused to couples before they get married is horrendous' (Church of Ireland woman who had wanted a joint wedding service)
Some people felt that a self-help group might be the best form of support for couples
'I'd like there to be a sort of non-religious advice agency ... some agency or organisation of un-religious mixed marriage people' (Roman Catholic woman in her thirties)
'I would say the only way another couple would get help would be speaking to other couples who are in a mixed marriage ... you know the church can help you to a certain extent. Family can help you but unless you have actually witnessed or went through the procedure yourself it is only then you have the experience to tell somebody else' (Protestant man in his forties)
'I would like to have known what I was walking myself into and I would like not to have gone through two pregnancies and two sort of post natal times depressed. You know not depressed but this sort of weighing at the back of my mind and it has weighed very very heavy, heavier than I would ... have really anticipated at all. I think if you knew now, how would you put this, the CMAC is there and Relate is there, but if you knew there was somebody specifically there for mixed marriages, just even a counsellor or a body or a couple of people who would agree to see you and allow you to talk through your problems together, I think that would be extremely helpful' (Roman Catholic woman married under 5 years).
The pressures that can be exerted by family were also mentioned
'lf they (family) had just taken the pressure away that was the worst thing, because we didn't really want to hurt any of them, and we knew we had to hurt one' (Roman Catholic woman married over 25 years)
Yet others felt that an increase in the provision of integrated schools with a good academic record would help to solve some or the problems for couples,
'If there were more schools integrated for your children ... just people to understand that you love somebody and you want to marry them and they haven't any right to interfere with your life because you are not going to interfere with theirs so you are not ... If you are happy in your own home and your kids and husband, you are not harming anybody, that's the main thing' (Roman Catholic woman in her late twenties from a working class area of Belfast who has been firebom bed out of one home, is shunned by previous friends and is not accepted by her in-laws)
Finally one man summed up the comments expressed by many when he said,
'I think a lot of it is desperately unfair. Why should it be like that? We're just people. Why should this system attempt to get at us for wanting to be together? That seems to me to be just part of the nonsense that goes on in this Province. Nonetheless, it is a reality and a fact of life' (Protestant man in his 40's)
So then it would appear from our interviews that couples felt there was a need to really think things through before the marriage. They felt that more information should be made available. Other supports in the form of counselling services or self-help groups were also suggested. That families should provide more support was also stressed. More integrated schools was also advocated. However the single biggest help to couples identified was that the Churches should be more supportive and this is particularly true for the more ecumenical couples.
© 1996-1998 CAIN Project
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