Mixed Emotions: Introduction

Mixed Emotions: Real Stories of Mixed Marriage
by Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association
February 2012


All love stories are unique and these ten accounts of mixed marriage are no exception. Each story is shared with openness and courage and, stretching nearly seventy years, the collective experience on offer reveals much about the attitudes of the day, showing how society has changed and, yet, ironically, how it remains the same.

The challenges that society can throw at couples provide a backdrop which contrasts starkly with the straightforward acts of courtship, falling in love, making commitment and starting a family. In response, each couple demonstrates the value of tenacity and power of commitment, not only to each other, but to a better future. Their love ripples outwards across our communities and we all benefit from their triumphs.

One of the joys found within these stories is the diversity of response to common difficulties arising out of misunderstanding, turmoil and hurt. Some were subjected to outright rejection and exclusion, others to more subtle forms of coercion. Each had to make choices against backdrops ranging from violent intimidation to unacceptable familial expectations. Yet, each story sparkles with positivity. Each person tells his or her story in their own way, highlighting what is important to them. These are people who have found ways to forge a life together, sometimes with apparent ease, occasionally by serendipity and often through great courage.
They explain how they have adapted and overcome and they express the enrichment that they have experienced through mixed marriage.

Collectively, these experiences show how relationships can be made to blossom, even when it is made most difficult. People have found many different ways to embrace the positive nature of their mixed relationship and, with simplicity and honesty, they have reached out beyond the narrow negativity of others to build their own love stories.

Together, they profess how they have benefitted from mixed marriage through stories that are testimony to how much they deserve their rewards. We should be thankful that they have also shown us how, in the face of adversity, we can aspire and achieve far beyond our common divisions.

Hugh Nelson


The celebrated American journalist Mignon McLaughlin, alas no relation, wrote that ‘A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, but always with the same person’. She appreciated the inevitable complications than occur in arguably the greatest and strongest of relationships, acknowledging the nuances and realities of change in people and circumstances that can cause difficulties and despair in practically any marriage. Yet, she had her own solution, love. Or rather, to keep falling in love with your husband or wife. It’s not really that complicated, at least the first time. No doubt, it gets increasingly so as time goes on and if the marriage is to last, but then, when it comes to marriage of any kind, nobody said it would be easy.

It has often been said that making a mixed marriage was never easy in this country.

I came to this project knowing little about mixed marriage. I’d learnt a little about the nuts and bolts of how to make one, the logistics of the whats and hows, but had absolutely no idea of the love that is needed to ensure that one is successful. This love is not the romantic stereotype, moon/June variety, but rather the determined, persevering, self-sacrificing, compromising kind of love that brings and keeps two people together through thick and thin. The kind of love that lasts. It is out there.

I have seen it for myself, been lucky to have met the wonderful people whose stories make up this book and privileged to have been allowed to share in those stories. I hope that this resultant sharing of love and experience will be a help, perhaps even an inspiration, to all who read them.

I wish to thank all of our volunteers for their courage, their time and their warmth of welcome. I thank Meryl Spiers and Julie McLaughlin for their support and patience, all those who helped proof read the final publication, including Hugh Nelson, Ken and Maura Dunn and Anne Odling-Smee. And finally, the Big Lottery Fund whose finance made the project possible.

Paul McLaughlin


Happily unaware of any differences of culture or religion, pre-school children in mixed areas played merrily together on the streets of the cities and towns of Northern Ireland. Even when they went to primary school they noticed very few differences – perhaps some went to a school with a saint’s name while others went to the local ‘model’ school. They continued to play together in the evenings and weekends. When they went to secondary school the differences became more obvious – whether it was the different games the schools played or the English or Irish history that they were taught, or what they had to do on Saturday mornings, whether their teachers were clergy or lay people. They began to notice differences in their school uniforms and whether they themselves joined in the parades on the ‘Twelfth’ or not: whether the girls appeared in First Communion dresses and the boys in little black suits or not; whether they were a family which said the rosary in the evenings or not.

If, on a rare occasion, they were ever inside ‘another church’ they would see different kinds of notices – in one an announcement about a Novena, or in another a warning about ‘mixed marriages’ being ‘fraught with danger.’ At a local dance a newcomer asking a pretty wallflower for a dance would be warned – ‘She digs with the wrong foot you know.’ Thus in the workplace or in the sports they attended – and often in the places where they shopped – they found themselves unwittingly members of a ‘ghetto’, so it was safer to stay in than to wander away from it and find alienation or hostility. If they formed a liaison across the ‘divide’ and considered the possibility of a mixed marriage, their family, their friends, their clergy would all raise difficulties and problems, and a strange rule called Ne Temere would be mentioned, either as a fierce direction or a severe warning.

Even when a new Papal decree Matrimonia Mixta, issued in 1970, eased the situation legally, the prejudices of many families, of clergy and in the wider society remained. There was very little advice, help or sympathy available, and very little knowledge of how any other mixed families were faring. It was in this situation that a few couples from ‘across the divide’ came together at Corrymeela to give each other mutual help and support. From this, NIMMA was born in 1974. Its original members – all volunteers – not only assisted couples who were already in, or were hoping to be in, a mixed marriage, but by a sustained campaign over decades persuaded the churches to change their official attitudes. Until relatively recently it would have been difficult and even dangerous for mixed marriage couples to draw public attention to themselves and to the fact that they had decided to put love and marriage before tribalism and tradition. While there are still pockets of resistance to be overcome and more co-operation to be achieved, this book, the first of its kind, describes how ten couples found that their love can – and did – enable them to overcome the divisions of our divided society. Even some of our politicians are now aware and prepared to state that this kind of association may well influence the way we can progress to a fully shared future.

The author, Paul McLaughlin, who has thirty years experience of interviewing in the private, public and voluntary sectors, describes himself as having ‘been lucky to have met the wonderful people whose stories make up this fascinating book’ and ‘privileged to have been allowed to share in their stories’. The brief History of Mixed Marriage in Ireland included in this book should guide any reader to a fuller understanding of where we have been and where a shared future will take us. Individual stories of real life experiences will do much to separate fact from fiction. They speak of hope and courage, compromise and determination, and above all of how love can win through even in a segregated society.

I trust the book will be an inspiration to those who read the stories and especially to our rising generation as they learn to share with one another. We owe our contributors a great deal of gratitude for sharing their stories of how mutual love has enabled them to overcome the divisions of our divided society and may indeed point a way to a shared future.

R Edgar Turner (Canon)
Church of Ireland Chaplain to NIMMA since 1974

Mixed Emotions was originally published as a book by the Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association (NIMMA) in 2012. Shared Future News is grateful for the kind permission to republish it as a serialisation. More details about Mixed Emotions and the work of NIMMA can be read online.

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