Friends say I ‘abandoned the site’ by marrying a Catholic – The Irish Times

When Catholic Jo McIntyre married her Protestant husband Roley in 1985, the couple faced everything from threats to an attack on their car.

Although the couple’s families were supportive of their relationship, Mr McIntyre, 70, who grew up in Kesh, Co. Fermanagh, was shunned by some of his friends and received death threats.

Every time she drove alone, Ms McIntyre, 66, who grew up just a few miles away in the village of Ederney, was stopped and searched by UDR members.

Relations between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland are now generally considered unremarkable.

However, when the couple first met in the early 1980s, riots were still raging and relations between the two communities in Co Fermanagh were enormously strained, particularly after the election of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands in 1981.

“Guys that I would have run around with and gone to school with certainly had a big problem,” said Mr. McIntyre. “Some of them didn’t speak to me for eight or ten years after I got married. Because I married a Catholic, I had, in her words, “let the site down. I dishonored the cause. It was starting to get more serious. I got death threats, sympathy cards sent.”

One night he was taken outside the hotel where he was working and threatened by a group of men linked to loyalist paramilitaries.

When her first child was about a year old, her car was followed and hit while the baby was in the back seat. “We were so scared. But the more they tried to pull us apart, the more we stayed together,” he said.

Other couples were less fortunate.

“We both know several couples in our area who came from different backgrounds and were never allowed to get together due to family pressures,” he added.

“And they died alone, lonely. And maybe they only lived a mile apart.”

Ms McIntyre said attitudes towards intermarriage have changed a lot in recent decades.

Some of the people who were hostile to the couple now have children or grandchildren in mixed relationships.

“When their families realize how happy they were, they slowly melt away and come back into their lives,” she said.

Although the Good Friday Agreement “has opened the door for more communication,” many families are still mourning loved ones lost during the conflict, Mr McIntyre said.

“There are many people out there and even in our own areas here who have lost loved ones and they have never come to an end because the perpetrators were never caught,” he said.

“That has caused it to linger because some people feel like they’re not being fair for something that’s been done to their families. And I’m talking about both sides here.”

The Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association (NIMMA) has provided support to couples like the McIntyres for almost 50 years.

Founded by a small group of intermarried people in 1974 – the year the conflict claimed its 1000th death – its purpose is to provide mutual support and advice.

NIMMA’s Paul McLaughlin said the early 1970s “were probably some of the worst years of violence and division, fear and distrust in Northern Ireland”.

You only need one fanatic in the extended family to throw a wrench into the work. She might be the nicest granny in the world, but if she doesn’t like bumps or taigs, you’ve got a problem

— Paul McLaughlin, Mixed Marriages Association of Northern Ireland

“People who socialized with people from ‘the other side’ were really very alone,” he said.

“It only takes one fanatic in the extended family to throw a spanner in the works. She might be the nicest grandma in the world, but if she doesn’t like nudges or taigs, you’ve got a problem.”

Mr McLaughlin said the history of the North – where “denomination here tends to dictate identity” – makes intermarriage particularly difficult.

“The divide that is there is much bigger than any denomination,” he said.

“You are actually breaking with your tradition – to use a horrible word – your ‘tribe’.

“So when people think of mixed marriages in the Northern Irish language, they bring a lot of baggage with them.”

Low-income couples often face greater challenges, not least because 90 percent of public housing is in predominantly Catholic or Protestant areas.

“If you can afford to live in the leafy suburbs of Belfast, Holywood or Cultra, for example, you won’t find the same problems,” he added.

dr Cate McNamee, a social sciences lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast, said it was difficult to quantify how many couples are in interracial marriages.

“Part of the problem is that there isn’t a great deal of data on this,” she told the Belfast-based investigative website The Detail.

“We know how many people get married, we know where they get married, but we don’t know the religion.”

However, she said various studies have found that less than one in ten marriages in the North are mixed – a number that has not changed significantly since the Good Friday Agreement.

In 1998, the Life and Times Survey, which aims to collect data on demographic changes in the North, found that 6 percent of Catholics and 3 percent of Protestants had a spouse or partner of the other faith.

In 2021, 9 percent of Catholics and 8 percent of Protestants were in mixed relationships.

Another 8 percent of Catholics and Protestants said their partner had no particular faith.

“If there was an increase in intermarriage, you would expect some increase over time,” said Dr. McNamee. “But the fact that intermarriages are still so small suggests that there are still barriers within society and between communities.”

Charity worker Danielle Roberts, 37, and her husband Mark, 42, an office manager, married in 2010.

“We joke that we’re a long-term cross-community project,” she said.

Mrs Roberts grew up in the predominantly Protestant area of ​​Monkstown on the outskirts of North Belfast. Raised in a Presbyterian household, she was involved in the Girls’ Brigade, a Christian youth organization, for 29 years.

Her husband grew up in Ballyrobert, a “nice little middle-class village” in Co Antrim, a few miles from Belfast.

“Down the road was the Orange Hall. We were known as Catholics in the area,” he said.

“It was basically okay. But yes, I wore a St. Malachy’s uniform. Everyone knew I was a Catholic.”

His mother and grandparents had strong faith. “I was an altar boy until I was 16. My grandma probably wanted me to be a priest,” he said.

The pair met through the alternative music scene, where “nobody knew or cared about your background.”

When the couple got engaged in 2009, they supported their families. However, the couple struggled to find a place to settle.

“When we were looking at houses and parts of East Belfast – which would probably be fine now – but it wouldn’t have been in the late 2000s,” Ms Roberts said.

“I guess we’re lucky we don’t have very different names. We could be both so nobody finds out.”

They were also considering Monkstown, but Mr Roberts had reservations.

“I may not have any faith (now) but I’m still a Catholic and that’s just too close to a loyalist estate,” he said.

His wife said despite the couple’s initial challenges, intermarriage now didn’t feel extraordinary.

“I don’t think we’re a minority when it comes to having good experiences,” she said.

Luke Butterly is an investigative reporter at The Detail, based in Belfast. Friends say I ‘abandoned the site’ by marrying a Catholic – The Irish Times

Dais Johnston

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