At the beginning of 1969 the introduction of the Age of Majority Act was the signal for our decision to plan our engagement. By the end of the year we would be able to get married without parental permission. Up until now twenty one was the age of consent so we couldn’t have got married without permission from a parent. When I think back it was just as well it happened then or we would probably have been married at Gretna Green as elopement seemed to be the only answer. I’m not sure Gordon ever proposed to me it was just something we drifted into. The most romantic thing he ever said to me in those days was that I was like a fungus … I grew on him. Well he is a Virologist
My mother suspected something was up. Could have been the Bride’s magazine in my weekend case that gave the game away. My father was unaware of the seriousness of the romance but I think he would have rejected any possible suitors until I was at least 30 and it still wouldn’t have been a prod or so I thought. He suspected I was still going out with Gordon and I had to listen to him lecturing me about the dangers of a mixed marriage. Being a devout Catholic he was against divorce and contraception and anticipated all sorts of problems. It wasn’t his fault, it was how he had been brought up. Contraception and divorce were wrong. Says a lot for how he thought my romance would survive. When I finally broached the subject and asked if I could bring Gordon to meet him he refused. I eventually got through to him how serious the romance was but he steadfastly held his views. This led to many heated arguments.
In the late sixties I attended a Manfred Mann concert. I think it was 1969. It was in the Floral Hall and was a freezing night as I recall but the hubby-to-be borrowed the father’s car and we drove up the Antrim Road in style. He was supposed to be playing badminton in Newry but I gave him five shillings towards the petrol and he diverted to Belfast. Mike D’Abo had taken over from lead singer Paul Jones.
The hall was beautiful and I remember the ceiling in particular but at nineteen I didn’t appreciate its grandeur. I was in front of the stage and more interested in the group. Not sure whether we went outside for a ciggie or a snog but the doorman wouldn’t let us back in again. We ended up listening to the rest of the concert though an open window at the side of the building. I can now appreciate its Art Deco style and would love to see it restored to its former glory. We have some beautiful Art Deco buildings in Belfast going to wreck and ruin. Another one is the Bank of Ireland in Royal Avenue. Shame on Belfast City Council. Another observation from those days of the Floral Hall, the Astor and the Orpheus. All religions mixed together and nobody queried what religion you were. Venues like this tend to encourage integration.
Meanwhile we were getting on with our plans to get engaged. The first big problem was how we could afford it. Gordon’s monthly salary was £28, mine around £26. Out of that we had to pay our rent, electric, food and bus fares, clothe ourselves and entertain ourselves. So we decided to split the cost. The ring cost £60 so saving £5 per month each we could get engaged in June. Looking back on it now we looked like two twelve-year olds as we headed into Brownes in Church Lane to choose the ring. But we were streetwise and able to look after ourselves having flown the nest at such a young age.
Unfortunately the troubles were still brewing in the background
The People’s Democracy marches were being attacked by both police and loyalists. This resulted in the formation of ‘ Free Derry’ as the residents sealed off the Bogside in order to protect themselves.
Terence O ‘Neill tried to make concessions to the Civil Rights movement but Loyalists called for his resignation and he resigned. Such a pity. He did his best.
Following the explosion at the Silent Valley there was a second explosion at a water pipeline carrying supplies to Belfast. [It was later established that the bomb was planted by Loyalists who were members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV). Much of Belfast was without water following the latest explosion] Cain . Chronicles of the Troubles.
Although most of the violence came from the Loyalists in 1969 it wouldn’t be long until the violence was coming from both sides.
Despite the violence ‘operation save for an engagement ring ‘ was underway. On a beautiful sunny day in June, we drove G’s granny back to Limavady. She had been staying in Warrenpoint with the family. Much as we loved her she was a staunch Baptist so there was no watching TV on a Sunday and no Sunday newspapers so we were quite happy to bring her back to Eventide Gardens. We detoured to Belfast on the way home making use of having the family car. The ring had been chosen previously and it was being sized. We needed to pick it up. We stopped in High Street on double yellow lines hoping to quickly collect our purchase in R A Browne in Church Lane. ‘Oi, you can’t park there’ came a voice. Yes, there were traffic wardens in Belfast in 1969. We explained that we were going to get engaged, that our parents were unaware and we needed to get back with the car. ‘Ok,’ he said , ‘off you go, I’ll give you 15 minutes.’ He did. We collected the ring and headed back to break the news to the two families who were unaware of what was about to hit them. I couldn’t stop smiling and admiring my ring all the way back to the Point.
The first stop was G’s house where the news was accepted with good grace. Despite the hugs and kisses there was a definite holding back. I knew they were having doubts about this Catholic interloper. Later I heard that G’s mother had been counselled by friends that there would be loads of children as I wouldn’t practice contraception. We would be living from hand to mouth apparently feeding and clothing these imaginary kids. But the announcement went reasonably well. The biggie was still to come.
Gordon dropped me off at my house. I decided it was better that I told them on my own. My mum was in the kitchen and I showed her my ring. I can’t honestly say she was over the moon but she didn’t explode. My dad was in the back yard and I went out showed him the ring and told him I was engaged. ‘ I don’t want to see it’ he said. ‘ I want nothing to do with it’ he said. ‘ I don’t want to hear about it’ he said. I was heartbroken but determined not to let him see. ‘Fine’ I said. Things were very cool for the next 24 hours. We barely spoke to each other.
At 3pm the next day Gordon called for me in his dad’s car. As was normal he didn’t come in. ‘Go and tell G. to come in’ my mother said. I looked at her in amazement. ‘Take him up to the sitting room and introduce him to your father’ she said. My legs turned to jelly and I felt my heart speed up. ‘Do as you are told’ she said,’ it will be fine’ Gordon was reluctant to come in but after a bit of persuasion he agreed. ‘This is Gordon’ I said. Well! If he didn’t shake him by the hand, ask him to sit down and start chatting as if he was a long lost friend. I was flabbergasted, in fact my flabber had never been so gasted. Daddy had been brought a watch from Hong Kong which had somehow managed to evade customs. We were told not to talk about it, so we knew that Gordon had been accepted when he was immediately shown and told the story about the watch.
In a few minutes the preceding four years meant nothing. I have no real idea what my mother said to my dad that changed his mind. But I have an inkling that the fact that on two occasions they had nearly lost me may have been a factor. My parents accepted Gordon whole heartedly into the family that day and that was how it remained. However there were others who hadn’t given up on trying to separate us. Tell you about that next time.