Married for 50 years... so what is the secret?

Pull together, stay out of the pubs, agree to disagree, and have no secrets... those are the ingredients to a happy marriage. To mark Valentine’s Day, CHRIS DUNNE spoke to two different Cork couples, who have enjoyed five decades of being happily married
Married for 50 years... so what is the secret?
Eileen and Jack Cotter from Conna, 51 years married.

WHEN Eileen O’Sullivan put her eye on Jack Cotter, she came up with an ingenious plan.

“I knew Jack was a good dancer,” recalls Eileen, from Castlelyons. “I knew he didn’t drink either. That was a good thing. Neither of us ever drank.”

Jack had another asset.

“He had a car and he brought myself and my sister home from the dance in Ballynoe the night I approached him. We knew each other already.”

And she fancied Jack?

“Yes, I did,” says Eileen, smiling.

Eileen and Jack Cotter, who live in Ballynoe, are more than half a century together. They got married on March, 17, 1967.

“She is as beautiful as the day I met her,” says Jack.

How did she chat him up?

“I was with another fellow that night,” says Eileen. “I told him that I had a message for Jack from his girlfriend and that I had to deliver it.” Her ploy worked.

“When I went over to Jack at the dance, he said; ‘will you dance with me?’”

Eileen was in seventh heaven and Jack, the perfect gentleman, later dropped her and her sister, Maura, safely to their door.

“He made a date with me then,” says Eileen. “I was very young, 15 years only. I remember when Jack, aged 23, called on a Sunday night to watch The Riordans, my mother said to my father, well, he’s not going out with Maura, it must be the young one!”

Eileen and Jack Cotter from Conna.
Eileen and Jack Cotter from Conna.

Eileen knew very early on that Jack was The One.

“We were three years going out. We didn’t get engaged,” says Eileen. “I was five months pregnant when we got married. My parents were very understanding. They said I didn’t have to get married. That I could bring the baby home.”

Eileen and Jack were determined to stick together, through thick and thin.

“We were going to get married anyway,” says Eileen. “We knew we’d be together from day one. It just happened that bit sooner. I was 18 and three months. Jack was nine years older than me. Back then, it was like; hurry up and get older. Now it is a case of hurry up and get younger! We decided we’d made our bed and we were going to lie in it.”

The happy couple got married in Eileen’s home town of Castlelyons. The reception was held in the Grand Hotel in Fermoy.

“We had 80 guests and the full wedding breakfast cost £32,” says Eileen. “Then we took off for Limerick.”

Their first son, Seanie, arrived prematurely in May.

“He was two months premature,” says Eileen. “He wasn’t due until July. Seanie was in hospital after he was born. But he pulled through.

“The following December Thomas was born, a bouncing healthy 8lbs 9oz ounces. He grew to be over 6 feet tall,” says Eileen. “I wondered; did they give me the wrong baby?”

Jack, who was a great provider, also had his own house.

“Uncle Mick lived with us. He and I got on great and we were very close,” says Eileen.

Jack agrees.

“Sometimes it was two against one, when they ganged up on me,” he jokes.

Eileen and Jack Cotter holidaying in Rome.
Eileen and Jack Cotter holidaying in Rome.

Life was simple, but good.

“We had a table, three chairs, a gas oven and the open fire,” says Eileen. “I think these days, couples want everything instantly.

“Jack worked for a local farmer, then, when Thomas was six months old, he got a job with East Cork Foods. I worried Jack wouldn’t get paid the first week he started work there. But the farmer gave him a stand of £20. It was a fortune back then. I remember thinking; and we’ll get paid next week as well!”

Jack was well happy.

“East Cork Foods was a great place to work,” he says.

“At the weekend we’d visit neighbours and Eileen’s parents.”

It could be lonely for a young mother in rural Ireland.

“My house at home was a very lively house,” says Eileen.

“I have two brothers and an older sister. Relatives were always calling. It could be lonely when Jack was working, milking cows in the evenings. I helped out a woman next door who ran a small B&B.”

Did Eileen and Jack ever row?

“Ah yes, we’d have the odd row,” admits Eileen. “But we’d clear the air quickly. It was no good arguing. And the making-up was good!”

Then the couple were tested.

“I fell pregnant again after seven and a half years,” says Eileen. “Our little girl, Mary Catherine, didn’t make it. It was a sad time.”

Eileen and Jack stood together, weathering the slings and arrows of life.

“We enjoy the same things,” says Eileen. “We both love music and dancing. Socialising with neighbours, and a game of cards keeps us happy. We often go to see Country and Western stars in Cork Opera House and in Killarney. We’ve seen the best of them, including The High Kings, Tommy Fleming, Dolly Parton in the Marquee and Cliff Richard too.

“Our favourite thing is a good night out. What’s to keep us at home? Only the dogs.”

They have another social outlet. Eileen giggles.

“I shouldn’t say it, but we both love going to the casino and playing the slot machines. We go nearly every weekend.”

There was one thing they didn’t have in common.

“Jack had a fear of flying,” says Eileen. “When our son, Thomas, was getting married in Rome in 2001, he was afraid to get on the plane.”

Eileen was having none of it. Jack was going. She put her foot down.

“On the return journey, we were 10 minutes from Cork Airport and Jack said he’d have no problem if the plane turned around and went back to Rome again,” says Eileen.

“Thomas and Ber live next door to us. We see Thomas every day.”

Eileen and Jack like their own company too. They don’t let the grass grow under their feet. They remember the good days and dream about the days to come.

“We used to go on holidays to Tramore and rent a mobile home for years,” says Eileen.

“Then we discovered Lanzarote after we went to Rome and we are off to Fuerteventura again in March.”

The couple are young at heart.

“As we get older, we get closer,” says Eileen. “Jack had a heart attack in 1998. That was a tough year. He had two hours to live. 20 years later, he is still here.”

He is a hale and hearty 77 years old now.

Jack joined Slimming World in the summer. He is proud of his achievement. “I lost two stone, 12lbs,” says Jack.

“He’s as good cook as me,” says Eileen. “If I go out, he will see to the dinner. He won’t put the dishes in the dishwasher though.”

Jack finishes his wife’s sentence.

“I hate washing up too.”

Is it all moonlight and roses after 50-plus years together?

“The only thing we argue about is when I am driving and Jack is in the passenger seat,” says Eileen. “He tells me to go into this lane or that lane. He gives me orders. We end up having an argument.”

But, for the most part, they pull together.

“We usually agree to disagree,” says Eileen “What would I do if anything happened to him? It would be a very lonely life without him.”

They agree getting married young has its benefits.

“We are still independent and can live on our own.”

Do they have any advice for today’s generation?

“Pull together. Stay out of the pubs. Agree to disagree. Compromise works. We are pensioners and we are still pulling the cloth together. We’ve spent 51 years together. Nobody spent them but ourselves. We are still talking. That’s the best part.”

The couple are off home to their cosy house in Ballynoe to have supper together.

“Jack likes a piece of apple tart. I’ll give him some,” says Eileen. “He is a diabetic, so he has to watch the sugar.”

“I do like a bit of apple tart,” Jack says, looking forward to a treat.

By the way, was there ever a message from a girlfriend of Jack’s all those years ago?

“Not at all,” says Eileen. “That was a lie!”

With that, she takes her husband’s arm and they go off to live happily ever after.


Marie and Rory O'Mahony, Ballycotton, married 50 years
Marie and Rory O'Mahony, Ballycotton, married 50 years

Marie Cronin and Rory O’Mahony, who met in the Cliff Palace, Ballycotton, 54 years ago, agree that having no secrets from each other is a good thing.

“If there are no secrets; then there are no fights,” says Rory.

The Ballinacurra couple celebrated their Golden wedding anniversary on St Stephen’s Day, 2017.

Where did they meet?

“The ballroom of romance,” says Rory. “Those were the days of Redbarn and the Cliff Palace. All the locality went dancing to Youghal and to Ballycotton. Midleton was popular too.”

Rory is transported back to the night Marie became his latest flame.

“I knew her to see,” says Rory. “Marie is from Cloyne, a swing of a bowl away,” he adds, referring to the road bowling, popular in East Cork.

“I think the Musketeers were the band playing in the Cliff Palace that night.”

Rory spotted Marie in the crowd.

“To be honest, I didn’t take much notice of the band. I asked Marie to dance and then I asked her how was she going home. I was driving, but I had other lads with me.”

Marie was aged just 17.

“I was young,” says Marie. “Rory was 20. There was no drink served in the dance-halls then so I was allowed in. I used to get a taxi to the dance with three others.”

Marie took up Rory’s offer to take a lift home and when he asked her for a date, she agreed.

“We used to go walking, swap yarns, or go to the pictures,” says Rory. “I knew Marie’s sisters too and we all had fun.”

But true love doesn’t run smooth.

Marie smiles.

“I was very young. It was off with Rory for a while.”

Rory remained loyal and steadfast.

“One of my pals, Christy, who I used to work with, drove to Marie’s house in his truck one evening,” says Rory. “We both worked for Bennetts of Ballinacurra. He knocked on the door and Marie’s brother opened it. He told us to come in. Marie was watching TV and her brother said; look who’s here.”

It wasn’t long before the couple were back on track.

“We got married in Ballycotton Church, The Star of the Sea. I could only get two days off from work even though it was Christmas,” says Rory.

“We had our reception back at Marie’s house. The wedding breakfast, as it was then. We lived with Marie’s parents in the early days before we got a village house in Ballinacurra. We are in this house, 4, Fr. Murphy Place for 44 years now.”

Marie was sensible: “I saved 10 shillings a week and when we moved here I could afford to buy the essential contents for the house. I worked for 36 years for Cogan’s Interiors in Midleton.”

Rory says that he and Marie are the best of pals.

“If we ever have a slight disagreement, we let an hour pass and then it’s all right again,” says Rory.

The couple agree that happiness means taking the rough with the smooth.

Marie and Rory O Mahony in the early days.
Marie and Rory O Mahony in the early days.

“Taking the bad with the good and taking things in our stride works,” says Rory.

“There is no point in roaring or screeching at each other,” he added. “Sometimes there might be a silence after a disagreement, but that very seldom happens.”

Rory and Marie have four children, 14 grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

“They all decided we should celebrate 50 years married,” says Rory.

“We got lovely presents and a weekend away!”

The couple know that the younger generation do things differently before settling down.

“Nowadays, people concentrate on their careers and like to travel to see the world before getting married,” says Rory.

“I was 20 and a bit,” says Marie. “Rory was a couple of years older.”

“We did OK,” says Rory, smiling at his wife.

The couple enjoy going to Colberts bar, the local, for a drink and to meet friends.

“We are in a Come Dine With Me group as well,” says Marie. “Eleven of us take turns to cook for the crew. It’s good fun.”

The Cliff Palace seems a lifetime ago.

“They were the good old days,” says Rory.

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