The prevailing wisdom of A Love Divided

20140404 A Love Divided

Based on a true story, “A Love Divided” chronicles the aftermath of a mixed marriage in Co. Wexford, Ireland, where Protestant-raised Sheila refuses to send her children to a local Catholic school. She flees with her two young girls, leaving her husband Sean confused and frustrated.

“A Love Divided” was shown at Culturlann, as part of the Belfast Film Festival and organised in collaboration with Pieces of the Past oral history project.

Sheila signed the Ne Temere contract, which obligated her to raise her children as Catholic. In the film, the priest Father Stafford ratchets up his outrage at her non-compliance, instructing his parishioners to boycott all non-Catholic business. Yet this leads locals to “more base instincts” (as the bishop later put it), with Kristallnacht night-style daubing (“Scabs”) and broken glass, beatings and torchings.

Following the showing, there was a panel discussion chaired by Claire Hackett (Falls Community Council), with Ken Dunn (Chair, Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association (NIMMA)) and Geraldine Smyth (Senior Lecturer, Irish School of Ecumenics).

Mr Dunn complemented the story we just viewed with one from Belfast over 100 years ago, where a Catholic woman, Mrs Agnes McCann, was told that her mixed marriage was not recognised; they married in a Presbyterian church, and the just passed Ne Temere decreed that they should have married in a Catholic church. Her Catholic husband, Mr Alexander McCann, absconded with their two children.

Mrs McCann never saw her children again. It was suspected that the Catholic church assisted with the relocation of Mr McCann and the children, through New York then Philadelphia. NIMMA recently tracked down their descendents, the parents’ grandchildren.

Politically, at the time of this case Belfast Protestants held rallies, so large they had to have street meetings as the available halls could not contain them.

In fact, the familiar phrase, “Home Rule is Rome Rule”, can be attributed to John Gregg (later to become Archbishop of Dublin and Armagh), who published a leaflet arguing that Ne Temere was final proof of this.

Mr Dunn provided a chronology of mixed marriages in Ireland:

  1. “Galway Convention”: traditional custom whereby sons would follow the religion of their fathers and daughters follow that of their mothers
  2. Ne Temere (1908): allowed priests to impose conditions on mixed marriages, such as an obligation for any children to be baptised and brought up as Catholics, and for the non-Catholic partners to submit to religious education with the aim of converting them to Catholicism
  3. Matrimonia Mixta (1970): the Catholic party is “gravely bound” to make a sincere promise to do all in his power to have all the children baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church; whether by word of mouth alone, in writing, or before witnesses
  4. Directory on Mixed Marriages (1983): practical enactment of Matrimonia Mixta and subsequent Vatican decrees; recognises that “the religious upbringing of children is the joint responsibility of both parents, (and that) the obligations of the Catholic party do not, and cannot, cancel out … the conscientious duty of the other party”

Geraldine Smyth described the role of her organisation, the Irish School of Ecumenics, in supporting mixed marriage association throughout the island, North and South, as well as the development of mixed marriage policy among churches. She noted that in Ireland, there tended to be a 10-15 year lag in the implementation of what was common practice in Northern Europe:

“Here there was a lack of promulgation. Policy change in the Catholic Church is sometimes said to happen by amnesia. But in our sectarian society, that may mean never. We need to have public discussions among the churches on this issue, to ensure that official change is truly respected and actively implemented.”

Indeed, in the audience was Canon Edgar Turner, who gave some detail on how unsigned Ne Temere documents were still in circulation in Northern Ireland, long after 1970, with bishops having to intervene to confiscate and burn them. Mr Dunn added that at NIMMA they still have to report errant priests seeking to impose contracts on mixed marriages.

In reviewing the history of Ne Temere before coming to tonight’s film showing, Ms Smyth referenced a passage in Memory and Redemption, which puts forward the idea of “conscience” as being “consciousness of the other”, and in this way, it is “the other” who defines us. Therefore, the consciousness of the Catholic community in this village should not be one of closing ranks among its own members, but by inspecting what the non-Catholics could expect of them.

She also referenced a line in the film, when the Bishop declared it was time to end “a little pogrom in Co. Wexford”. “Pogroms are never little,” Ms Smyth told the audience.

The film scene that showed the burning of a barn with much livestock trapped inside evoked her knowledge of a massacre of over 100 Protestants in Scullabogue during the 1798 Rebellion. Ms Smyth added that such atrocities were selectively forgotten during the 200-year commemoration, as the historic events needed to be presented in a positive light for the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. “But local people are good at remembering,” she said, noting that there is a memorial stone at the graveyard of the Old Ross Church of Ireland.

Ms Smyth concluded by explaining that the film quote she usually tells her students is: “The prevailing wisdom is to keep our heads down and mouths shut,” as advice given to the defiant Mrs Cloney by her Rector.

But tonight Ms Smyth felt another line was more profound; the atheist publican Andy tells Mr Cloney: “Love is too precious and life too long without it.”

A subsequent general discussion with the audience revealed some interesting additional facts:

  • An Orange Order member is free to marry a Catholic, but will be barred if their children become Catholic
  • Former Irish Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, a product of a mixed marriage himself, got no favourable response from local bishops to stop practising Ne Temere (even after it was dropped by the Vatican in 1970), and had to resort to organising a clandestine meeting with the Pope to raise the matter
  • Academic John Whyte provided evidence of Catholics from other parishes, who defied the boycott in Co. Wexford at the time of the Cloney controversy

Claire Hackett concluded the event with a call for everyone in the audience to consider how the status of those in mixed marriages, and their offspring, are respected in society today. She described tonight’s discussion as “hopefully the first of many” that need to be had.

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  • “A subsequent general discussion with the audience revealed some interesting additional facts”

    Presbyterians had also got a raw deal on marriage from the State and the Church of Ireland:

    One of the main grievances of Presbyterians for much of the eighteenth century centred on the right of their ministers to conduct marriages. At last in 1782 marriages performed by a Presbyterian minister were legally recognised by the Irish parliament. It was not until the passing of another act of parliament in 1844 that Presbyterians ministers were permitted to marry a Presbyterian and a member of the Church of Ireland. .. source

  • About 15 years ago I was staying at a B&B in Fethard on Sea in County Wexford and found myself talking “around” this story with the Man of the House.
    Obviously still a raw subject there.
    But I felt I was holding back from asking questions I would have liked to ask.
    And he was holding back from saying things he would have liked to have said.
    This particular incident is just beyond my own recollection but there were 1950s stories which were talked about in hush tones long afterwards.
    And important to remember that for some people these stories are “personal” rather than “historic” or fitting to be used as an agenda.
    For example the “evangelising” tactics of some churches “exploiting” (as it might be seen) vulnerable people might well be a mirror image of Ne Temere….but so far as I am aware has not been fully explored either in historic terms or drama.
    Likewise…I recall a GAA match circa 1961 when the sole topic pf conversation was the discovery of a young boy living in a hen house. The name still resonates with a certain generation.
    This story WAS dramatised some years ago. Dervla Kirwan played the role of the mother.

    The extent to which History should look at these kinda things is clear.
    The role of Drama….I am not so sure. We cant shy away from questioning the nature of the people we are….from The Field to Resurection Man….to the Magdalene Laundries …to Philomena.
    But it would be nice to do it without the “we are awful people….lets beat ourselves up” kinda thing.

  • Son of Strongbow

    Ne Temere in the Republic of Ireland was not only a Church matter. In 1950 in the Tilson case the President of the Irish High Court, George Gavan Duffy, ruled that Ne Temere was in fact law given the “special position” given to the Roman Catholic Church in the Irish Constitution.

    Duffy’s judgement was supported by the Irish Supreme Court. A pretty spectacular piece of official sectarianism at the centre of things and an interesting take on “cherishing all the children of the nation”.

  • @SonofStrongbox I can see how that happened, as the “special position” was not removed from the Irish Constitution until 1973.

    Wikipedia claims that deValera fought against a formal establishment of the Catholic Church as the state religion, but for me in practise the establishment is real and remains (e.g. education).

  • Mc Slaggart

    Mr Ulster do you think the catholic church was the state religion when the rest of the Island was run from London?

    Then the Church had a much stronger hold over both schools and hospitals.

  • Niccolo

    Mr Ulster,

    In 1972 the Republic of Ireland voted for the Fifth Amendment Act removing “the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church” from their constitution. The previous version was twice dispatched to Rome “specifically for Vatican approval”. According to Dr. Seamus O’Tuama from his article in the Irish Journal of Legal Studies, two Roman Catholic priests assisted in its drafting; John Charles McQuaid (later Archbishop of Dublin) and Edward Cahill (Society of Jesus – a Jesuit). In 1931, de Valera claimed that “There was an Irish solution that had no reference to any other country; a solution that came from our traditional attitude to life that was Irish and Catholic. That was the solution they were going to stand for so long as they were Catholic”. In his St. Patrick’s Day address to the nation in 1935, de Valera stated, “Since the coming of St Patrick 1500 years ago Ireland has been a Christian and a Catholic nation” and, he concluded, “she will remain a Catholic nation”.

  • Scáth Shéamais

    The film scene that showed the burning of a barn with much livestock trapped inside…

    I’m pretty sure that scene was invented for the film, as were a number of scenes of physical violence portrayed in the film.

  • aquifer

    If the protestant churches are still bullying couples in mixed marriages into agreeing to bring children up as protestants that is a shame.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “Since the coming of St Patrick 1500 years ago Ireland has been a Christian and a Catholic nation” and, he concluded, “she will remain a Catholic nation”.

    Is there a theologian in the house?

    How ‘Catholic’ was St Paddy?

    I am of the understanding (and I use the word in its loosest possible terms) that the church of that time resembled something more akin to Eastern Orthodoxy than Catholicism?

    Could somebody smart explain please?

    Also, how much truth is there in the idea that Ireland’s Catholicism was very influenced by ‘the Brits’ i.e. the king of Northumbria and then the Normans?

    Just wondering, I’m quite ignorant of the matter and it’s a topic that’s always glazed over I find.

  • I wish the Catholic/Nationalist community would actually be honest in this whole discussion. These situations demonstrate that this was no some isolated anomaly but Home Rule was Rome Rule in reality for twentieth century unionists!

    Eamon DeValera made that point repeatedly, ““Since the coming of St Patrick 1500 years ago Ireland has been a Christian and a Catholic nation” and, he concluded, “she will remain a Catholic nation”.

    He also said, “If I had a vote on a local body, and if there were two qualified people who had to deal with a Catholic community, and if one was a Catholic and the other was a Protestant, I would unhesitatingly vote for the Catholic.”

    If DeValera was willing to make such nakedly sectarian statements in public, one wonders what he really thought and said in private! It is no surprise to the objective observer that the provos felt justified to take up the mantle of ethnic cleansing in launching campaigns of genocide against Ulster Protestants in rural Tyrone, Armagh and Fermanagh. Darkley, Kingsmills, Enniskillen etc are prime examples of the worst of their excesses.

    The historic census information further reveals the systematic campaign of destruction of the PUL identity. More than 80% of Protestants were driven out of the Republic of Ireland since its inception. For once, I agree with a certain Gerald Adams when he admitted the “catholic state” of Eire was a “cold house” for Protestants.

  • aquifer

    How ‘Catholic’ was St Paddy?

    He seemed to have been a Billy Graham type travelling preacher, and had the ladies throwing their jewellery on his altar. Good at networking with the local chieftans. Not always popular with the church establishment.

    It was on TV so must be true.

    The old irish church was full of people who would be termed heretics now, and whose views were suppressed.

    The Roman Catholic church has a huge establishment to support in perpetuity, so has interests to declare when discussing issues of the recruitment of babies and small children and the building of schools serving immigrants. Also when discussing the political future of a non-catholic minority in one corner of this rich island.

  • Mc Slaggart


    “genocide against Ulster Protestants in rural Tyrone”

    What I find interesting is that you think such a thing occurred.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Am Ghobsmacht

    “How ‘Catholic’ was St Paddy?”

    I always thought of him as being “Romes” man. I liked Columba better. Saint Brigit of Kildare I think is a link to the old pagan gods. It was the after effects of the Famine that changed the nature of the catholic church in Ireland and give St Paddy his high profile (sadly).

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Mc Slaggart

    My god man, don’t stop there!

    Got any more? Any books worth reading?

  • SK

    The south became controlled by Catholics because our Protestant country eschewed the opportunity to provide any kind of meaningful counter-balance, and instead up and left. They didn’t only desert southern Protestants when the did so- they deserted all of us.

    Whatever, water under the bridge now and the republic has learned from its mistakes. Now if only our friends across the water could catch up! Up until recently it was illegal for a Catholic to be Prime Minister of the UK. Incidentally, Ulster Protestants (Orange Order) opposed the legislation that brought an end to this. It remains illegal for a Catholics to aspire to be head of state. Indeed, were a member of the royal family to even marry a papist, it would be those champions of civil and religious liberty, Ulster Protestants, who would be first to the picket line at St Paul’s Cathedral for the wedding day.

    They couldn’t even stomach the idea, in 2014, of voting for the Pope to visit Belfast.

    “the mantle of ethnic cleansing”

    You’re not an ethnic group.

  • Niccolo


    “The south became controlled by Catholics because our Protestant country eschewed the opportunity to provide any kind of meaningful counter-balance, and instead up and left. They didn’t only desert southern Protestants when the did so- they deserted all of us.”

    Ah, so it’s all Northern Ireland’s fault? Even though it was De Valera’s declarations about “no reference to any other country” and “a….life that was Irish and Catholic” that pre-dated and provoked the oft quoted response from Sir James Craig?

    “Whatever, water under the bridge now and the republic has learned from its mistakes.”

    Oh well, that’s ok then….back to trying to point out the shortfalls of the Ulster Protestants?

    “Now if only our friends across the water could catch up!”

    Catch up? Lol….you mean on issues like divorce, contraception, abortion, civil partnerships, or gay marriage?

    To insinuate that the Orange Order represents the views of all Ulster Protestants is entirely disingenuous….no more do the Ancient Order of Hibernians represent Ulster Catholics. I suggest you judge the Orange Order for what the Orange Order says and does.

    “It remains illegal for a Catholics to aspire to be head of state.”

    The British monarch is also Supreme Governor of the Church of England. How can a Roman Catholic be head of a reformed church? Please let me know when to expect the first Presbyterian head of the Papal State, the first Baptist Prince of Monaco, or the first Methodist King of Spain.

    “They couldn’t even stomach the idea, in 2014, of voting for the Pope to visit Belfast.”

    The Unionist councillors chose to abstain….a perfectly respectable position. Hardly surprising when the previous Pope, Benedict XVI (still alive), claimed in a document in 2007 that the branches of Christianity formed after the split with Rome at the Reformation could not be called churches in “the proper sense” because they broke with a succession of popes who dated back to St Peter. The document also claimed the Catholic church was the “one true church of Christ”.

    “You’re not an ethnic group.”

    Wikipedia, for starters, defines ethnic group as, “a social group of people who identify with each other based on common ancestral, social, cultural, or national experience”.

    The UN states that, “no internationally accepted criteria are possible”.

    Therefore your statement is both dismissive and ill-informed.

  • Greenflag

    In the name of the Father , and the Son and into the hole you all go -Prod or Pape . It’s a con job . Jesus was a religious zealot and Jewish nationalist and anti imperialist . He threw the banksters and money changers out of the temple .

    His sermon on the Mount is as good as you’ll get with any cultures ‘ethics ‘ .

    If he ever turned up in Northern Ireland they’d crucify him for being a lundy 🙁