The latest phase of a ground-breaking oral history project has just been completed with the publication of a report on the sensitive issue of mixed marriages.
The work was undertaken as part of the Peace Process: Layers of Meaning project; an ambitious collaboration between Queen Mary, University of London, Trinity College Dublin, and Dundalk Institute of Technology. It is supported with €1.1 million from the EU’s PEACE III programme.
Marie Hamilton from Banbridge was one of forty-five individuals who engaged in an intensive interview training programme run by the Peace Process: Layers of Meaning team. The purpose of the training was to enable community leaders, victims, health professionals, homemakers, students and others to collect stories of the past in an ethical, legal and prudent manner. This training programme was designed as a multiplier – participants have passed on skills and knowledge to others in their community and many are now developing follow-on projects.
Following an open competition, three exemplary cross-community / cross-border pilot projects were selected for development.
Marie explained why she wanted to develop a study on mixed marriages: “I immediately thought of an issue that is very close to my own heart. I have been happily married for more than thirty years but the fact that my husband came from a different religious background presented many difficulties and challenges. I have always felt that the issues we faced were in many ways a microcosm of wider community problems in Northern Ireland and I was convinced that these experiences would be worth preserving for future generations.”
The stories she captured are of pain and hurt and loss, and ultimately of hope as she finds a shift in attitude over time, and evidence that children of mixed marriages benefit from the experience.
Marie wanted to capture changes in attitudes and experiences across at least two generations. Those interviewed ranged in age from early twenties to late fifties. Eight of the ten people interviewed are currently part of a mixed marriage. Three of these were also children of mixed marriages. The issues are so sensitive to this day that the identity of all participants have been changed to preserve their anonymity.
Participants talk about the reaction of their families and friends to their marriages, the vexed issue of deciding which faith to bring children up in, of family rifts (some of which persisted for decades) and of reconciliations. There are also interviews with the children of mixed marriages, who mostly view it as having been a positive experience, and with members of the clergy who explain the changing attitudes of the churches to mixed marriages.
Marie said: “I found this entire oral history project to be very therapeutic and I was reassured to know that time has been a great healer for most families. For some, divisions clearly remain but most of the younger interviewees were of the opinion that as their own family bonds have developed the impact of old sores and divisions have lessened.”
The Project co-Director, Dr Anna Bryson, added: “This was an ambitious and challenging project. Although it drew on just ten accounts, I was reminded of just how much information can be gleaned from a single interview. These unadorned tales of hurt, perseverance, conciliation and hope offer lessons, not just for those embarking on an interfaith marriage, but for all those committed to building a comprehensive citizenship.”
In keeping with the strategic dynamic of the wider project, Marie is now exploring the possibility of developing her research across Northern Ireland. In doing so she will continue to impart the skills she acquired to others interested in collecting stories of conflict and peace at various levels of society.
The wider research programme is described in full at: www.peaceprocesshistory.org.
Marie Hamilton and Dr Anna Bryson are available for interview.For further information call Nick Garbutt on 07808 052416