M’fhear Chéile


It’s not that I felt excluded from marriage, I just never actually thought about it deeply. I accepted what I felt to be the ‘way it was’, and that marriage was just not an option for me.

I accepted it in the way one accepts all the stuff you are told growing up, the stuff that is reinforced by society, by the people around you, until something happens to shake you up and make you question your own assumptions and then in turn challenge the perceived ‘status quo”.

Two things changed everything: 1. Was a book. 2. Was my father’s death.

The book by Dan Savage was about his journey in adopting a child in the states with his husband. Effectively and startlingly his words just broke down and shattered every lazy assumption of mine, and it actually started a fire of realisation in me that these unchallenged assumptions, and so called traditions were actually actively discriminating against me in the most basic and essential elements of my life.

And then dad died. My lovely father, a man who had the courage and grace to treat me like an adult long before I was one and the courage and wisdom to chastise me like child even when I had reached adulthood. He died suddenly from a massive brain hemorrhage.

Of course I was in shock, in grief, his death was devastating to me and to all my family. But even in those dark days, one very important thing rang through for me: the greatest loss was not mine, or my sisters’, or the world of historical academia. No the greatest loss was his wife’s.

She had lost her rock, her co-conspirator, her partner, her agitator, her reason, her love, her man, her soulmate.

You could take me, and my sisters, away from the equation and still what my mother and father had achieved together was extraordinary.

I had found my mate at that point in my life. In May 2010, I had already spent eight  years with my partner. We had bought a house together and we had a dog together. Until then the ‘height-of –the-boom’ mortgage contract was ‘marriage’ enough. But no longer.

My mother and father were married just shy of 50 years, I saw the respect that her marital status conferred on her as widow. I saw how the entire community bemoaned the fact that they had not ‘quite’ reached their 50th anniversary. I saw how the academic world acknowledged that Dad’s work was as much due to her input as his.

I saw that her world acknowledged what she and he had achieved in their intertwined lives together, and I knew that they all knew that to remain steadfast together for so long takes courage, determination, drive, patience and love.

My partner was my shield against this pain of grief. He was my comfort.
My partner continued with our life together when I was unable to.
My partner supported me in allowing me to take the time to grieve properly.
My partner propped me up when all I felt capable of was crumbling.
My partner was my reason, my love, my man, my soulmate.
My partner in reality, if not in law, was my husband, m’fhear céile.

Our decision to marry in 2012 did not come lightly. First we would have to go abroad. Me raised by democratic republicans and he a nationalist from Fermanagh meant that a second class civil partnership was not even considered.

Our decision to marry meant going to New York. The travel meant we married without neither of our parents there.

Our decision to marry meant that I would not be making my vows through Irish.

Our decision to marry made me proud. It is the proudest day of my life the day he and I vowed to be each other’s, that we stood two principled men in love, in equality, and vowed to be each other’s reason.

Marriage is important to me, for many reasons, a yes vote will mean so much to me, not least because when I am on my deathbed, I leave behind me not just my partner, my rock, my agitator, my sparring partner, my shield, but my husband. M’fhear céile.