They say opposites attract, and that was certainly the case for Mairead Robinson’s parents as she tells their story
These days many couples meet each other on-line, while for the previous generation it was usually at a dance or disco. But what about the generation before that, how did they find their partners? My parents met and married in the late 1940s, a period just after the war when times were really tough. And yet, against all odds, the English Rose and the Irish Charmer met and fell in love and got married and settled into their new home in Sandycove, Co. Dublin where they raised three children and lived happily together for more than fifty years.
My mother was christened Margaret Joyce Lee, she was always called Jo since childhood, and she grew up with her older brother in a happy and comfortable home in Highgate, London. They enjoyed a very comfortable life, with a cook, a driver, housekeeper and gardener and she had her own horse and a privileged education. When the Second World War broke out she was a teenager whose life was about to change dramatically and she decided to join the Royal Air Force as a radio officer. From her sheltered upbringing she entered a world where she was billeted with women from all walks of life. “We were all sisters under the skin” she used to say when recounting those days and told tales of heartbreak when friends and boyfriends never returned from bombing missions and the women were left at the silent end of the radio desperately trying to re-establish contact. She herself was once “almost” engaged to one such airman who never came home. She also told how she met a very attractive American pilot with whom she thought there might be a promising future until he received word from his mother telling him in no uncertain terms that he was not to think about marrying an English girl, and was to come home and marry an American!
The war ended and Jo returned to settling into civilian life when a friend of hers suggested they go on a holiday to Ireland. On the boat over, her friend got chatting to a friendly man who wanted to arrange a double date for the next night when the girls were staying in Howth. Jo refused point-blank to go on a blind-date, but eventually was persuaded to at least have a look at ‘her’ man when he arrived at the hotel before she made up her mind. The two men arrived that evening, and when she saw the tall handsome smiling Irish man, she was immediately smitten. And indeed so was he. For the remaining days of their holiday he took her out to see the sights of Dublin and before she returned to England he asked her to marry him. And she said yes.
My father was born Gerrard Patrick Cullen in Castlebellingham, Co. Louth. He had two older sisters and two older brothers. His father died tragically and suddenly of a heart attack when he was in his early forties, leaving his pregnant wife a widow. Without the cushion of a widow’s pension or any other form of social welfare, she took on the Post Office from her home together with a small grocery shop, and she lived there until she died, as did her eldest daughter Caroline. Gerrard (Gerry) was believed to be a special child as he was born after his father’s death, and some people believed he had healing powers and they brought their children to him to be cured of minor ailments such as warts and skin problems. He did not like to talk about this very much in later years as he was a devout Catholic and such things did not sit easily with his religion. The family suffered further hardship when his brother Paddy was killed in a road accident, and his sister Nancy died of ‘consumption’. When his brother Matthew went to Dublin to make his fortune, Gerry soon followed suit and served his time as an accountant taking his final exams to become fully qualified and secure a permanent professional position. And then he met Jo.
When she arrived back in London and announced to her parents that she was going to marry an Irishman and go and live in Ireland, Jo’s parents were pretty alarmed! However Gerry arrived over some weeks later with cases full of fresh meat, fruit and butter and with food rationing still an issue in England, he melted hearts very quickly. Even the cook, a stern Welsh women called Annie, who subsequently became an annual visitor to our home when we were children, fell for Gerry’s charming ways.
Once it was all settled and agreed, Gerry returned to Dublin to buy a house and Jo began to arrange the wedding. They were married in London in 1949 and went down to Cornwell for the honeymoon.
They returned to Ireland and settled into a comfortable family life for the next fifty years and had three children. She always referred to England as ‘home’ while he remained the patriotic Irishman he always was, and yet their love for each other surpassed politics, religion, class and nationality. Their ashes are interred together in Glasnevin Cemetery.
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Mairead’s Article Appears In the latest issue of SeniorTimes magazine, out on newstands now