For the eight couples in a new documentary a shared interest is the key to long-lasting relationships and a healthy life, writes Margaret Jennings

HAVING a sense of humour, a shared passion and an ability to continue to live in the present moment could well be the secret to a long and happy relationship. They were some of the standout qualities that Irish couples, who have been married for at least five decades, exhibit in a new one-hour RTÉ 1 documentary on Monday night, called Golden: Our 50 Years of Marriage.

“All of them are really living in the now; this is about their love and relationship now,” says documentary producer Sally Roden.

“Obviously, they all have their shared history behind them, but we were left with the impression that this was fed with an ongoing passion that they shared, something else.

“Everybody’s story is completely different but the commonality is that all of them have some kind of shared passion — either worked together or shared interests and it really seemed to be a bit of a key. It was really life-affirming to see how much the couples were still invested in life,” she says.

Dubliners Paddy and Joan Darcy for instance, who are married 55 years dance at least three times a week. “Most couples met when they went dancing back then, but Paddy was always shy and he felt that if he took up dancing it would help him overcome the shyness, says Roden.

“Joan did it as a kind of act of love for him; she wanted to help him pull it out of himself. That was back when they were in their 40s. It coincided with issues with arthritis which she got quite young, but she pushed herself.”

Although the documentary makers do touch on the couple’s stories of how they got married and back history, there was so much going on in their current lives that they could focus on, says Roden.

Another striking aspect was that their expectations were so different to what people marrying now are — so much lower.

“I don’t mean of their relationships, but not having as much pressure to have so much stuff. They felt that it was part of the journey to grow together and get things together. There wasn’t an expectation that you have to start with it all, that an awful lot of couples now have. And all of them said that was a key part in their early relationships because they didn’t have to have to work so hard to have the perfect house.”

The producer discovered that because couples started off with less, they expected to go through the highs and lows together that life threw up. The documentary also features Ned and Eileen Cusack who may well be Ireland’s oldest married couple with a record 73 years behind them.

Parents of seven, they live in Lough Corrib, and have children who are having their 50th wedding anniversary, says Roden. Their shared sense of humour, common to all, is very evident in the documentary.

“Some of the couples have faced great adversity, but even so, having a sense of humour is there among them all; there is a lot of laughing among all of them. It keeps a kind of freshness in life. Despite the adversity some of them have gone through, they all have a certain lightness. You get that feeling that as long as they have each other they can face anything,” she says.

The idea for the documentary was first mooted by researcher Anita Ward but once the search for participants began through the media and word of mouth, there was a great response.

“There were a huge amount of couples out there. Fast forward another 30 years and I don’t think we will have the luxury of the choice we had,” says Roden.

“We spent about six weeks driving around the country meeting couples and it was a very difficult decision to hone it down to those we feature.” One aspect of having such a pool of longer-living married couples at their disposal was that people tied the knot at a much younger age. One of the women, for instance, hadn’t reached her 70th birthday yet but had been married for half a century.

“Firstly people did marry younger, but secondly there are that amount who have simply weathered 50 years. It’s really life affirming, it’s amazing.

“We were probably contacted by 35 to 40 couples, who made direct approaches to us. We probably met a good 20 to 25. We made decisions on the basis that some couples were quite similar in their profile, and we needed variety for a documentary, so some couples weren’t selected even though their stories were also amazing.”

The couples who finally featured are Ned and Eileen Cusack, Lough Corrib, Galway; Pat and Kathleen Mulcahy, Cork; Michael and Mary Burns, Galway; Joan and Pierce Butler, Dublin; West Cork couple Jack and Eileen Cotter; Johnny and Lucy Madden, Monaghan; Paddy and Joan Darcy, Dublin and Kees and Anneke Vogelaar, who are originally from Holland. n Golden: Our 50 Years of Marriage, RTÉ One, Monday, November 6, 9.35pm


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