Diamond wedding couple share secrets of 60-years-marriage

Jimmy and Bernadette, 60 years on.
Jimmy and Bernadette, 60 years on.

Do your best, through the good times and bad times, is the key to a long and happy marriage, according to a Ballykelly couple who who have celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary.

Jimmy and Bernadette Mackey met at a sports day in Glack when Jimmy was 21 and Bernadette was 18.

Jimmy and Bernadette cut the cake on their big day.

Jimmy and Bernadette cut the cake on their big day.

When asked how he popped the question, Jimmy, originally from Ballerin, doesn’t give away much, other than: “You didn’t propose in them days like the way they do now.”

Fortunately, Bernadette said ‘yes’, although Jimmy revealed he did ask Bernadette’s mother, Martha O’Connor, for permission to marry her daughter as her father, Robert, had passed away.

The pair tied the knot in St. Finlough’s Chapel, known locally as The Hollow, in Ballykelly on June 20, 1956 in front of 100 guests.

The bridal party was small. Bernadette’s sister Bridget was bridesmaid, and Jimmy’s brother, Johnny was the bestman.

Jimmy and Bernadette with their children and their partners, their grandchildren and great grandchildren at a celebration meal in the Roe Park Resort.

Jimmy and Bernadette with their children and their partners, their grandchildren and great grandchildren at a celebration meal in the Roe Park Resort.

Memories of their big day are as fresh as ever for the sprightly couple.

Jimmy, who turns 83 in November and plays bowls for Limavady, recalls the new suit he had.

“You had to get a new suit, and it was made especially. That’s how it was back then,” he says.

“I was nervous,” recalls Bernadette of her wedding day. “I don’t know why really, but I was a bit nervous.”

Their reception was in the Eglinton Hotel in Portrush.

“It was a great day, plenty of dancing,” says Bernadette.

After a honeymoon in Dublin where they stayed with relatives, the couple moved to Reading in England where Jimmy worked in the building trade.

Their first born was Anne-Marie, a beautiful brown-haired bonny baby.

Tragically, the infant died when she was just six months old from Asian flu which had swept around the world that year. The couple were heartbroken.

They moved home, back to Ballykelly to a house where they reared Sean, Kathleen, Caroline and Seamus.

Jimmy and Bernadette still live there. It’s a home that tells the story of the special moments in their lives.

Cabinets are filled with mementoes of trips aways, birthday and wedding gifts. There are flowers and cards congratulating them on their 60 years of marriage. The walls are filled with pictures of their children, their 14 grandchildren and eight grandchildren (and another two on the way).

And, taking pride of place among the photos, is a large black and framed picture of a smiling Anne Marie.

Back from a weekend in Donegal with their children and their partners to celebrate their anniversary, the couple both agree the past 60 years have gone by in a flash.

“To me it feels like 30 years, it’s gone by that quick,” says Bernadette, who turns 80 next February.

When asked what’s the key to a long and happy marriage, the couple agree “you have to work at it, give and take, and you’re on the right road”.

When asked for their advice for others getting married one of the first things they say “you don’t have to have a big expensive wedding to be happy”.

“Give and take, that’s important,” says Bernadette.

Jimmy, who worked at Maydown Training Centre teaching the building trade until he retired, says: “It’s hard, I suppose, to give advice because we’re living in such different times now but I suppose, you have to work at it, through the good times and the bad times, and just motor on.”

Bernadette says she has watched her children grow up so quickly, she advises parents to cherish their time with their children.

The couple’s daughters, Kathleen and Caroline, says the family is lucky to have their parents.

“They’ve always been there. You couldn’t wish for better parents,” says Kathleen and, after 60 years, romance is still in the air.

Jimmy is “a modest romantic”, says Caroline. He remembers birthdays and anniversaries, although he jokes he lets the children buy the presents.

When asked if their love is as strong as it was in the 1950s, they both look at each other, and pause, before Bernadette says: “It is.”

Jimmy smiles and adds:“It must be if we’ve spent 60 years together.”