By today’s standards, the wedding of Feeny couple, John and Mary O’Kane 60 years ago was a simple affair. The bride’s dress was blue, the groom’s suit cost £4 and 10 shillings, the meal cost £14 and the honeymoon was three days in Co. Down.
There was no elaborate bridal party, no fancy wedding list, favours or music, but it didn’t matter as the happy couple say their big day on Tuesday, August 5, 1952 was “perfect”.
“I was excited,” says 87-year-old Mary, nee McFeely. “I could’ve jumped over the moon!” Devoted husband, 85-year-old John recalls a few nerves on that dry day at Foreglen chapel but, says with pride it was “the best ever”. The couple met when Mary, who worked at Desmonds factory in Claudy, was 21, and John - a 19-year-old farmer - at a dance in Foreglen hall. John remembers his wife-to-be in a smart green suit, trimmed with braid and bows.
“I fell for the suit!” he joked. “She was lovely and dressed very well.” The pair had a simple courtship, enjoying dances, although John admits he wasn’t much of a mover. It was Mary who loved to dance, light on her feet at the ‘two-step’ and a four-hand reel. They also went to the “picture house” in Dungiven and when John would pick Mary up for a date, it wouldn’t be by car, or bike, but by tractor.
When she saw the smoke coming over the hill from her home in the townland of Farkland, she knew John was on his way as he was the only fellow in the area to have a tractor. Five years later, John proposed to the “love of his life”, but without any dramatic gestures, or even a bended knee. “He said, ‘I think we’ll get married’,” quipped Mary.
A week before they tied the knot, they took the bus into Derry to buy the bride-to-be a wedding band. “There was no engagement in them days,” says John. “That’s the way it was, but sure the world has changed now.”
For weddings gifts, the couple received mostly money, about 10 shillings, plus a pair of socks for John! After their honeymoon, the couple lived with John’s parents in the townland of Coolnamonan in Feeny. A year later they moved to their own house, and eventually into the village of Feeny, where they’ve reared a family of nine over the last 45 years.
The couple also had two daughters - Margaret and Bridget - who sadly died at birth. “We have a great family,” says John. “They’re a perfect family. They’re always there if you need something.”
During the early years of their marriage, money was scare. There was no running water or electricity for years. Transport was a luxury. Mary remembers walking to Dungiven when she was pregnant with twins, Charlie and Eugene, to get the bus to the clinic in Limavady.
“They were hard times, but the best of times,” says John. “You just got on with things.” Six decades later and the couple have 32 grandchildren and eight great grandchildren, aged from 34 to just six months old; their pictures adorning every available space around the house.
“Life is great, and I always dreaded getting old when I was younger, but we’re happy in our old age,” says John. “60 years is a long time, and I feel sad for people whose partners have died. We are very lucky.”
So is there a secret to a long and happy marriage? “In marriages nowadays it seems, in a lot of them, the wife is the boss, but in our day we were both the boss,” he says. “There’s no secret. You just stick at it and make the best of it. You work together.”
Surrounded by family, last weekend, the couple celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary with a special mass said by Banagher Parish Priest, Fr. Eamon Graham, at home.
Instead of gifts, because as John says, “sure at our age we have everything we need”, they asked family to make a donation towards Fr. Graham’s charity abseil for the Foyle branch of Parkinson’s NI.
So how does it feel to celebrate six decades of marriage in a world that has witnessed so many changes? “Honest to heavens, I can’t believe it’s been 60 years. It’s gone by so quickly,” says John. “We’re happy. Mary was the love of my life, and still is.
“What would you say Mary?” he asked, turning to Mary. “Likewise!” she says, without hesitation, and smiling.