What makes love last? As the years roll by, how do you keep the love alive? And after decades of life’s ups and downs, how do you hold on to the fireworks you first felt for one another?
Together for over 50 years, these couples know a thing or two about love and the secret behind a long-lasting relationship.
Even after almost five decades of marriage, four children and two grandchildren, Waterford couple Nora, 69, and Billy Walsh, 73, still laugh together like giddy teenagers.
It was at a dance in Dungarvan that 17-year-old Nora and 21-year-old Billy first got together but Nora, who is originally from Abbeyside, admits she had taken notice of him before.
“There was a bridge between Dungarvan and Abbeyside and there used to be railway tracks,” she explains. “He used to be sitting up at the gate down at the end of the tracks with a couple of his friends and I used to be passing up and down. He used to always say hello.”
Nora says Billy caught her eye. “I got a good catch,” she adds.
When asked if it was love at first sight, they both giggle before Nora insists that he was “mad” about her.
Nora and Billy Walsh married in March, 1973.
She was 18 when they got engaged and while they had planned to hold off a few years before getting married, they just couldn’t wait. A year later, on a cold March day in 1973, they tied the knot at Abbeyside Church before their wedding breakfast at Lawlor’s Hotel in Dungarvan.
In 1976, they had their first child and moved into their first house, before eventually settling in Billy’s family home in Dungarvan. The rest, as they say, is history.
On March 2, Nora and Billy will celebrate their golden wedding anniversary and plan to mark the special occasion with an intimate vow renewal.
While Billy claims to have no big plans yet for the occasion, Nora says he often surprises her, particularly by booking trips away.
“I wouldn’t put it past him because he does surprise me at times, and I’d be looking at him saying, ‘How did you think of that?’” she says.
From speaking with Nora and Billy, one thing is for sure — they still make one another laugh. Is that the secret to a happy marriage, I wonder?
Nora starts: “The basis for it is just” — “to be happy,” adds Billy. “To be happy,” agrees Nora. “That’s the main thing,” she continues. “We could have words too… we’d start roaring laughing afterwards though.”
On the cusp of 50 years of marriage and over five decades of doing as they say, “everything together”, how do Nora and Billy feel about one another?
“The very same as when we met,” says Nora.
Nora and Billy Walsh who celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this year pictured at their home in Dungarvan. Picture: Dan Linehan
They love to cook together and Coronation Street aside, they mostly enjoy watching the same TV programmes. The pair agree that what they have is special. “It’s very special,” says Billy. “If you’re here on your own [in the house] for more than a day, it’s not the same.”
According to Nora, the secret to a long-lasting marriage is simple: “To love one another, be there for each other, help one another, [and] confide in one another.”
“We just always spoke about things and did things together. No secrets,” says Billy. “If she deserves flowers, I get her flowers,” he adds.
Eileen O’Connor almost didn’t go to the dance on the night she met her now-husband, Pat. Thankfully, after plenty of persuasion from her friends, she went — and it ended up being the best night of her life.
Eileen, 74, is originally from the northside of Cork City and met her husband Pat, 75, a southsider, at a dance at the Imperial Hotel in 1965.
“I had been to the dentist a week or two beforehand,” she explains. “There was no root canal at that stage so to cut a long story short, I went in, and he (the dentist) took out my front two teeth.”
She tried every to get out of going to the dance that night, telling her friends there was no way she was going with “no two front teeth”, but they convinced her.
“They dragged me along and you know what? It was the best night of my life.”
Eileen and Pat O’Connor who met at the Imperial Hotel, Cork and are fifty two years married. Picture: Dan Linehan
She was 17 and Pat, who was 18 asked her to dance, and then walked her home.
“He fell in love with me and I’d no front teeth,” she laughs.
The pair now live in Pat’s family home in Ballyphehane, and Eileen says he was “alien” to the northside of Cork the night they met.
“When he brought me home, he said: ‘How do I get back?’ I had to direct him home. He got home safe and sound and that was that. And here we are 52 years later married with four children.”
They returned to where it all began for their wedding on September 5, 1970 at the Imperial Hotel in Cork City.
When I ask what she feels when she looks back at the past 58 or so years, Eileen answers: “Content.”
“You’ve your ups and your downs of course. Life isn’t always rosy but once you sit down, chat about it, discuss it. I think communication is great.”
Eileen and Pat O’Connor. Picture: Dan Linehan
As for her secret to a long and happy marriage, communication is a lot of it, she says.
“I hate unhappiness and Pat is the same. We just sort it out and get on with it. End of story. It’s done, it’s behind you now and you look forward and when you get older, every day is a good day to be alive.
“I lost my own mother when she was only 48, so I’d say life is too short for arguments.”
Valentine’s Day is a significant occasion for Amelia and Dennis O’Driscoll, marking the night they had their first date at the Pavilion Cinema in Cork City. Now in their 70s and almost 53 years married, the pair are as in love as the first day they met.
Amelia, now 77, was working in Sunbeam Wolsey while Dennis, now 73, was working at Murphy Brewery when a friend organised for them to meet for a date.
Amelia knew Dennis from passing him on her way to and from work, but he was none the wiser and thought the date was a joke.
“I didn’t know who I was getting,” he laughs.
“I went over and smiled at him, and he smiled back,” says Amelia of their first encounter.
It was love at first sight.
“We clicked straight away,” says Dennis. “You get that feeling that you got the right one.”
It was love at first sight for Amelia and Dennis. Pictures: David Creedon
“He’d a lovely manner and a lovely smile and I just took to him straight away,” says Amelia.
After waiting until Dennis turned 21, in 1969 they got engaged, and on St Stephen’s Day, 1970 they married at St Patrick’s Church in Cork City. The wedding breakfast was at the Metropole Hotel before the newlyweds headed to a snowy Dublin for their honeymoon.
“I remember I didn’t eat my dinner because I was so excited. Long ago, you didn’t stay in the hotel — it was different. We were on the train then to Dublin at 5pm,” says Amelia.
Amelia and Dennis O’ Driscoll with their dog Lady from the Glen who this year will celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary. Picture: David Creedon
Throughout their marriage, the pair have faced ups and downs, including Amelia’s first cancer diagnosis at 34 — and a second diagnosis at 69 — but she says Dennis has remained by her side throughout it all.
“He was always there for me and still is,” she says of her beloved husband.
She describes him as a “kind and caring man” and a great father to their daughter Rachel and their two grandchildren, Ryan and Dylan.
“He does everything for me. I can’t tie up zips or anything now and he’d do all of that and he does all of the hoovering.”
The key to everlasting love, she says, is to continue to show that you care for one another.
“Be kind and caring to one another. Never forget to show it. Always be kind and caring and show a bit of love and affection,” she says.
As for Dennis? “Humour,” he says. “We always got on. We care for one another.”