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Marriage: ‘It’s all about give and take’

Francie and Sophie McAteer


A COUPLE from Milford who are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary this week believe “give and take” is the secret to a long and happy marriage.
Francie and Sophie McAteer’s love story began on New Year’s Night 1955 in the Milford Dance Hall. The Rhythm Boys from Buncrana were playing the music when Francie first asked Sophie to dance and they haven’t looked back since.
“In fairness there was a lot more give than take on Sophie’s part. She’s been a real living saint to put up with me, especially in the early years,” Francie admitted when he spoke to the Donegal News this week.
While dances were held in ‘dry halls’ in the fifties, alcohol was often consumed earlier in the night and therein lay the problem.
“She’s a good, powerful wife as she had it tough with me if truth be told. I haven’t taken a drink for thirty years now but I wasn’t a very good boy before that,” he sighed.
“The only thing I would do different if I had my time all over again would be the drink. I would never touch the stuff. Today, I can go to a wedding and enjoy myself but I never enjoyed those days when I drank. I didn’t realise that I was an alcoholic,” he added.
Francie, who is a native of Ray, Rathmullan, had been working in the family pub, the White Harte Bar in Rathmullan, when the couple met and he then went on to work for Milford Bakery as a driver, while Sophie (nee Sweeney from Milford) stopped working as a house-maid for Osbourne’s Solicitors in Milford to be a housewife and lok after their children.
They married in The Lagg Chapel, Milford, on May 29 1957. The priest was Fr Kennedy from Ardara, the best man was Francie’s late brother Paddy, while Sophie’s sister May Sweeney (RIP) was the bridesmaid.
“We were married at 9am and then we went to Barney Cullen’s in Ramelton (Stewart Arms) for the wedding breakfast. There were no fancy big dinners or wedding photographers in those days,” he said.
From there, the couple went to Bundoran for a week on honeymoon. They went on to have six children and seven grandchildren, who range in age from 26 to 11 years.
Mary, the eldest, is Principal in Marino College, Dublin, while Philomena Power is Chief Technical Officer in the Anatomy Department in Trinity College, Dublin. Gabriel is a retired army officer who now works as a window cleaner and practices jiu-jitsu; Margaret teachers in Errigal College, Letterkenny; John works in security at Letterkenny University Hospital while Kathleen is a budget officer for the IMF in Washington.
“Sixty years. God at times I wonder how we made it this far,” Mr McAteer said.
“I keep patting myself on my back for the decision I made on the person to spend the rest of my days with. I’ve been very lucky. With the right woman you can’t go wrong although I’ve tested her patience on more than one occasion.”
Francie said his children often said that marriages like his and Sophie’s are few and far between these days.
“You have to be each other’s best friend before anything else. Communication is very important. You just have to not think about what you want all the time … it’s what you can do for the other person.”
Sophie has been a wheelchair user since 1990.
“She’s in great fettle thank God. On September 19 last we weren’t given much hope but, thankfully, she’s managed to come out the other side. She’s made a remarkable recovery.
She’s still able to keep me in check. We’ve been to the US a good few times as our daughter Kathleen has two children. The car is adapted and get out as often as we can. Life is good,” he said.
When Francie asked Sophie to dance at a social event in Milford all those years ago he had told his mate’s that he’d likely be turned down, but after 60 years of marriage it’s fair to say things went well.

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