"Supporting couples who are united in love across traditional Christian divisions and promoting acceptance of these relationships within Northern Ireland society"
Read about the origons of NIMMA. A historial guide to mixed marriage in Ireland is contained on our Mixed Emotions Publication and helps set the stories of couples over many decades in their proper context. It provides a chronology of mixed marriages in Ireland:
- “Galway Convention”: traditional custom whereby sons would follow the religion of their fathers and daughters follow that of their mothers
- Ne Temere (1908): allowed priests to impose conditions on mixed marriages, such as an obligation for any children to be baptised and brought up as Catholics, and for the non-Catholic partners to submit to religious education with the aim of converting them to Catholicism
- Matrimonia Mixta (1970): the Catholic party is “gravely bound” to make a sincere promise to do all in his power to have all the children baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church; whether by word of mouth alone, in writing, or before witnesses
- Directory on Mixed Marriages (1983): practical enactment of Matrimonia Mixta and subsequent Vatican decrees; recognises that “the religious upbringing of children is the joint responsibility of both parents, (and that) the obligations of the Catholic party do not, and cannot, cancel out … the conscientious duty of the other party”
The early conflict saw NIMMA supporting couples through intimidation, family rejection and sectarian victimisation, often from both sides. NIMMA provided both advise and practical support to couples in need of help.
Over the years, NIMMA worked to bring about a climate of aceptance for mixed marriages and it can be much easier to be part of a mixed marriage now. However, problems persists in our segregated society. NIMMA still fill the gap for couples whose family clergy are not supportive of their wedding or child's baptism. Obtaining mixed housing remains a problem unless you can afford private housing. Couples in mixed marriages have traditionally been afraid to discuss the hurt, rejection and issolation they have oftern experienced. NIMMA provides them with a voice.
NIMMA has focussed on the need to ensure that those in mixed marriages have their voice heard. We have published the stories of couples in "Mixed Emotions" and the stories of children of mixed marriages in "Both Sides Now". We have lobbied for recognition of mixed marriage as a category to be used by Government agencies when they seek to determine religous affiliation. Most recently tthis was accepted by the NI Housing Executive as a choice for social housing allocation. We are seeking recognition for couples with double belonging in other areas such as census and employment data.
- Raising Children
- Penal Laws
The history of NIMMA and the growing recognition of mixed marriage as a positive force goes hand-in-hand. MIxed marrige was a taboo subject. It can now be celebrated. While there is still some way to go before double-belonging becomes a recognised and accepted reality, many advances have been achieved.
The positive force of love is celebrated in the NIMMA publication "Mixed Emotions."
The work of NIMMA and the changes in societal attitudes is traced in the publication "Celebrating the Success, evaluating the impact" as illustrated in this extract:
"It is interesting to note that when reading the history of NIMMA by going through its correspondence and newsletters from the 1970s and 1980s, one is also reading a history of the ecumenical movement in Ireland/Northern Ireland and Great Britain. NIMMA was at the heart of the conversations taking place at this time and reading these historical records is like reading a primer on the movers and shakers of the ecumenical movement."
The Ne Temere Degree of 19th April 1908 was enthusiastically applied by Irish clergy and required both partners in marriage to promise to bring up all their children as Roman Catholic. In the first half of the 20th century, there were cases in Ireland where the non-Catholic spouse was brought to trial and convicted for not keeping the ‘promises’ and therefore guilty of neglecting one’s children. Conversion was considered to be the easier route when choosing to marry someone of a different tradition.
Thankfully, the requirements regarding the promises were relaxed substantially in 1970 with the passage of Matrimonia Mixta requiring only the Catholic partner to only do what was in one’s power to do, within the marriage, to raising one’s children as Catholic. Intentionally vague, the ruling allowed for flexibility of interpretation that was of benefit to mixed marriage couples. However, it took another thirteen years (1983) before it became enacted and enforced by authorities within the Irish Roman Catholic Church.
NIMMA made oral and written submissions to the Roman Catholic Directory on Mixed Marriages, 6 out of 8 of which were accepted. The most contentious of the 6 accepted, in terms of the division of society it had caused over the last century, was the Promise. The Directory states "The religous upbringing of the child is the joint responsibility of both parents." Today it is for parents to do what is right for them within their marrige. A major grevience has been removed.
Unfortunately, mixed marriages have been equally unpopular by both sides.
Penal Laws in Ireland,which were modelled on the French anti-Huguenot laws, sought to inhibit mixed marriages. Any Protestant marrying a Catholic would be fully subject to Penal Laws. Furthermore, it was a capital offence for a Roman Catholic Priest to officiate at a mixed marriage. A priest was indeed hanged for this in 1726. From 1793 punishment was reduced to a £500 fine, with 6 Catholic prients convicted of celebrating mixed marriages between 1820 and 1832. The statute was repealed in 1833.
At the time the Roman Catholic Bishop of Ossary, later Archbishop of Dublin, John Troy declared "marriage between Protestants and Catholics is unlawful, wicked and dangerous. The Penal Laws should not be repealed because they act as a deterrant."
Today the issues are much less theological but remain equally problematic. We have segregated schools, segregated housing, seperate teacher training collages, seperate sports/games and seperate dances/pubs. NIMMA has campaigned against institutionalised apartheid and those in mixed marriages tackle the issues on a daily basis.
The McCann Story
The amazing story of the McCanns still shocks people today. The McCann case features in "Family in the eye of a storm", a BBC radio programme. The Catholic ruling 'ne temere' insisted that any children of a mixed marriage were brought up as Catholics.
The impact on one family in 1910 was such as to cause riots in Belfast and major public protest meetings in Dublin, Belfast, Edinbugh, Glasgow, London, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
1983 was a turning point for NIMMA and its work. After the publication of the new Code of Canon Law in 1980 the Vatican required each local Conference of Bishops to publish a “Directory on Mixed Marriage”. NIMMA made written and oral submissions to the Bishops and six of their eight major demands were accepted and incorporated in the new Directory (1983).
With the new directory requirements were removed regarding the ‘promises.’ One was no longer required to promise to raise one’s children as Roman Catholics, but, instead were asked to do all in the Catholic spouses power within the marriage. Furthermore, the Catholic partner in a marriage in pre-Matrimonia Mixta days was required to make every effort to convert the non-Catholic spouse. This requirement was also removed. These changes were championed by Cardinal O’Fiaich, who became a strong supporter of NIMMA
A Century Ago
"Mixed Marriages in Ireland A Century Ago"is a research paper published by Alan Fernihough, Cormac O Grada and Brendan M. Walsh in March 2014 from University College Dublin. The paper explores the characteristics, frequency and socio-economic factors around mixed marriages across Ireland. Of particular interest is the variations geographically and the evidence of higher infant-child mortality among families of mixed marriages, which potentially indicates a lack of family and social support due to the general public disapproval of couples who married across the religious divide. The report is available here.
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