Saturday, September 03, 2016


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I grew up in a bipolar world.

There were the Catholics, who might eventually get to Heaven if they successfully jumped the many hurdles of life, a lot of which were put in their way by their own church.

And there were the others, who ended up elsewhere, unless they somehow managed to contrive a deathbed conversion, accompanied by repentance for the perverse life they had lived and a firm purpose of amendment. This last bit would not, by then, be partcularly relevant.

The Protestants next door, while admittedly very nice people, were heading in the wrong direction. Adherents of the heretic Luther and followers of the serial adulterer Henry VIII, on whose bollix their church had been founded. Nice people but delusional.

As for the Jews. Well they crucified Christ so what could they reasonably expect in the next life.

And the rest of the world which worshipped false gods or none. Well, the less said the better.

And within the Catholic church it was the "sacrament" of confession which kept you morally afloat in this sea of troubles called life. The slate had to be periodically wiped clean of your horrendous crimes like missing mass or taking pleasure in the odd dirty thought, not to mention the other thing.

Looking back on it all, it is hard to believe it ever existed in all its perversity. You could not explain it to the present generation of youth, though I'll grant you they have their own hurdles to jump, but not these particular ones.

The greatest scandal was probably the rift within Christianity. Bitter spiritual enmity between neighbours, sustained by adherence to outdated and misunderstood medieval theological concepts.

As a Catholic, you could not even enter a Protestant church lest your faith be contaminated. As for attending their services, God forbid. And marrying one of them, Jesus wept, though you might get permission from the Bishop in an emergency.

"Outside the Church there is no salvation".

Now, if I am losing your attention at this point, let me give you a concrete example which will keep you on your toes.

Bob Hewson and Iris Rankin on one of their wedding days

I was recently accused of being related to Bono, perish the thought. But it led me to chasing up his ancestors in a frantic rush to put down this calumny before it took root. This involved looking into births, marriages and deaths and carefully examining all sorts of certificates. I had to find out "who were his people?" and, more importantly, were they also my people.

In the course of pursuing this investigation I took a look at a few U2 websites and quickly realised that there had been some controversy over where and when his parents had married. Not that they hadn't, just the where and the when. The online discussion was finally put to bed by the production of a letter from the Rector saying that they had been married on the 19th of August 1950 in the Protestant church in Drumcondra.

In chasing up this particular marriage through the civil registration system I came across a serious anomaly. The Drumcondra marriage had only been their first. There was yet more to come.

Six months later they remarried in the Catholic church in Dolphin's Barn, on 20th December 1950.

So what does this tell you about the bipolar world of my formative years. I was six at the time and just approaching the age of reason.

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Let's see what we can learn from the relevant marriage certs.

But first a bit of background. Both the Hewsons (Bono's father's family) and the Rankins (his mother's family) lived on the Oxmantown estate off Aughrim St. in Dublin's north inner city. The Hewsons were Catholic, the Rankins Protestant.

My own family, whose forbears had also lived on the estate, tell me that Iris was a looker but the boys were told to stay away from her because she was a Protestant. Clearly Bob Hewson took no notice of this edict and they ended up getting married.

So what do the certs tell us of the world they lived in? The first cert tells us that Bob was living at home but Iris wasn't. She gave her address as Melrose Avenue, in Fairview, a good walk from Oxmantown. Whether she was living there connected with her work or whether she had to leave home because of the impending marriage is not clear.

What is clear is that there do not appear to have been any Hewsons at the wedding. The normal practice would be for the best man and bridesmaid, witnesses to the marriage, to come one each from either side of the family. In this case it is Rankins only, Iris's siblings. I had originally thought that this signified Iris's rejection by the Hewson family but I was reminded of what I said earlier, that Catholics were not allowed inside Protestant churches and in any event might not have been welcome in those days.

Anyway, the happy couple moved in together in Haroldsville Avenue, Rialto, where they seem to have been discovered cohabiting by the local curate who recommended they regularise their relationship in the eyes of Mother Church as soon as possible. At least that's my take on it. There is no disputing the next step, however, and they were duly married, again, in the run up to Christmas in Dolphin's Barn church..

This time there don't appear to have been any Rankins present and the priest was so strapped for witnesses that he had to press his housekeeper into service.

But he did more than that. In those days the churches were authorised civil marriers and you simply signed the civil register in the vestry. So Father Muleady followed the normal practice and the marriage was duly civilly registered.

But it had already been registered via the Protestant church six month's earlier, and Bob and Iris were no longer bachelor and spinster respectively. So we have a false declaration and the same people married twice within the year.

I haven't yet found a single word to describe this. It's not bigamy, which requires a change of partner, but it must be bi- something, a shining example of the unintended consequences of the bipolar world I grew up in.

And, no, I'm not related to Bono, DG.

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