“Mixed Marriage”: Sectarianism and missed opportunities
By Vanessa VASSALLO for Northern Ireland Foundation
22 February 2013
To mark the 400th anniversary of the foundation of Belfast, the Lyric Theatre is producing a season of plays, “Tales of the City”, which intends to capture the spirit of the city — the good, the bad and the ugly.
Written by St John Ervine, there is no need to wonder what aspect “Mixed Marriage” — the first play of the season — embodies. It would be nice to think that a drama written in 1911 about sectarianism in Belfast would be out of date at the present day, but it is unfortunately more than ever relevant.
In August 1907, the Belfast working-class goes on a Dock strike.
So does John Rainey, a proud Orangeman deeply respected by the community. He is approached by his elder son Hugh and the Catholic Michael O’Hara, who suggest he talks to the Orangemen in favor of an alliance with the Catholic community against the factory owners.
The motivation is to improve the likelihood for the strike to succeed, with a united working class community instead of one divided by religious grudges.
Rainey’s socialist ideals lead him to accept the proposal.
But when he learns that his son Hugh is determined to marry Nora Murray, a Catholic girl, his fury erupts, leading to tragic consequences both for his family and the strike.
“Mixed Marriage” effectively represents what probably has been the saddest side of Belfast — all of the missed opportunities due to religion-based divisions.
Class struggle actually created conditions to undermine sectarianism, both in the drama and in the reality. As Walter Savage, a National Union of Dock Labourers official, said: “What has Orangeism or Protestantism got to do with men fighting for just rights when the issue lies not in religion but is a question of bread and butter?”
The play is a tragedy on three levels: a love story with at least two families shattered; a social class loses a chance of seeing its rights respected; and blood is split in the streets under a new wave of violence, hate and divisions.
“Mixed Marriage” has been described in some reviews as an odd choice to introduce the “Tales of the City” season celebrating Belfast, possibly because it reminds us about part of the city’s past that some may wish to forget. But considering the present environment we live in, it’s appropriate to have a closer look and learn from our history.
Backstage at the Lyric Theatre’s Mixed Marriage rehearsals with Katie Tumelty (Mrs Rainey) and Marty Maguire (John Rainey).