Róisín Ingle: It was love at first riot. Twenty years later the fire still burns

As we mark our anniversary, I can promise my partner I will rarely be boring

A loyalist demonstrator throws stones at security forces  in Portadown on July 10th, 2000. File photograph: Dan Chung/Reuters

A loyalist demonstrator throws stones at security forces in Portadown on July 10th, 2000. File photograph: Dan Chung/Reuters

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Several years ago, at the height of what we called the Celtic Tiger, I found myself sitting at a fancy dinner in a grand country hotel with some people I didn’t know. I’d been invited to write about the hotel, which was having a lavish midsummer’s night party.

I was seated among a group of friends, locals who lived in sprawling houses on the hotel grounds where there were rules about hanging clothes on an outdoor washing line so as not to ruin the aesthetics. Their party clothes, line-dried or dry-cleaned, were beautiful – jewel-coloured and expensive-looking.

I can’t recall what I was wearing but I know I felt slightly wrong, as I often do around dress codes. Feeling slightly wrong never stops me from enjoying myself, mind you, especially when there is champagne involved.

As we ate plates of picturesque food, I fell into easy conversation with the elegant woman beside me whose fingers sparkled with diamond rings. I felt like an anthropologist as I interrogated her gently about her life, her small children, her husband, her large house, her big car.

She worked in her home and seemed content to me, with all those life boxes ticked off. I thought, as I often do, about why I’ve never been one for ticking life boxes. I was divorced by then. I suppose that was a sort of tick. I didn’t have children though. Tock.

As we spoke, her rings seemed to wink at me, so at one point I asked her about them. She told me how the biggest one was her engagement ring and the others had been bought for her by her husband each time she had a child. She glittered and glowed, and I sat there feeling slightly wrong in myself but happy for her.

I wondered when I’d ever be gifted a diamond. More than that, I wondered why I didn’t particularly want such a thing.

Holiday anniversary

It’s more than 20 years later. I still don’t have a diamond. But on holiday in the west of Ireland last week I celebrated 20 years since the day I met my life partner, the father of our two children. When we woke that morning, my daughters congratulated him “for putting up with mummy all these years”, which might sound unkind but in our house counts as quality family banter.

And as with the best banter, it has more than a little truth in it. I have a lot of wonderful qualities as an adult human woman, but being easy to live with is not one of them. I’ll rarely be boring – if we ever get around to making vows I can promise him that – but I can be difficult.

I am also housework-averse, which even with my partner being very housework-forward – he’s Protestant and from the North and grew up with a dad who hoovered and ironed – causes issues.

I may have introduced him to a lot over the years – bagels, proper coffee, the joy of Pizza and Wine by Juliet Turner – but he has put in the hard yards in our home in more ways than one.

As the morning of our 20th anniversary dawned, I was simmering with mild rage over something stupid, something inconsequential he had or hadn’t done. I didn’t feel much like celebrating. But if there’s a secret to staying power in a relationship, it’s being sometimes able to fake it until you make it.

I managed to get his phone number before the army closed in

We were near the end of a wonderful, much-longed-for holiday in Lahinch in Co Clare. The town has opened up again but in a socially distant, responsible way. I’d heard that the seafront restaurant Randaddy’s was doing a “beachside dining” service, with a hamper of food, drinks and desserts for two. On that gorgeous sunny day, myself and my two little helpers had it all set up when he arrived down at the beach.

They disappeared and so did my bad mood. We sat for a couple of glorious hours, eating gourmet pizza rolls and drinking wine, looking out at the vast blue sky and the waves rolling on the Atlantic Ocean.

First meeting

We remembered the day 20 years ago, when we first met in the middle of a riot in Portadown. A car in flames on the railway tracks. Stones hurtling through the balmy July air. I managed to get his phone number before the army closed in. Love at first riot, as my colleague Patsy McGarry said, of those heady days on the hill at Drumcree. Twenty years later the fire still burns.

As I write, back home in Dublin, on the cusp of what we’re going to be calling the pandession, the smell of his bread baking fills my nostrils. I never wanted diamonds, which is just as well. But I do want to spend the next 20 years in deeper appreciation of the person who hangs our clothes out on an outdoor washing line that does nothing to spoil the aesthetics.

I don’t have shiny things but I have a man, to quote Juliet Turner, who lights my fire when I get cold and who buys me back when I’ve been sold.

What more could any slightly wrong, rarely boring woman ask for?

roisin@irishtimes.com