For Irish couple Patricia Cullen and her partner of 32 years Marijona Devitt, Sunday, July 24 was a day they never thought they'd live to see.
The location was City Hall and the world looked on as gay marriage finally became a reality in New York State.
Just a few minutes with the couple, who are now happily married and, like most longstanding couples are very happy to complete each other’s sentences, will quickly convince you they were made for each other.
Cullen, originally from Donabate, Co. Dublin -- she works at the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the UN as a diplomat -- and her partner Devitt, originally from Strabane, Co. Tyrone, had a magical first meeting, one for the books in fact.
“My cousin Paddy introduced us,” Devitt tells the Irish Voice. “He was a student in UCD with Patricia and he knew she was gay. At the time she had worked in Washington and when she came back from her posting in 1982 we met for the first time.”
THE story of how the couple met is hilarious, worthy of a two act farce in fact.
Years ago in 1982, in an Ireland that's gone with the wind now, Devitt was invited out to the pub by her cousin Paddy who told her he had something very important to say to her.
“I have something very important to say to you, Marijona,” he told her again, inviting her out for a nightcap.
Devitt was suddenly anxious. They had been close for a long time and had gone out to the theater and to dinner on many occasions. But had she given him the wrong idea, she fretted?
“I've been wanting to tell you this for a long time and I don't want you to tell anyone else, especially the relatives,” Paddy confided, with his most serious expression.
“And you must swear not to laugh at me, all right? Because I’m only going to tell you the once.”
Devitt raised her eye to heaven, dreading the proposal was looking imminent.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, here it comes. What will I say to him?’”
But instead of proposing Paddy turned and told her he was gay. The relief was immense and Devitt burst out laughing, saying, “Join the club!”
But Paddy screamed at her with irritation. “ I knew it! I knew you wouldn’t take me seriously!” he fumed. “How dare you take that attitude with me!”
And he stormed out of out the pub convinced he was being sneered at.
The next day he contacted his openly gay friend Patricia Cullen to complain about his mistreatment. “My cousin’s pretending to be gay and she’s taking the piss out of me,” he moaned. “I’m really upset and I’d like you to suss her out to find out if she's telling the truth. Because I am convinced she’s totally pretending.”
Patricia eventually agreed, and with the plan in place the three met later that night at the Viking, which in 1982 was Dublin’s only exclusively gay pub.
Within minutes the two women found themselves laughing uproariously at the circumstances of their meeting and they got on famously. “It was love at first sight,” they both say, simultaneously.
In the years that followed their relationship deepened though some of the darkest years in the history of the gay and lesbian community.
“We got very heavily involved when the boys got sick with the HIV/AIDS,” says Cullen, who remembers the time and its challenges vividly.
“We became heavily involved with the fundraising and all of that. It was a difficult time that underlined how far the community had to go to gain equality,” she adds.
There were other challenges too. Cullen encountered so many people who weren’t just anti-gay; they were often nakedly racist too.
Once, she was strongly reprimanded for bringing an African American friend to a cocktail party in 1979 hosted by the Irish government. An ambassador took her aside and said, “What the hell were you thinking bringing him here? These are Irish Americans, they don’t do black.”
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