Irish Love Song

updated 07/19/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/19/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

BECAUSE HE MISSED MUCH OF THE '70S and '80s, the groom likes '60s-style music concerts. So on the Fourth of July weekend, Paul Hill look his bride, Mary Courtney Kennedy, the 37-year-old daughter of Robert Kennedy, to hear Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Ray Charles in Tramore, a seaside resort in southern Ireland. It seemed ordinary enough, but even in a family where activism is expected and where marriage material runs the gamut from England's Marquess of Hartington (aunt Kathleen in 1944) to Arnold Schwarzenegger (cousin Maria Shriver in 1986), Courtney's choice of a second spouse is exceptional.

In 1975, the Belfast-born Hill, 38, was convicted in IRA pub bombings outside London that killed six people; after serving 15 years in prison, he was exonerated because the police had falsified evidence and coerced his confession. Now a human rights activist, he is free on bail while appealing a separate murder conviction based on the same police interrogation.

"It's obvious they fell for each other under strange circumstances," says a friend of Hill's. "But they're here—and they're very much in love."

The unlikely matchmaker was the bride's mother, Ethel. When Hill was in Washington for a human rights conference in 1990, Ethel suggested he visit Courtney, who was recuperating from a skiing accident. "She was looking rather pathetic and very pitiful surrounded by all these flowers," Hill said teasingly. "Poor little thing!"

The courtship developed in 1991, and Hill later moved into Courtney's Fifth Avenue apartment. (Kennedy, goodwill ambassador for a United Nations AIDS foundation, was divorced from cable television executive Jeff Ruhe in 1991.) The couple were wed June 26 in the Aegean Sea on a yacht owned by Greek TV magnate Vardis Vardinoyannis—who performed the ceremony.

Hill, whose education ended at 14, was a construction worker in North London when he was arrested in 1974, seven weeks after the pub bombings in Guildford. In his 1990 autobiography, Stolen Years, he denied any direct IRA involvement and said he confessed to the bombing only under duress; he also implicated three other Irish defendants. (All had their convictions overturned.) Just before going to prison he fathered a daughter, Cara, now 18, by his childhood sweetheart Gina Clarke. And in a 1988 prison ceremony he married Marion Serravalli, a 31-year-old New Jersey paper mill buyer to whom he had been writing since 1985. The marriage ended after two years.

As the newlyweds listened to the music at Tramore, they had no comment about their at-sea nuptials or their future plans. Friends say the couple will build a house in County Clare in western Ireland—which Courtney told a London paper "will be my home away from home." Hill, with his tanned skin and sun-bleached hair and sporty sunglasses on a cord, has come a long way from Belfast. "Oh, he's a celebrity now," said a stagehand, "One of the gliterati."

LAURA SANDERSON HEALY in Tramore
ELLIN STEIN in London

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