What the RC parish registers tell us about Marriage customs in Ireland.

At the Expert Workshop in February, Aileen Wynne asked us all to talk about our favourite source, for one minute only. This is much harder than you might think, and it led to an interesting exchange of ideas and a lot of laughs.

My favourite source is whatever I’m working on at any given time. Over the last few months I’ve worked a lot with Catholic parish registers. What’s surprising is the range of records. Baptismal and marriage records, of course, but included among the ‘mainstream’ registers are records of deaths and funeral masses; baptisms for adult converts; rarer registers of banns; dispensations for marriages; registers of communion and confirmation; and even ‘churchings’ – the blessing given to women after childbirth.

Parish registers can also tell us a lot more than simply who’s getting married or whose child is baptised.

On a recent case in the parish of Delvin county Westmeath, I was surprised to find a huge upsurge in the number of couples renewing their marriage vows: between 1785 and 1879 thirteen couples (see below).

But this isn’t an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians, and lifestyle was not an issue in late 18th Century Westmeath. So how do we explain this sudden trend evident in the parish registers?                                       

In Ireland, right up to Famine times, many couples made their own arrangements with the blessings of their family, but without seeking the consent or approval of their church.  What we see here, is the first attempt by the clergy to bring their parishioners into conformity with the sacraments of the Catholic church.

Delvin RC register Marriages 1787

Witness Bridget Gil, Ann Coffy & Daniel Mani[torn]

Witness the whole congregation of C.S. Delvin.

Witness the whole congregation of C S Delvin.

Witnesses Delvin Congregation

Witnesses Total  Delvin Congregation

Witness the whole Delvin congregation

Witness the whole congregation of Killuagh.

Witness the whole congregation

Witness the whole congregation of C.S. Delvin.

By Expert Researcher Fiona Fitzsimons