Wedding Flickr

When researching your Kerry ancestors, have you noticed that almost all marriages in the 1800s took place in January or February?

Did you wonder why?

Well into the 20th century, the busiest time for match-making in Ireland began right after Nollag na mBan,  January 6th. This was because the Irish had misinterpreted a Church ruling set forth in November, 1563 which prohibited weddings during Lent. The popular reasoning that evolved from this decree was that if you could not marry during Lent, then you had to marry before. Thus, it was taken for granted that Shrovetide was the proper time to marry and Shrove Tuesday – the day before Ash Wednesday – became the most favoured day of all.

Marriages Dingle 1822

I was reminded of this last week when I was searching for a marriage in 1822 in Dingle records. On the 27th February 1822 there were 27 marriages on that day alone with 18 in the previous fortnight.

Often if one had not married by Shrove Tuesday a year could lapse before an opportunity presented itself again; responsibilities to the land with tilling and harvest work prevented many from marrying from late spring until winter, while Advent and Christmas were also times when marriage was forbidden, leaving Shrovetide as the best opportunity for many to marry.  But of course in Kerry there was a suggested solution to the problem

Skellig Michael Flickr

The unlikely solution was connected to the medieval island hermitage of Skellig Michael, 13km off the  Kerry coast, whose ascetic monks calculated the date of Easter differently from the rest of Christendom.

The whole of Ireland had initially used a different calculation table from the one adopted by Rome; it seems that, even though the rest of the country eventually conformed, Skellig Michael somehow maintained the older system.

Whatever the cause, Easter and Lent always fell later on Skellig than on the mainland, opening a window of opportunity for couples wishing to marry, and ingraining in the popular imagination the association between courtship, marriage and the Skellig Rock.

Sorry to disappoint – we have no records of any marriages on Skelligs so … ?

Sources:, Curtin, Jeremiah. Memoirs of Jeremiah Curtin. Edited by Joseph Schafer. Wisconsin, 1941