the big day through the ages

To thee I do wed: A century of marriage in Ireland

How was it when your parents and grandparents got hitched? And how does today’s Ireland compare?

FIGURES RELEASED BY the CSO recently revealed the state of marriage in today’s Ireland.

But how has the institution changed in the last century? What was it like when your parents and grandparents got hitched? has delved into the archives, crunched 100 years worth of numbers, and come up with everything you could possibly want to know about the evolution of matrimony since 1915.

Here’s what we found…

Coming of age


(Having trouble reading these stats? Click here for a high-res image.)

Irish men and women have never waited so long to get married as they do now.

In 2014, the new CSO figures show, brides and grooms were on average, 33 and 35 years old, respectively.

Compare that to the late 1970s, when we didn’t stay on the shelf for nearly as long.

The youngest average age for brides and grooms was 24 and 26.2, in 1977 and ‘78.

That’s closely followed by 1976, 1980 and 1979.

There has never been a year since records began, when the average Irish bride was older than the average Irish groom, but over the last 60 years, the gap has steadily narrowed.

In 1996 and 1991, Irish men were on average one year and 10 months older than their lucky betrothed.

The age gap over the last decade has been consistent, ranging between two years and two years, two months.

By contrast, new husbands in the late 1950s and early 1960s were on average around four years older than their wives, with 1957 seeing the biggest difference, of 4.1 years.

minormarriages1930s CSO CSO

Interestingly, the practice of recording the age of newlyweds only began in 1957.

Up until then, it was only legally required to state whether a man or woman was a minor, that is, under the age of 21.

This was very rare, but there was a huge gender discrepancy involved.

During the 1930s, for example, women were nearly five times more likely than men to be “not of full age” when they got married, as shown above.

In 2015, anyone wishing to get married must be at least 18 years old, unless, in exceptional circumstances, they get parental consent, recognised by a court, to be married at age 16 or 17.

We fall in and out of love with marriage

1915-2014 Pic: Abishek Jacob / Flickr Pic: Abishek Jacob / Flickr / Flickr

Over the past century, there have been some major peaks and troughs in Irish enthusiasm for marriage, but in the 1970s, apparently, everyone was at it.

The most wedding-crazed year in the last century was 1973, when the marriage rate hit 7.42 (per 1,000 population).

And that was followed closely by ’71, ’72, ’74 and 1970. The CSO doesn’t keep count of sales in bell-bottomed plaid suits, but they must have gone through the roof.

The year with the highest sheer number of marriages was 1920, with 27,193, but since the foundation of the Free State, that honour goes to 1974, when there were 22,833 – 63 weddings a day.

That’s followed by 1973, 2007, 1972, and 2008, when 22,187 couples tied the knot.

The late 1920s and early 1930s were slow for parish priests across the country, with just 13,029 in 1932, the lowest ever, followed by 1931, 1927, 1926 and 1929, when only 13,593 weddings took place.

Adjusting for population, the lowest marriage rate was 4.3 per 1,000 population, which was reached in 2011, 1997 and 1995.

The marriage rate in 2014 is 4.8 per 1,000 population, the same as in 1934, 1935 and 2009.

Losing our religion


The Catholic church’s share of marriages in Ireland has never been as low as it is now.

In 2014, just 59% of marriages were registered as Roman Catholic.

In fact, that downward trend has been almost entirely uninterrupted for the last decade, with Catholic weddings ranging from 62% in 2013 to 74% in 2005.

However, this still very much represents the majority of marriages in the state.

The last time these numbers were comparably low was during the era of British dominion, when registrations for all 32 counties meant Catholic marriages hovered around 70% between 1915 and 1920.

Secular weddings are cannibalising religious ones

output_qhBz1D Deni Williams / Flickr/PA Deni Williams / Flickr/PA / Flickr/PA

It’s not just the Catholic church that has taken a hit in recent years, though.

2014 also saw the highest ever proportion of non-religious ceremonies in Ireland (36%).

This coincided with the CSO formally counting Humanist and Spiritualist ceremonies for the first time, and they’re proving extremely popular, with 1,714 registered in 2014, more than all non-Catholic religions combined (1,092).

The 2004 Civil Marriage Act liberalised the rules around non-religious weddings, but years of wrangling meant the first ceremonies in public venues outside a registrar’s office didn’t take place until the end of 2007.

Despite this opening up of options, there doesn’t seem to have been a mad rush to the community centres of Ireland.

There was a 17% jump in civil marriages between 2008 and 2009 (from 5299 to 6214), but those numbers stabilised over the following five years, with 6,167 civil weddings taking place last year.

Same-sex couples aren’t married to civil partnerships

civilpartnership PA PA

The 2010 Civil Partnership Act led to official state recognition of same-sex relationships for the first time, and the story since then is an interesting one.

After a somewhat enthusiastic uptake in 2011, with 536 couples, civil partnerships have waned in the ensuing years, dropping to 338 in 2013, before a slight increase (to 392) last year.

This is in contrast to heterosexual marriages, which rose by 11% over the same period, as shown above.

Couples engaging in civil partnerships are significantly older than their married, heterosexual counterparts, although that discrepancy is narrowing.

In 2011, the average gay man in a new civil partnership was 44.7 years of age, more than 10 years older than the average straight groom (34.6 years).

Likewise the average lesbian couple were aged 43.8, more than 11 years older than the average 32.5 year-old heterosexual bride.

By last year, however, the gay/straight age gap had shrunk to 36.8/35 for men, and 39.5/33 for women.

We’re just not that into divorce

DIVORCE REFERENDUMS IN IRELAND 1995 PRO DIVORCE RALLY RELIGIOUS ISSUES Eamonn Farrell / Photocall Ireland Eamonn Farrell / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

Where there is marriage, of course, there is divorce.

The 15th Amendment to the Constitution, through a referendum in 1995, legalised divorce and judicial separation.

Ireland has consistently had among the very lowest rates of divorce in Europe.

In 2001, for example, four years after the first divorces and separations were granted, we shared the EU’s lowest divorce rate (0.7 per 1,000 people) with Italy.

In 2006 and 2011, we had the second-lowest in the region (0.9 and 0.7), behind Italy and Malta respectively.

This can’t exactly be put down to having a nation filled with marital bliss. The process of applying for a divorce has been criticised by many, including former Justice Minister and family law expert Alan Shatter, who wants another referendum to make it easier.

divorces Courts Service Annual Report 2013 Courts Service Annual Report 2013

Couples are generally required to prove they have lived apart for four years before divorcing, and legal procedures can be drawn out, racking up formidable lawyers’ fees.

The most recent figures available show there were 2,949 divorces, 824 judicial separations, and nine nullities granted in 2013 (as shown above).

However, it’s becoming more difficult to get a divorce.

Figures from the Courts Service show that the percentage of applications granted in the Circuit Courts and High Court has gone down from 92% in 2010 to just 82% in 2013.


To download a spreadsheet of all the data, click here.

To search the CSO’s data on marriage and civil partnership in 2014, click here.

To search the CSO’s data on marriage and civil partnership from 2001-2014, click here.

To search the CSO’s data on marriage from 1864-2000, click here.

To search the Courts Service data on divorce, click here.

Read: Irish brides and grooms are older than they’ve ever been>

Read: This loved-up couple received a special Valentine’s blessing today>

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