Marriage and Brehon Law in Ancient Ireland

Stair na hÉireann/History of Ireland

Irish history is immersed in centuries of oppression that was particularly harsh in respect to the Catholic religion. The late 17th and 18th century Penal Laws prevented priests from celebrating mass never mind conducting the sacrament of marriage. If a priest was caught, sanctions were quite severe, in fact, punishable by death. The last of the Penal Laws were not repealed in Ireland until 1920 by the Government of Ireland Act.

Given this background and the unique identity of the native Irish people who were forced to practice their faith underground, it is not surprising that an Irish wedding had a particular identity all its own and had a number of specific traditions associated with it.

Handfasting is an ancient Celtic tradition that involved tying the hands of the betrothed together well in advance of their actual wedding day. It is similar to an engagement, a time when both parties…

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