It’s another sign that Ireland is becoming a steadily more secular country that more and more weddings are taking place outside churches, or other places of worship. Figures for last year, just released, show that 60 per cent of weddings were religious in nature, with most of the rest divided between “humanist”, “Spiritualist” and civil weddings.
And yes, you read that correctly: Spiritualist weddings. In a way, I have to admire the business acumen of the ‘Spiritualist Union of Ireland’ in going from having almost zero market share a few years ago, to having almost 8 per cent share today. The organisation is scarcely a household name, and yet it presided over more than 1,500 weddings from a total of some 21,000 in the Republic of Ireland last year. Not bad. They seem to have been particularly successful at taking a sizeable share of the marriages now taking place in hotels.
Actually, if you want to know one big reason why the number of non-religious weddings taking place in Ireland has been increasingly rapidly, look no further than the change in the law a few years ago that allowed the wedding ceremony itself to take place in hotels. Obviously, there are many beautiful hotels in beautiful locations in Ireland that couples can choose from. These offer very stiff competition to the churches if what you mainly want is a very pretty setting for your wedding.
When the main alternative to a church wedding was a sterile civil registry office, then you were going to be very inclined to opt for a church. But when you can get married in a hotel at the foot of a mountain, or overlooking the sea, or on the shore of a lake, well, that is a different matter altogether.
But suppose you would still like your wedding to have some kind of religious, or rather “spiritual” trimmings, and priests cannot officiate at a ceremony outside a church setting, then who else is there to turn to but the Spiritualist Union of Ireland?
In fact, and in slight contradiction of the thesis that Ireland is becoming more secular, the fact that a lot of people still want a “spiritual” ceremony and not a “humanist” one, meaning an atheist one, is slightly encouraging.
To put some more figures on things, in 2019, there were 8,863 Catholic weddings in Ireland. The Church of Ireland accounted for 289 weddings, the Presbyterians 53, and (in another sign of a changing country), other religions accounted for 1,131 ceremonies. There were 6,012 civil marriages and 1,813 humanist ones. In addition, there were 640 same-sex unions.
Notably, about 4,000 of the 21,000 marriages involved at least one person getting married for a second time, usually as a result of divorce. Obviously these cannot take place in Catholic churches, and this also accounts for the decline in the number of Catholic weddings to considerably less than half of the total in a country in which 78 per cent still describe themselves as “Catholic” on census forms.
We don’t know yet from Irish statistics whether religious marriages are more durable than secular or even “spiritual” ones. But to judge from overseas studies, it seems likely. Religious people seem to be more committed to commitment, as it were, than to their own open-ended personal freedom.
In fact, the rise of this kind of individualism goes hand in hand with a decline in marriage overall. The marriage rate in Ireland has dropped considerably in recent decades, By 2018, it had dropped slightly below the British level. Marriage breakdown has increased a lot even though this figure is still much lower than in the UK.
So, as Ireland becomes more secular, and becomes “wedded” to notions of personal freedom over self-sacrificing commitment to others – which is the true definition of love – we should expect marriage to become more fragile, less durable.
David Quinn is a newspaper columnist and Director of The Iona Institute
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