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THE ROLE OF NE TEMERE IN THE DECLINE OF A CUSTOM

IN IRELAND FOR THE RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION OF


CHILDREN IN MIXED MARRIAGES
Jesse Buck

Abstract
In 18th and 19th century Ireland there was a custom for the religious affiliation of
children in mixed marriages; the sons would follow the religion of their fathers and
the daughters follow that of their mothers. This custom of raising children was a
pragmatic compromise that allowed individuals to marry across a religious divide by
removing the existential demographic threat. It is the contention of this article that the
promulgation of the 1908 Papal decree of Ne Temere in the heightened political
atmosphere leading up to Home Rule led to the decline of mixed marriages and the
end of this custom. The Ne Temere decree required children of mixed marriages to be
raised Catholic. This article will establish the existence of the custom, mixed
marriages and the position of the government and the Catholic Church before Ne
Temere. It will then examine the decree, the McCann case, the Protestant response
that led to the decline of mixed marriages and as a result of this, the custom. Finally it
traces the relationship between the relaxation of the Ne Temere and the resultant rise
in mixed marriages minus the custom.

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There existed a custom in Ireland for the religious affiliation of the children of
mixed marriages; the sons would follow their fathers religion and the daughters their
mothers. This custom, whilst not widespread, existed in the popular consciousness
throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Its existence offers a window into a past
before the current boundaries of conflict had yet to form. This custom offered a
compromise then, as it does today. It removes the existential threat posed by mixed
marriage, in the case of all the children following one parent's customs. It
pragmatically allows the perpetuation of two customs, one through the male line and
one through the female line.
Owen Edwards argues that this custom was a form of hypergamy, or marrying up,
where mixed marriages usually involved a Protestant Church of Ireland man and a
Catholic woman.1 Hypergamy is the observed effect whereby for evolutionary reasons
and social pressure women tend to marry men of a higher status and rarely lower. 2
This custom existed in a society where class division was largely drawn along ethnic
and religious boundaries. The Church of Ireland Anglo-Irish Protestants were the elite
and Irish Catholics were largely landless peasants. From 1559 the Penal Laws were an
evolving series of statutes that in various periods barred Catholics from voting,
serving in Parliament or the legal profession, possession of firearms or a decent horse
and banned mixed marriages. The Penal Laws sought to disinherit the Catholic
population of land and encourage conversion to the Church of Ireland. Religion was
both the marker and maker of class. As the Penal Laws favoured Protestant land
ownership, a family unit consisting of Protestant men and Catholic women ensured
the land would stay in the family, whilst the reverse would certainly result in the loss
of land and access to elite institutions. With the mother as educator the custom
allowed for religious and cultural continuity. A custom where the sons would follow a
Protestant fathers religion ensuring land continuity and daughters would follow their
Catholic mothers, ensuring cultural and religious continuity, was a pragmatic
compromise.3 It allowed for social mobility as exemplified in the book The Kelly's
and the O'Kellys by Anthony Trollope4. Raymond Lee hesitantly suggests that this
practice was known throughout Europe, although evidence of its existence is
inconclusive. He notes that such an arrangement was consistent with the division of
labour in peasant families and would ensure that land was inherited within the
religious group.5 A study by Hans Mol looking at Catholic-Protestant marriages in late
19th century Australia tends to support Edward's contention that the custom was a
form of hypergamy, as nearly twice as many Catholic women married Protestant men
compared to Protestant women marrying Catholic men. 6 Whilst this is logically a
persuasive argument, the evidence that the custom in Ireland is a form of hypergamy
is inconclusive. In part this is due to the suppression of mixed marriages by both the
British state and all churches in Ireland, making such unions and the custom an often
clandestine affair.
Nevertheless evidence for the custom can be found in the life of Edmund Burke,
one of the founders of modern conservatism. Born in Dublin to a Church of Ireland
father and a Catholic mother in 1729, surrounded by Catholic sisters and Protestant
brothers, he represents the most oft-cited example of this custom. Perhaps the role of
his mother in his religious and cultural instruction influenced Edmund Burke's
decision to marry a Catholic. In his biography of Burke, O'Brien proffers the evidence
of Conformity Rolls to suggest that his father converted from Catholicism to the
Church of Ireland in order to continue practising as a lawyer. He argues that Burke's
father belonged to the established Catholic gentry and his nominal conversion allowed
him and his sons to avoid the Penal Laws. Whether Burke's father converted does not

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undermine the centrality of the contention, that the custom existed and was a
pragmatic compromise that allowed couples and families to co-exist whilst having
different religious beliefs.7
In the 19th century we have the example of Father John Sullivan SJ who like
Burke had a Church of Ireland father and a Catholic mother, his family followed the
custom. In his mid-thirties he had an epiphany and converted to Catholicism and then
became a Jesuit. His conversion exemplifies the syncretic nature and fluid
possibilities of the custom, the probable result of Catholic religious instruction by his
mother. Although he converted the custom did not play into the hands of either
Protestant or Catholic sectarianism. In a biography of Sullivan, Thomas Morrissey SJ
wrote As often occurred in the case of mixed marriages before the papal Ne Temere
decree of 1907, it had been agreed that, in the event of there being a family, the boys
would be brought up in the religion of their father and the girls in that of their
mother.8 In addition to Burke and Sullivan there was the British actor Charles
Kemble, father of the author Fanny Kemble. Charles was born in 1775 to an English
Catholic father and an Irish Protestant mother. His parents followed the custom by
raising the boys Catholic and the girls Protestant.9
Finding significant evidence for a custom that existed on the margins, that for
many years was made illegal by the state and suppressed by all churches will always
be fraught with difficulties. However, looking between the lines of two commissions,
one in Australia and the other in the U.K. offers further evidence of its existence. In
the 1884 Destitute Commission in South Australia the Chairman asks Bishop
Reynolds Was it never recognised in South Australia, in the case of mixed marriages,
that the boys should be brought up in one faith and the girls in another? to which he
replied Never in this diocese. That is the remnant of a penal law which existed in
England, Ireland and Scotland. Mr. Gode then asks Bishop Reynolds Is it not the
case in England that the boys are brought up in one religion and the girls in another?
to which he replies that it is not tolerated by the church. 10 The 1825 House of Lords
Select Committee on the State of Ireland in the U.K. offers further clues to its
existence. The Protestant Reverend Mortimer O'Sullivan is asked by the committee
Is it a general understanding with the Catholic clergy, that in cases where Protestants
and Roman Catholics intermarry, the sons shall be brought up in the religion of their
father, and the daughters in the religion of their mother? to which he answers in the
negative.11 Whilst both the Catholic and Protestant churchmen deny the tradition, to
have asked the question in the first place suggests a collective knowledge of its
existence. For how could either committee enquire into a practice that was without
precedent, a custom that was unknown in the collective or individual consciousness?
Further supporting evidence of this custom could possibly be obtained by correlating
Parish records of marriage and baptism in Ireland, this is beyond the scope of this
article.
The custom of raising sons in their fathers religion and daughters in their mothers
necessarily required a mixed marriage. Historians of 18th and 19th century Ireland
suggest that mixed marriages were rare to the point of non-existent. 12 Akenson states
that from 1815 to 1922 there was minimal intermarriage 13. Hirst's study of communal
relations in 19th century Belfast argues that mixed marriages were not widespread,
citing an 1852 roll of the Christ Church in Belfast that out of 600 families only 26
were mixed.14 Yet this is one in every twenty. Whilst not constituting a large
proportion of marriages such unions were common enough in the 18th and 19th
century for people to have first-hand knowledge of their existence, and that the
custom of raising children in the religion of the parent of the same gender existed.

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James Ryan who migrated to Australia from Tipperary in Ireland, stated in 1873 that
"Mixed marriages are frequent enough in Ireland as elsewhere". 15 Whilst the rise in
communal tensions over the course of the 19th century put pressure on mixed
marriages and the custom, it was Ne Temere and the Protestant backlash that marked
its death-knell.
The Select Committee provides invaluable evidence supporting the existence of
mixed marriages in early 19th century Ireland. Reverend Thomas Costello, a Catholic
priest from County Limerick said that they were very frequent even among the lower
orders and that many were happy to be married before a Protestant clergyman. 16 The
Anglican Archbishop of Dublin stated that they were frequently performed 17 and the
Catholic Bishop Doyle of Kildare and Leighlin said there was no ban on mixed
marriages and that he could even marry two Protestants. 18 Bishop Murray said that the
practise was widespread and in the lower orders where the mother was Catholic the
child almost always followed their mothers religion. Daniel O'Connell, whilst being
adverse to mixed marriages, provides evidence of Catholic priests performing the rites
and of mixed marriages in County Galway, Derry and Roscommon.19
Although it is difficult to doubt the existence of mixed marriages, the views of the
Churches and British government to such unions ranged from ambiguous to hostile.
As far back as the reign of Edward III in the 14 th century marriages between an
Englishman and Irishwoman were forbidden under the penalty of forfeiture of land,
disembowelment whilst living, mutilation and hanging. Following the re-conquest of
Ireland by Oliver Cromwell in 1653 the Penal Laws were enacted which sought to
disinherit the Catholic population of rights and land. Due to the intermarriage between
the descendants of Cromwell's soldiers and Irish Catholics, Parliament passed a bill
in1697 to prevent such marriages by the forfeiture of land and the imposition of fines
on the men, women, priests or clergymen who participated. In 1725 the penalties for
involvement were increased to include imprisonment. Such laws made mixed
marriages necessarily clandestine.20 Under the Penal Laws mixed marriages were
banned until their partial repeal in 1778, which then only allowed Church of Ireland
ministers to celebrate them, and it was only in 1870 21 that Catholic priests could
celebrate them as well.22 The 1868 Royal Commission on the Laws of Marriage heard
evidence from Bishop Moraiarty, who felt ambiguity towards the law. On one hand it
offered a convenient reason for not performing mixed marriages, which he
discouraged, yet he also favoured a repeal of the law which would place him on the
same legal footing as Protestant ministers.23
The position of the Catholic Church on mixed marriages in Ireland up until Ne
Temere is ambiguous. The Council of Trullo in 682CE decreed that marriages
between Catholics and infidels were to be dissolved. 24 Alfred Connick, in presenting
the Church's position, argues that baptism was required to receive the supernatural
effects of Christian marriage.25 Ambiguity arrived with the Reformation and the
question of regulating a marriage between a baptised Catholic and a baptised
Protestant. In order to regulate clandestine marriages the Council of Trent established
the Decree of Tametsi in 1563 which stated that for a marriage to be valid it must be
celebrated by a Catholic priest.26 In order to do no harm in regions where there were
mixed communities the Decree of Tametsi was abrogated. In 1741 the Dutch
precedent was established after the Dutch government passed a law declaring that a
Calvinist minister had to be present at all marriages and in 1785 the Dutch
precedent was extended to all of Ireland. 27 Connick presents the Church's position as
grounded in the threat posed to the Catholic partner by the proximity to the sinful acts
of the non-Catholic partner.28 Additionally and more pertinent to this article he

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discusses the pressure brought to bear on Catholics to raise their children as


Protestants in Germany throughout the seventeenth century.29 As the House of Lords
Select Committee on the State of Ireland in 1825 above demonstrates, there was
ambiguity on the ground in both the Catholic Church's position as well as the British
government.
The Protestant churches had an evolving and diverse position. Until 1737 under
British law all marriages conducted by a Presbyterian minister were invalid and until
1845 mixed marriages between a Presbyterian and a member of the Church of Ireland
could not be celebrated by a Presbyterian minister.30 Hirst states that in 19th century
Belfast mixed marriages came under increasing pressure from Protestant churches and
the rise of the evangelical movement.31 Elliott says that all churches disliked mixed
marriages.32 For all churches a mixed marriage brought the threat of sin and I would
argue a demographic threat due to the religious affiliation of the children.
The 20th century started with a custom in Ireland for raising children in mixed
marriages; the sons would be raised in their fathers religion and the daughters in their
mothers. Certainly there were tensions. Mixed marriages were often suppressed by
both the churches and the British state but they did exist. This was all about to change
with the promulgation of Ne Temere and the political campaign launched by
Protestants against it. Ne Temere represented a new and robust approach by the
Catholic Church towards mixed marriages and the raising of children within them. On
the 19 April 1908 Pope Pius X promulgated the Papal Decree of Ne Temere. It
effectively undermined the possibilities of marriage between a Catholic and nonCatholic. Ne Temere was a hardening of the Catholic Church's previously ambiguous
stance on mixed marriages that cancelled the compromise position of the Dutch
precedent, which had allowed for mixed marriages in some areas. 33 The Ne Temere
Decree stated that the only valid marriage was one before a Catholic priest and the
couple could only be married on the understanding that the following conditions
would be met. There would be no interference in the religion of the Catholic partner
and the Catholic partner would do everything they could to convert the non-Catholic
partner both before and after the ceremony. They would not present themselves to the
minister of another religion and most onerously for the custom all children must be
raised Catholic.34
The most contentious issue was the religion of the children. Ne Temere led to the
'promise', a requirement before marriage that the non-Catholic partner agree to the
children being raised Catholic. This undermined the custom of raising sons in their
fathers religion and daughters in the religion of their mothers. Ne Temere posed an
existential threat to the Protestant community. There is a debate about whether this
requirement was created with Ne Temere or pre-dates it. Lee suggests that it dates
from the 18th Century" although the promise to raise the children as Catholic was not
sought in Ireland35 until Ne Temere. As the Catholic Bishop Doyle of Kildare and
Leighlin at the Select Committee of 1825 illustrates, in the case of mixed marriages
he only advises that the children be brought up Catholic.36 It was with the introduction
of Ne Temere that the promise was always sought. Edwards himself a product of a
mixed marriage saw Ne Temere as a formula to prevent mixed marriages a
proclamation of religious apartheid.37 Prior to Ne Temere and the ensuing Protestant
reaction mixed marriages could be performed with some difficulty in both partners
churches and the couple could devise their own strategy for their children's religious
affiliation. With the advent of Ne Temere a couple had to choose only one church,
which often resulted in the excommunication of one partner from their church and the
loss of their community and family support network. In a place where the majority

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were Catholic and in a time before individual career structures that would have
enabled a mixed marriage family to survive without the need for community support,
the effect of Ne Temere was to force mixed marriages into the Catholic fold. The long
term survival of the Protestant community relied on the perpetuation of its religion
and traditions through the generations.
Ne Temere did not end the custom on its own, it was part of a composite effect.
The decree needs to be placed in the context of early 20th century Ireland and Britain.
The start of the century was a tumultuous time, Britain was in the throes of a working
class uprising and the movement for Irish Home Rule, which sought to repeal Act of
Union 1800, had gained momentum. Ne Temere became a battle cry for Protestants
fearful of Home Rule and their future in Catholic-dominated Ireland. It was this
reaction that solidified opposition to Home Rule amongst Protestants and led to a
scare campaign against mixed marriages leading to the end of the custom.
The first two years following the promulgation of Ne Temere saw its criticism by
the Church of Ireland Synod of Bishops 38, but apart from a few condemnations it
generally went unnoticed. It was the McCann case that brought Ne Temere notoriety
in Ireland. Over the course of 1910 and 1911 a domestic dispute in a mixed marriage
family went from the home to public meetings and all the way to Parliament. There
are two accounts of what transpired one Catholic and the other Protestant. Beyond
dispute is that there was a Catholic husband Alexander McCann and his Presbyterian
wife Agnes, who had married before Ne Temere. Whether they followed the custom
of raising sons in their fathers religion and daughters in their mothers is not
indicated. According to the Protestant side the couple had agreed that husband and
wife would attend their respective churches. The major protagonist was the chief
advisor and spokesman for Mrs McCann, the minister in her Townsend Street
Presbyterian Church, William Corkey.39 It is at this point the two accounts diverge.
According to William Corkey in October 1910 a priest visited the McCann home and
informed them that they were not properly married and living in sin. He said that in
order to rectify the situation a Catholic priest should marry them and she should make
the promise to raise the children as Catholic. She refused and three days later Mr
McCann took the children, the furniture and left. Lost and adrift she went to her
church where her Pastor William Corkey took up her case. 40 The Catholic account
tells a different story of a troubled family life, where Agnes degraded her husbands
religion and told of their many short term separations. Tellingly the Catholic side
asked Corkey to produce the name of the priest who declared the couple to be living
in sin which he could not do. Corkey produces a number of letters purporting to be
between the couple attesting to the happiness of their marriage. 41 Although I have only
dealt briefly with the Catholic side it is not my intent to engage in the debate over
which account is closer to the truth. For the purpose of this article it is the effect of the
Protestant reaction that is most relevant. It was the Protestant leaders who used Ne
Temere to dissuade their youth from mixed marriages as it was they who felt the
proselytising and existential threat of Ne Temere.
Corkey spoke at meetings and protests in Belfast, Edinburgh and Dublin using the
language of sectarianism, tapping into the critical junctures in British anti-Papery. He
calls the priest who supposedly visited the McCann's the spokesman for Rome 42, he
quotes Rev Dr Irwin "The claim of that Church always has been to control the
individual, the home, the school, the nation",43 Rev Dr. Murphy of Cork said they
have been "robbed of their peace and happiness by a foreign and self-constituted
despotism".44 Corkey says Mrs. McCann inherited from her ancestors in Scotland .....
an incurably stiff back that absolutely refused to bend before the power of Rome.45

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The Belfast meeting at the Assembly Hall in January 1911 was packed and
passed the following resolutions: Ne Temere was in direct conflict with the law of
the land; was unscriptural; cruel, offensive and insulting to all Protestant
denominations and will increase the "cleavage between Catholic and Protestant in
Ireland.46 The most telling of these implied an assault on the sovereignty of the UK.
Using the language of anti-Papery they sought to raise a call over Britain that Ne
Temere was an imposition from a foreign head of state undermining British
sovereignty. Corkey sought to make Ne Temere and the defence of Mrs. McCann a
question of British pride by pointing to Germany where the decree was not
promulgated.47 Lee sees the Protestant reaction as appealing to xenophobia and
empire loyalism.48 This is not to suggest that the opposition of the Presbyterians was
unfounded as Ne Temere posed a threat to their church; additionally the issue of
marital invalidity was emotionally charged as it had only been 65 years since
Presbyterian ministers had been legally allowed to perform mixed marriages.49
The case of Mrs McCann was taken to Westminster, where it was raised in the
House of Lords by the Earl of Donoughmore 50 and in the House of Commons by the
Unionist member for Dublin J. H. Campbell.51 He was countered in Parliament by a
Catholic member Mr. Devlin, who said a political campaign had been launched
around Mrs McCann.52 Meetings were organised across Ireland, in Dublin, in
Scotland and London53, where they heard that Mrs McCann's was not an isolated case.
According to Corkey there had been two cases in County Down 54 and a meeting in
Dublin was told of other cases.55 At the annual meeting of the Clogher Diocesan
Synod in Clones in 1912 Bishop Day, whilst less inflammatory than Reverend
Corkey, said Protestants feared that Home Rule would lead to rule by the Vatican and
Ne Temere would be made into law.56 The Protestant General Synod heard a speech
by the M.P. J. H. Campbell in 1911 that described Ne Temere as a form of
proselytising where Protestant women were forced to leave their religion "on penalty
of losing their homes and tender infants" and for Protestant men "to win their bride by
forfeiting their faith."57 A campaign with the 'despotic' Ne Temere as its rallying call
was launched that played on Protestant fears of a takeover by Rome.
Politically Ne Temere and the McCann case worked in combination to polarise
opinion and widen division. Ne Temere featured in the 1912 Presbyterian declaration
against Home Rule58 and for Presbyterian historian John Barkley it was the final nail
in the coffin of Presbyterian support for home rule." 59 Dr D'Arcy, the Protestant
Bishop of Down, said that Ne Temere is at this moment a burning question. Under
home rule it would create a conflagration"60. The archbishop of Dublin, Joseph
Peacocke, spoke out against Ne Temere using the language of British nationalism. 61
Scholes states that all levels of the Church of Ireland opposed Ne Temere. 62 Later
commentators such as de Paor see the application of Ne Temere as a cause of alarm
for Protestants in the lead up to Home Rule and partition. 63 For Elliott Ne Temere was
the major reason for the heightening of religious tension as partition approached 64 and
for Roberts Protestant fears were exacerbated by Ne Temere.65
J. J. Lee says the case was skillfully exploited by unionist propagandists 66
garnering support against Home Rule. The movement was started in support of Mrs
McCann, to recover her children and ended with her still bereft of them. 67 The British
government refused to intervene in the McCann case arguing that the matter was a
civil one. In the House of Commons the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Birrell, argued
that Mrs. McCann's advisors stood condemned for not following the simple procedure
of an application to the Court of Chancery; instead they used the case to whip up
feeling against Home Rule.68 Sir Walter Nugent M.P. said the opponents of Home

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Rule had twisted the Papal decree69. The Anglo-Celt newspaper argued that the
campaign around Ne Temere was about unseating Mr Devlin, the Catholic M.P. from
West Belfast.70 The Vatican regarded the Protestant reaction in Ireland as a "political
manoeuvre started during the last elections and subsequently continued for the
purpose of affecting the question of home rule". 71 For Lee the Protestant reaction is a
form of moral panic and suggests the possibility that the Protestant reaction created a
self fulfilling prophecy.72
Mrs. McCann's plight was used to stir emotions against Home Rule and led to the
decline of the Irish custom of raising sons in their fathers religion and daughters in
their mothers. The McCann case was used by the Protestant clergy and parents as a
forewarning to their children not to enter into a mixed marriage. Corkey says "Many
of the Protestant clergy brought the facts to the notice of their congregations, warning
their young people not to get involved in mixed marriages on account of the terms of
the 'Ne Temere' decree".73 Lee in his commentary on Ne Temere says that Mrs.
McCann was used by Protestant parents as a cautionary tale of the pitfalls awaiting if
they became involved with a Catholic.74 From the creation of the Republic, Protestant
youth were advised to avoid dance-halls and cinemas on public holidays as the first
step on the road to a mixed marriage and the dreaded consequence of capitulation to
Rome.75 Pratt says Ne Temere was the reason that Protestant parents went to
'extraordinary lengths' to prevent their children from meeting a Catholic. 76 The 1948
Anglican Lambeth Conference warned against mixed marriages telling their
congregation that the promise to raise their children as Catholic was sinful. 77 In May
1957 there was a major conflagration in Fethard-on-sea when the Protestant mother in
a mixed marriage absconded with her children after a dispute over whether the
children would go to a Catholic or Protestant school. Tensions escalated rapidly when
Protestant businesses were boycotted and even the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) amon
de Valera became involved calling for both an end to the boycott and for the mother to
return to her husband and home.78
For Protestants in the Republic, mixed marriages posed an existential threat, the
possibility of demographic annihilation. From Home Rule until the 1990s the
Protestant proportion of the population in the Republic of Ireland had been
decreasing.79 O'Connor,80 Liechty81 and Gillmor82 all cite Ne Temere as a contributory
factor, as nearly all the children of mixed marriages were raised Catholic. 83 In 1951
Archbishop Gregg, the leader of the Anglican Church of Ireland, described mixed
marriage as a grave injury to our church84 constituting a threat to the survival of the
Protestant church in the Republic. If the custom had survived, mixed marriages would
have posed a negligible threat to the ongoing existence of the Protestant community.
Given that nearly all children of mixed marriages were raised Catholic serves to
indicate that the custom of raising sons in their fathers religion and daughters in their
mothers had all but died out.
The link between the Catholic churchs position on mixed marriages and their
frequency can be seen by their rise during the 1960s and 1970s 85 and the stabilisation
in the rate of adult conversion to Catholicism. This coincided with the Second Vatican
Council of 1966 that published new rules relating to mixed marriages in the document
Matriimonii Sacramentorum.86 Part of the changes allowed couples to exchange vows
on the main altar where previously they had been forced on to a side altar. 87 In 1970
Matriimonii Mixta relaxed the rules on the venue for a mixed marriage 88. From the
1970s there has been a rise in mixed marriages 89 leading into the 1980s where two in
every five Protestant marriages were with a Catholic. 90 With the decline in religiosity
by 2002, nearly half of all marriages involving a member of a minority community

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were mixed.91
In Northern Ireland the picture is slightly different as Catholics and Protestants are
closer to demographic equality. Still Rev Dr. Ian Paisley believes that mixed
marriages are an attempt to ensnare Protestant women. 92 Post Vatican II has seen the
creation of the Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association that works to support
couples in mixed marriages and to help influence the decision of governments and
church bodies.93 By the early 1970s in the diocese of Down and Connor, mixed
marriages accounted for 25% of marriages94 and although this figure fluctuated
throughout the troubles it did not go into absolute decline. The authors of the study
suggest that there has been a change in the pattern of relationships overtime, an
increase in civil marriages and cohabitation. A study by Robinson comparing 1989
and 1998 showed that there had been an increase in rates of mixed marriage and its
acceptability.95
In both the Republic and Northern Ireland there has been an increase in mixed
marriages since the relaxation of Ne Temere and the decline in religiosity. The
question then arises about the religious affiliation of the children that have resulted
from the increase in mixed marriages since the 1960s. O'Leary and Finnas in their
study looking at minority communities in Finland and Ireland arrive at a complex
conclusion. Although there is a tendency for the children to follow the religion of their
mothers96 it is complicated by social status. In the Republic of Ireland Protestants
generally have a higher socio-economic status where wealthier Protestant families
tend to marry within the group. If they marry outside the children will often go to
Protestant schools, engaging with the Protestant community in order to receive the
advantage that the community offers due to its wealth. Amongst poorer Protestants in
mixed marriages the tendency is to assimilate bringing the children up Catholic.
Therefore in a situation where the rules on mixed marriage are relaxed and the
minority community is disproportionately wealthy there is a drift towards the
minority. The study suggests that mixed marriages pose no threat for wealthy minority
communities. Looking at mixed marriages in multi-ethnic Mauritius, Eriksen sees the
decoupling of employment and material success from the family and community
combined with the decrease in religiosity as leading to the success of mixed
marriages.97 O'Leary and Finnas's study suggests through omission that the custom of
raising the sons in the religion of their fathers and daughters in their mothers no
longer exists. The relaxation of religious sanctions on mixed marriages and the
religion of the children had led to parents making their own pragmatic choices.
The impact of the McCann case and Ne Temere were not confined to Ireland. They
quickly reverberated to Australia where in Adelaide in July 1911 a demonstration of
3,500 people protested against the decree.98 In Sydney a demonstration demanded
government intervention99 whilst in Melbourne the Assembly of the Presbyterian
Church of Victoria passed a motion condemning the decree and cited the McCann
case.100 Archbishop Clarke made a pronouncement on the dangers of Ne Temere for
sovereignty, at another meeting the Protestant Alliance heard Mr. Snowball M.L.A.
condemn Ne Temere and the McCann case whilst at St. Mary's Cathedral the
Reverend Father O'Reilly said the outcry against Ne Temere paled into comparison
with problems posed to marriage by allowing divorce 101 and in Launceston the
Anglican Synod discussed Ne Temere and the McCann case.102
It is not the contention of this article that mixed marriages are a route to communal
peace; both Bosnia and Rwanda had significant intermarriage as well as significant
strife.103 Harris in her mid 20th century study of the people in a small town in
Northern Ireland named Ballybeg, suggested that it bridged no gaps. 104 Conversely,

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members of the Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association, NIMMA, suggest it


provides an opportunity for more understanding of the position of the other and
therefore less blind hatred and perhaps a loss of fear of each other. 105 The children of
these unions exhibit double-belonging and contribute to a long-term lessening of the
tension between the communities.106 For Edwards himself a product of mixed
marriage it is the key to any resolution of a segregated society". 107 Whilst there may
be an argument that mixed marriages lead to peace, this is not the contention of this
article. There was a time in Ireland when a custom existed that allowed people to fall
in love across the religious divide. This article has charted how the promulgation of
Ne Temere and the Protestant reaction in the heightened political atmosphere of early
20th century Ireland resulted in the end of the custom.
This article's contention is that in the 18th and 19th century there existed an Irish
custom for the religious affiliation of the children in mixed marriages, the sons would
follow the religion of their fathers and the daughters follow that of their mothers.
Before the 1908 Papal decree of Ne Temere this custom allowed individuals to make
peace, to marry across the line and perpetuate two traditions. Ne Temere undermined
this custom by declaring that all children must be raised Catholic. In the heightened
political environment of early 20th century Ireland this led to a Protestant backlash
famously built around the McCann case. This resulted in Protestant parents and
community leaders warning their youth of the dangers posed by mixed marriages.
When the Vatican relaxed the rules relating to mixed marriages and the children's
religion, the rate of mixed marriages recovered but the custom did not. This article has
sought to make the case that there was a custom in Ireland that allowed for individuals
to fall in love and marry across the religious divide. This custom was a pragmatic
compromise that allowed for the perpetuation of two religions and removed the
existential threat of mixed marriages. This custom was undermined by the Papal
decree of Ne Temere and the Protestant backlash.
Endnotes

Bibliography
Akenson, Donald H., Small Differences: Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants 18151922, Kingston: McGills Queens University Press, 1988
Bielenberg, Christabel, The Road Ahead, London: Bantam Press, 1992
Connick, Alfred J., Canonical Doctrine concerning Mixed Marriages - Before Trent
and during the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries, in The Jurist, vol. 20,
1960
Corkey, William, Glad I did live : memoirs of a long life, Belfast: Belfast NewsLetter, 1962
Corkey, William, The McCann Mixed marriage case, Edinburgh: The Knox Club,
1912
De Paor, Liam, Divided Ulster, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971

p10

Edwards, Owen Dudley, The Sins of Our Fathers: Roots of Conflict in Northern
Ireland, Dublin: Gill and MacMillian, 1970
Elliott, Marianne, When God Took Sides: Religion and Identity in Ireland Unfinished History, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009
Eriksen, Thomas H. Ethnicity, change and mixed marriages in Mauritius in
Vermeulen, H. and Govers, C. (eds), The Politics of Ethnic Consciousness, London:
Macmillan, 1997
Gillmor, Desmond A., Changing religions in the Republic of Ireland, 1991-2002,
Dublin: Department of Geography, Trinity College, 2010
Harris, Rosemary, Prejudice and tolerance in Ulster - A study of neighbours and
'strangers' in a border community, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1972
Hirst, Catherine, Religion, politics and violence in nineteenth-century Belfast: The
Pound and Sandy Row, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2002
Kang, Gay E., Exogamy and Peace Relations of Social Units: A Cross-Cultural
Test in Ethnology, vol. 18, no. 1, 1979
Knox, Colin & Quirk, Padraic, Peace Building in Northern Ireland, Israel and South
Africa Transition, Transformation and Reconciliation, New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2000
Lee, Joseph. J.,Ireland, 1912-1985: politics and society, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1989
Lee, Raymond, Intermarriage, Conflict and Social Control in Ireland: the Decree Ne
Temere, The Economic and Social Review, vol. 17, no. 1, 1985
Liechty, Joseph, Roots of Sectarianism in Ireland: Chronology and Reflections,
Belfast: Lietchy, 1993
Morgan, Marjorie, National identities and travel in Victorian Britain, Basingstoke and
New York: Palgrave, 2001
Morgan,Valerie, Smyth, Marie, Robinson, Gillian and Fraser, Grace, Mixed
Marriages in Northern Ireland, Coleraine: University of Ulster, 1996
Morrissey, Thomas J., Where two traditions meet : John Sullivan, SJ, 1861-1933,
Blackrock: Columba Press, 2009
O'Brien, Conor Cruise, The Great Melody, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press,
1992
O'Connor, Catherine, Mixed marriage, a grave injury to our church: An account of
the 1957 Fethard-on-Sea Boycott in History of the Family, no 13, 2008

p11

O' Leary, Ricahrd & Finnas, Fjalar, Choosing for the Children: The Affiliation of the
Children of MinorityMajority Group Intermarriages in European Sociological
Review, vol. 19, no. 5, 2003
O' Leary, Richard, Change in the Rate and Pattern of Religious Intermarriage in the
Republic of Ireland in The Economic and Social Review, vol. 30, no. 2, 1999
O'Leary, Richard, Modernization and religious intermarriage in the Republic of
Ireland in British Journal of Sociology, vol. 52, no. 4, 2001
O'Sullivan, M., Great Britain., The evidence of the Rev. Mortimer O'Sullivan before
the Select Committees of the House of Lords and Commons on the state of Ireland.
Dublin: W. Curry, 1825
Reaves, Jayme, Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association, 2008, emailed to me
by Paul McLaughlin from NIMMA nimma@nireland.com
Robinson, Gillian, Cross-Community Marriage in Northern Ireland, Belfast: Centre
for Social Research, 1992
Saint-Paul, Gilles, Genes, Legitimacy and Hypergamy: Another Look at the
Economics of Marriage, CEPR Discussion Paper, Toulouse School of Economics and
Birkbeck College, May 5, 2008
Scholes, Andrew, The Church of Ireland and the Third Home Rule Bill, Dublin: Irish
Academic Press, 2010

p12

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Owen Dudley Edwards, The Sins of Our Fathers: Roots of Conflict in Northern Ireland, Dublin: Gill and
MacMillian, 1970, p. 190.
Gilles Saint-Paul, `Genes, Legitimacy and Hypergamy: Another Look at the Economics of Marriage', CEPR
Discussion Paper, Toulouse School of Economics and Birkbeck College , May 5, 2008.
Edwards, p. 190.
Ibid.
Raymond Lee, `Intermarriage, Conflict and Social Control in Ireland: the Decree Ne Temere', Economic and Social
Review, vol. 17, no.1., 1985, p. 15.
Hans Mol, `Mixed Marriages in Australia', Journal of Marriage and Family, vol. 32, no. 2., 1970, p. 298.
Conor Cruise O'Brien, The Great Melody, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992, pp. 1-12.
Thomas J Morrissey, Where two traditions meet : John Sullivan, SJ, 1861-1933, Blackrock: Columba Press, 2009, p.
16.
Marjorie Morgan, National identities and travel in Victorian Britain, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave, 2001, p.
224.
The South Australian Advertiser, 2 August 1884, p. 1.
Mortimer O'Sullivan and Great Britain, The evidence of the Rev. Mortimer O'Sullivan before the Select Committees
of the House of Lords and Commons on the state of Ireland, Dublin: W. Curry, 1825, p 23.
Donald Harman Akenson, Small Differences: Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants 1815-1922, Kingston: McGills
Queens University Press, 1988, p. 114 & Liam De Paor, Divided Ulster, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971, p. 144.
De Paor, p. 114.
Catherine Hirst, Religion, politics and violence in nineteenth-century Belfast: The Pound and Sandy Row, Dublin:
Four Courts Press, 2002, p. 39.
Gippsland Times, 23 August 1873, p. 3.
House of Lords Select committee on the State of Ireland in 1825, p. 425 quoted in Lee, `Intermarriage', p. 13.
House of Lords Select committee on the State of Ireland in 1825, quoted in Lee, `Intermarriage', p. 13.
House of Lords Select committee on the State of Ireland in 1825, quoted in Lee, `Intermarriage', p. 14.
First report from the Select Committee on the State of Ireland, London, 1825, p. 113.
William Edward Hartpole Lecky, A history of Ireland in the eighteenth century, Longmans, Green and Co.:London,
1892, pp. 386-394.
Lee, `Intermarriage', p. 14.
Ibid., p. 30.
Ibid., p. 13.
Alfred J. Connick, `Canonical Doctrine concerning Mixed Marriages - Before Trent and during the Seventeenth and
Early Eighteenth Centuries', The Jurist, vol. 20, 1960, p. 297.
Connick, p. 299.
Lee, `Intermarriage', p. 12 & Akenson, p. 112.
Akenson, p. 113.
Connick, p. 399.
Connick, p. 404.
Lee, `Intermarriage', p. 18.
Hirst, p. 39.
Marianne Elliott, When God Took Sides: Religion and Identity in Ireland - Unfinished History, Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2009, pp. 136-7.
Akenson, p. 112.
Akenson, p. 113.
Lee, `Intermarriage', p. 14.
House of Lords Select committee on the State of Ireland in 1825, quoted in Lee, `Intermarriage`, p. 14.
Edwards, pp. 192-3.
Lee, `Intermarriage', p. 16.
William Corkey, The McCann Mixed marriage case, Edinburgh: The Knox Club, 1912 & William Corkey, Glad I
did live : memoirs of a long life, Belfast: Belfast News-Letter, 1962, p. 16.

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Corkey, Glad Did I Live & Corkey, The McCann Mixed Marriage Case.
Corkey, McCann Mixed Marriage Case, pp. 19-23.
Corkey, Glad Did I Live, p. 152.
Corkey, Glad Did I Live, p. 154.
Corkey, Glad Did I Live, p. 163.
Corkey, McCann Mixed Marriage Case, p. 5.
Corkey, Glad Did I Live, p. 158.
Corkey, McCann Mixed Marriage Case, p. 16.
Lee, `Intermarriage', p. 19.
Ibid., p. 18.
The Guardian, 1 March 1911, p. 8.
The Guardian, 8 Febuary 1911, p. 8.
Corkey, McCann Mixed Marriage Case, p. 9.
Lee, `Intermarriage', p. 17 & Corkey, McCann Mixed Marriage Case
Corkey, Glad Did I Live, p. 160.
Corkey, Glad Did I Live, p. 162.
Anglo-Celt, October 12th, 1912, p. 10.
Freemans Journal, 26 April 1911, p. 4.
Elliott, p. 139.
Joseph Liechty, Roots of Sectarianism in Ireland: Chronology and Reflections, Belfast: Lietchy, 1993, p. 37.
Joseph. J. Lee, Ireland, 1912-1985: politics and society, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 11.
Andrew Scholes, The Church of Ireland and the Third Home Rule Bill, Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2010, pp. 1920.
Ibid., p. 20.
De Paor, p. 145.
Elliott, p. 138.
David A. Roberts, `The Orange Order in Ireland: A Religious Institution?', The British Journal of Sociology, vol. 22,
no. 3, 1971, p. 275.
Lee, Ireland, p. 11.
Lee, `Intermarriage', p. 23.
Ibid., p. 23.
Irish Independent, 2 Jan 1912, p. 5.
Anglo-Celt, 26 Apr 1913, p. 8.
Freemans Journal, 4 Feb 1911, p. 7.
Lee, `Intermarriage', p. 17.
Corkey, Glad Did I Live, p. 155.
Lee, `Intermarriage', p. 25.
quoted from Dean Victor Griffin, in Colin Murphy and Lynne Adair (eds), Untold Stories: Protestants in the
Republic of Ireland, 1922-2002 Dublin, 2002, p. 97 in Elliott p. 229.
Pratt, p. 181 quoted in O'Connor, p. 181.
Catherine O'Connor, `Mixed marriage, a grave injury to our church: An account of the 1957 Fethard-on-Sea
Boycott', History of the Family, no. 13, 2008, p. 396.
Ibid., p. 398.
Desmond A. Gillmor, Changing religions in the Republic of Ireland, 1991-2002, Dublin: Department of Geography,
Trinity College, 2010, p. 112.
O'Connor, p. 395.
Liechty, p. 38.
Gillmor, p. 123.
Ibid.
O'Connor, p. 395.

85

Richard O' Leary, `Change in the Rate and Pattern of Religious Intermarriage in the Republic of Ireland', Economic
and Social Review, vol. 30, no. 2, 1999, p. 128.
86
Ibid., p. 131.
87
S. McHugh, `Not in front of the altar - Mixed marriages and sectarian tensions between Catholics and Protestants in
pre-multicultural Australia', History Australia, 2009, vol. 6, no. 2, 2009, p. 42.13.
88
O'Leary, `Change in the Rate and Pattern', p. 131.
89
Gillmor, p. 123.
90
O'Leary, `Change in the Rate and Pattern', p. 128.
91
Gillmor, p. 124.
92
Edwards, p. 194.
93
Jayme Reaves, Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association, 2008, emailed to me by Paul McLaughlin from
NIMMA nimma@nireland.com
94
Valerie Morgan, Marie Smyth, Gillian Robinson and Grace Fraser, Mixed Marriages in Northern Ireland, Coleraine:
University of Ulster, 1996
95
`Mixed marriages 'more acceptable'', http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/1677447.stm, viewed 21
July 2011
96
Richard O' Leary and Fjalar Finnas, `Choosing for the Children: The Affiliation of the Children of Minority
Majority Group Intermarriages', European Sociological Review, vol. 19, no. 5, Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2003, p. 495.
97
T. H. Eriksen, `Ethnicity, change and mixed marriages in Mauritius`, in Vermeulen, H. and Govers, C. (eds), The
Politics of Ethnic Consciousness, London: Macmillan, 1997
98
The West Australian, 3 July 1911, p. 8.
99
The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 July 1911, p. 7.
100
The West Australian, 26 May 1911, p. 5.
101
The West Australian, 29 May 1911, p. 5.
102
The Mercury, 5 May 1911, p. 6.
103
Reaves, NIMMA, p. 5.
104
Rosemary Harris, Prejudice and tolerance in Ulster - A study of neighbours and 'strangers' in a border community,
Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1972, p. 143.
105
Anne and William Odling-Smee, `Interchurch Marriage in Ireland`, pamphlet 7, Belfast: Catalyst, 2001, quoted in
Reaves, NIMMA, p. 4.
106
Odling-Smee, `Interchurch Marriage in Ireland', quoted in Reaves, NIMMA, p. 5.
107
Edwards, p. 193.