Knock Marriage Bureau hangs up its Cupid’s arrow for the last time

Bureau set up in 1968 to introduce couples to each other

The bureau was based at the Knock shrine in Co Mayo. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

The bureau was based at the Knock shrine in Co Mayo. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

After 50 years, and claiming credit for almost 1,000 unions, the Knock Marriage Bureau has announced that it has played Cupid for the last time.

The service, more recently known as Knock Marriage Introductions, was set up in 1968 with the aim of introducing couples to each other, many of whom went on to become husband and wife. It claims to have been responsible for 960 marriages over the course of its existence.

Fr Stephen Farragher, who is director of Knock Marriage Introductions and a priest in the Tuam archdiocese, said there has been a “noticeable decline in the demand for the service offered by Knock Marriage Introductions, to the point that it is no longer viable to run the service”.

Fr Farragher told The Irish Times that the running costs of the service were between €40,000 and €50,000 per year, but it was only generating a fraction of that in income from annual subscribers, who paid €200 per year. He also said there were increasing bureaucratic hurdles to be cleared that didn’t exist when the service was established.

“You’re into the whole area of data and regulation, we were also advised that we would have a duty of care, if we introduced someone who was abusive, to what extent would we have to cover them.”

The bureau was established by Fr Michael Keane to “attract young women to the west of Ireland from America, England and Dublin and introduce them to the bachelors in five Connacht counties where men outnumber women by two to one”, according to press reports at the time of its launch.

Divorced or separated people were not allowed to use the service, although Fr Keane, who died in 2011 aged 86, felt this should be changed. It was not the only time he clashed with Catholic Church hierarchy, picketing a meeting of church leaders in 1986 demanding a greater say for the laity. He also wrote letters criticising aspects of church teaching on abortion, and supported the ordination of women and allowing priests to marry.

Husband and wife

Fr Farragher said the decision to close the service was done “with heavy hearts, but happy in the knowledge that at least for 960 couples, it played a part in helping them to become husband and wife.”

In 2000, the bureau was already feeling the pinch from online competitors, with Fr Keane telling The Irish Times dating agencies were “exploiting” young couples with charges of up to £1,000, compared to the Knock fee of £60 for an introduction.

The following year, he said that numbers using the service were increasing despite competition. “We’re not on the internet but the bureau may have its own website later in the year with the help of two computer programmers whom we recently introduced to one another,” said Fr Keane.