Marriage rate between Catholics and Protestants under 1% in 1911

New study finds that mixed marriages were vert rare prior to first World War

The authors of the study on mixed-marriage patterns in Ireland 100 years ago say they could have been used to anticipate future violence and civil conflict

The authors of a new study of mixed-marriage patterns between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland 100 years ago have said they could have been used to anticipate future violence and civil conflict on the island.

They also believe similar analyses, if applied to the Balkans or the Middle East, “would be illuminating and represent a worthy topic for future research”.

Their study found mixed marriages in Ireland were comparatively rare prior to the first World War, particularly in Ulster. Using the digitised returns of the 1911 population census, it established that mixed marriages on the island then amounted to less than 1 per cent of the total.

"This low number reflects local marriage market conditions, as well as ethno- religious hostility," said Dr Alan Fernihough of Queen's University Belfast.


Census digitisation

He, with professors Cormac Ó Gráda and

Brendan Walsh

of UCD, prepared the study,

Intermarriage in a D

ivided S

ociety: Ireland a C

entury A


, following the digitisation of the 1911 census.

“These data allow us to look at every married couple in 1911 Ireland and pinpoint every declared mixed marriage. This is ‘big data’ meeting economic history,” Dr Fernihough said.

The study established that in 1911 Protestants outside Ulster had fewer opportunities to meet a partner of their religion and thus were more likely to compensate by marrying out. "The opposite was true in Ulster, a result with far-reaching consequences, just at a time when competing Orange and green nationalisms began to heighten fears and tensions and resulted in violent spillovers," Dr Fernihough said.

The study found the intensity of sectarian feelings and actions varied across the island in 1911, as it would during the Troubles, and may have influenced the frequency of intermarriage.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times