Traveller group rejects priest’s claim on young or arranged marriage

Director of Irish Traveller Movement says it is not custom for Travellers to get married as teenagers

It was not the custom for Travellers to get married as teenagers and the vast majority chose their own life partners, the director of the Irish Traveller Movement has said. Brigid Quilligan, a member of the Traveller community, was reacting to recent claims that there remained a widespread tradition of arranged marriages and marrying very young among Travellers.

“There may be a tiny number of these types of marriages in the community. I myself would be against very young marriages or arranged marriages and I think that would be the opinion of most Travellers. It puts enormous pressure on the young couple and especially on the young woman, but what individual people choose to do in any community, within their own families, is a matter for them.”

Ms Quilligan was speaking in the wake of a fatal shooting at a wedding in Co Fermanagh on Wednesday.

The priest who officiated at the wedding of a 17-year-old bride and 16-year-old groom, both of who were Travellers, said on a number of radio programmes yesterday he had conducted “umpteen” Traveller weddings where the couple was very young. Fr Michael Kelly of St Mary’s Church, Newtownbutler, said Travellers held weddings in Northern Ireland as the minimum age for marriage was 16, whereas in the Republic it was 18.


“This is the custom or tradition within the Traveller community – the bride and groom are selected by the grandparents or parents very early on. They are cajoled, I suppose, into marriage under 18.

“Both of them were under 18 . . . It was arranged three or four months ago. I’ve had this conversation with the mothers umpteen times, about how young they get married and how should they not see a wee bit of life before they get married, but it’s a tradition within their culture to get married before they have children . . . So that’s why they rush them into marriage so young.”

However, Ms Quilligan said Fr Kelly’s comments were “absolutely incorrect”. “In some families some may want to get married very young, and some do travel [to the] North to do that, but the vast majority of young Travellers are focused on getting an education and they choose their own partners later in life.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times