Irish Genealogy expert Fiona Fitzsimons explains Irish Marriage Licence Bonds.

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Eneclann’s Irish Genealogy expert Fiona Fitzsimons explains Irish Marriage Licence Bonds.

By the 17th century marriage was fairly well defined, but there were still many ways of entering into it. For persons of property it involved a series of distinct steps.

The first was a written legal contract between the two parties about any financial arrangements between the bride and groom and their families.

The second was the espousals, a formal exchange of vows before witnesses.

The third step was the public proclamation, by banns or by licence. The purpose of marriage banns and marriage licences, was to protect the church from being sued, if any marriage should later be proven invalid because of pre-contract, or consanguinity.

The fourth step was the wedding in church.

The fifth and final step was sexual consummation of the marriage.

In Ireland by the 18th Century Protestants of any substance were usually married by a marriage licence bond issued by the consistorial court of the diocese. This is true of all religious denominations with the possible exception of Quakers, for rural and urban dwellers right up to the second half of the 19th Century.

It is true however that in the 17th and 18th centuries when the Penal Laws were in place, many Quakers, particularly those with property, also married by licence within the Established Church, to secure succession / inheritance rights for any children of the marriage.


The marriage licence bond was issued ahead of the marriage by the Established Church as an alternative to the public proclamation of banns in church. A marriage licence was a popular alternative to banns, as it guaranteed the bride and groom a greater measure of privacy. Unfortunately, almost all original marriage licences for the Irish dioceses were destroyed in 1922, however, index books for most of the Irish dioceses survive and can be consulted in the National Archives of Ireland.

Marriage Licence bonds for some of the Irish dioceses can be found online here:

Clonfert Marriage Bonds 1663-1857

Raphoe Marriage Licence Bonds 1710-55 and 1817-30

Cloyne Marriage Licence Bonds 1630-1800

Reference: Stone, Laurence (1979) The Family, Sex and Marriage, London pp. 30-31.

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