For the very first time in Northern Ireland, a Pagan church and its priest have received official recognition from the government.

The Order of the Golden River has been in existence in Northern Ireland since 2009. It is headed by Patrick Carberry, who applied to Stormont (the seat of the Northern Irish government) for official recognition five months ago. He took the initiative so that he would legally be able to marry people of his faith.

Read more: St. Brigid - a Pagan goddess turned Christian saint in Ireland

Carberry, who holds the title of Sovereign and Founder of the Order of the Golden River and describes himself as “a traditional Celtic shamanic priest,” told the Belfast Telegraph he was “over the moon” with the official recognition.

“We can now do hand [fastings], which is our official belief, rather than having to have a ceremony outside as we’d prefer and then another in the local registry office,” he said.

Read more: Irish holy wells - Pagan origins, Christian cures

According to the Belfast Telegraph, the Order of the Golden River “aims to further the social acceptance of other belief systems, promote the benefits of holistic treatments, and to assist people suffering from terminal illness.”

Carberry said that the group, many of whose members remain anonymous for fear of ridicule, has received widespread support since receiving the official recognition, including the offer of use of a building in Derry. He added that the group generally uses “ancient stone circles and are involved closely with nature,” for their ceremonies.

The Early Bronze Age stone circles at Beaghmore Co Tyrone at the eastern edge of the Sperrins are sometimes a site of Pagan ceremonies.Robert Ashby/Creative Commons