The rise in the number of civil marriages in Ireland is a sure sign of the rise of secularism in Ireland as well. According to the latest CSO figures, in 2009 no less than 29pc of weddings conducted in the State were civil weddings. That was up 17pc on the year before.
There was huge regional variation. In Dublin City for example, the total rose to 47pc and in Donegal it was just 10pc.
So it is fair to say that Dublin City is the most secular part of the country by far, especially when we take into account that fact that in the Archdiocese of Dublin, Mass attendance is just 15pc versus 35pc or so nationally (including Dublin).
In Dublin as a whole, both county and city, 39pc of marriages in 2009 were civil marriages.
Several factors are driving up the number of civil marriages. One is divorce. Divorced people cannot remarry in the Catholic Church.
Among people getting married for the first time the percentage of civil marriages declines from 29pc to 21pc.
A second, bigger factor is a change in the law which gave couples a wider choice for their wedding ceremony than either a church or a very impersonal , unromantic registry office. Couples can now choose from a whole range of venues, typically hotels, and the hotels often market themselves aggressively.
While this is a big driver of the change, it still wouldn’t be happening without the third factor, namely secularism because if a couple was genuinely religious they would still opt for a church wedding over a civil wedding in a hotel.
In Britain a majority of weddings are now civil ceremonies. It’ll be a while before we get there, but if the rest of the country follows Dublin’s lead – which it often does – we’ll get there eventually.