‘The first Sunday in Lent is styled “Chalk Sunday” from a custom indulged in by the village belles of Kilkenny, of chalking all over the clothes of inveterate bachelors who have eluded the trammels of Hymen, during the preceding Shrovetide, which season is looked forward to by the unmarried portion of the Irish peasantry as the period of the year in which those who are inclined to commence housekeeping are induced to make up their minds on that important subject ere the commencement of Lent; for during that season all matrimonial transactions are suspended; and those who allow Shrovetide to glide by unheeded generally remain “in maiden mediation fancy free” until that time twelve months, when another opportunity of matrimony is afforded them.
When an unlucky wight of the bachelor genus appears abroad in his Sunday suit on this day, on his way either to or from church, he is sure to be surrounded by a group of mischievious merry maidens each armed with a lump of chalk. Resistance is useless, for if he escapes one party he is certain of being caught by another; until, at last he is striped all over in such a style of vagiegation as might excite the envy of a harlequin. This opperation is intended to mark for the special example of the class to which he voluntarily belongs and to afford amusement to his neighbours.’
Union of Kilrush, Killard, Kilfierard, Moyferta & Kilbarrryhone:
‘Shrove Tuesday is the greatest day in the year for weddings; and Roman Catholic priests are generally occupied in celebration of matrimony from sunrise to midnight. The general fee on this occasion is two guineas and a half, and many thoughtless couples, under the age of sixteen, pay it with cheerfulness, when they have not another penny in their possession. They who do not marry on this day must wait until Easter Monday, on account of the intervening Lent.
The usual desert and supper on Shrove Tuesday is the pancake, small pieces of them rolled up in a stocking, and placed under a lover’s pillow, are found to be very efficacious in producing prophetic dreams to console those who are compelled to defer their matrimonial engagements from Ash Wednesday to Easter-Monday.’
William Shaw Mason, A Statistical Account or Parochial Survey of Ireland ii
‘In the south and west of Ireland marriages amongst the peasantry, with rare exceptions, take place during Shrove-tide.* Many of the people think it would not be lucky to be married at any other time of the year; consequently the priest always, when it was possible, visited the island during Shrove for the purpose of solemnizing any weddings which had been arranged. It, however, sometimes happened that the weather was so stormy for weeks together that no boat could approach the island, so it had been arranged that, when this occurred, the engaged couples should at an appointed hour assemble on the east shore of the island, while the priest, standing on the shore of the mainland opposite to them, read the marriage ceremony across the water. As soon as the storm abated he went to the island and did whatever more was necessary to render the marriages valid in the eye of the law and of the Church.
I cannot vouch for the truth of this, though I heard it from a very trustworthy man. He said the young people were not considered really married till after the visit of the priest; but “that they liked to be, at all events, partly married before Shrove was over.”‘
Seventy Years of Life in Ireland, 1893
*Traditionally the period between Christmas and Shrove Tuesday was known as Shrove-tide throughout Ireland. Generally it was the most popular time to get married, as the Catholic Church refused to sanctify marriages during Lent and Advent, both of which were times of abstinence and devotion, while at other seasons the people were generally too busy with farm-work or fishing to contemplate marriage.
Incidentally William Le Fanu was the bother of the Irish Gothic writer Sheridan Le Fanu.
Rev. R. S. Patterson, Chaplain to Her Majesty’s Forces, Cork, 1889;
‘Although marriage was forbidden from Ash Wednesday to Low Sunday* in Ireland, at one time, the priest of the parish in which the rocky islets, called the Skelligs are situated, used to go out, and perform the ceremony on the Great Skellig after Shrove Tuesday. Accordingly, any couple who wished to get married during Lent started for Valentia, off the coast of which the Skelligs are situated.
This fact gave rise in Cork to the custom of publishing rhyming catalogues of unmarried women and bachelors which were called ” Skellig Lists.” These were printed and sold in immense numbers on Shrove Tuesday. Many of them were rather witty productions, the poetasters endeavouring in the most absurd manner to join the most incongruous pairs together.
The printers’ names were never appended to these lists, and of course an opportunity was sometimes taken of venting personal spite, so that advertisements in the local papers are occasionally to be met with, threatening to indict persons who may be discovered to have taken liberties with the names of the advertiser or his lady friend. The lists of the “Pilgrims to the Skelligs” were called by all manner of names, such as “The Paul Pry Skellig List,” “The Corkscrew Skellig List,” “The Simple Paddy Skellig List,” “The virgins of the Sun Skellig List,” ” The Shrove Tuesday on Spiflicator List,” &c.
The custom reached its height about 1840, but has since gradually died away.’
‘For a fortnight before Shrove Tuesday, the great day of weddings, it is the practice for persons in disguise to run through the streets of Ballymahon, from seven to nine or ten o’clock in the evenings, announcing intended marriages, or giving pretty broad hints for matchmaking, in these words, “Hullo, the Bride – the Bride, A.B to C.D.”&c. ; these jokes sometimes prove true ones.’
William Shaw Mason, A Statistical Account or Parochial Survey of Ireland iii