By Sarah Mac Donald - 18 May, 2019
Despite playing a pivotal part in bringing about 960 marriages, Knock Marriage Introductions is being wound down after 51 years.
On Friday the surprise announcement was made by the current director of the Catholic dating service, Fr Stephen Farragher.
Fr Farragher said Knock Marriage Introductions, based at Knock Shrine, Co Mayo, had seen a noticeable decline in the demand in recent years to the point where it was no longer viable to run the service.
The Ballyhaunis priest explained that the money generated by annual subscriptions from clients using the service had to be supplemented in recent years by donations from dioceses around Ireland.
“Obviously this is not sustainable long term,” the board of directors said in a statement explaining its decision to shut the agency.
“We do so with heavy hearts, but happy in the knowledge that at least for 960 couples, it played a part in helping them to become husband and wife.”
The directors paid tribute to Fr Michael Keane who founded the agency and became the first director of what was then called the Knock Marriage Bureau. He was succeeded by Canon Joe Cooney who was director until his retirement two years ago.
“When Fr Michael Keane had the vision to establish the agency back in the 1960s, the west of Ireland in particular was a very different place. Emigration was rife and most of the means of communication that today we take for granted were practically non-existent,” the directors explained.
Fr Farragher told CatholicIreland.net that the advent of the internet, online dating agencies and apps have made it possible for people to meet a partner literally at the touch of a button. This was the primary factor in the decline in the agency’s client numbers.
There are also other social forums in the west of Ireland for introducing people, including tea dances, which are popular with older couples, as well as the Two’s Company agency.
“Many of the couples who met through Knock Marriage Introductions commented on the personal nature of the service and they felt safe and secure being able to speak to someone in confidence at the end of a phone,” Fr Farragher said.
He stressed that the closing of the Knock agency was not indicative of a decline in church marriages.
“It doesn’t in any way indicate a fall-off in the demand for Catholic marriages, but it does indicate a complete sea change with regard to how couples are meeting. I have at least one marriage each weekend and two marriages some weekends until the end of August. I have never been busier.”
Another factor which contributed to the closure was the fact that as a Catholic dating agency, Knock Marriage Introductions could only accept clients who were free to marry in a Catholic church, thereby ruling out anyone who was separated or divorced.
“From its outset it never made any claims other than being a Catholic dating agency and I think it was the first of its kind. So, it was always a kind of a niche market. Over the past year or two, [agency employee] Leona had quite a number of inquiries from separated people and she had to tell them that unless they were free to marry in the Catholic Church we couldn’t take them on.”
The annual fee of €200 was much cheaper than other dating agencies who charge up to €800.
“It was always a service, it was never done for profit. Unfortunately, the demand for that service is no longer there to the same extent because of all the other means by which couples can meet.”
Fr Farragher said he had appealed to the bishops when he took over as director of the agency two years ago for donations to support the service. He said the money sent by dioceses has subsidised the service for the past two years.
Clients who have paid a year’s subscription are to be refunded pro rata.