A Teltown Marriage

John Johnson Marshall
Chapter VIII (2) - Start of Chapter

A “Teltown Marriage” is an expression often used in Meath in the present day. In ancient times if a couple who had been married for twelve months disagreed, they returned to Teltown, to the centre of a fort styled Rathdoo, placed themselves back to back, one facing north, the other south, and walked out of the fort a divided couple free to marry again.

This fair was established by Lughaid Lamhfhada and was held for fifteen days beginning on Lammas Day (1st August). According to Keating the fair was remarkable, as the inhabitants of the island brought their children there that were of a suitable age and contracted with one another about the marriage of them.

The Teltown (Tailtean) custom of divorce for unsuitably assorted couples also obtained in Scotland, England and Wales. In Scotland the espousal was known as “handfasting.” Readers of Scott will remember that in “The Monastery” Julian Avenel explains to Henry Warden his relation to Catherine of Newport:—“When we are handfasted as we term it, we are man and wife for a year and a day; that space gone by, each may choose another mate, or, at their pleasure may call the priest to marry them for life—and this we call handfasting.”