In the words of Shakespeare, the course of true love never did run smooth - and the same is true of Irish marriage.
Traditionalists may look back fondly to an age when marriages supposedly followed a simpler course. Couples met up by whatever means. They may or may not have fallen in love, but they tended to avoid sex until they married - and the ceremony happened in a church, presided over by a priest.
They stayed together until "death do us part" as a God-fearing monogamous couple, and there was really no other way out of it if the relationship did not work out.
In their illuminating study, Marriage in Ireland 1660-1925, Maria Luddy and Mary O'Dowd, show that heterosexual partnerships were not always that simple in the 18th and 19th centuries. Marriage could be a story of premarital sex, co-habitation, spur of the moment Britney Spears-style drunken weddings, abductions, infidelities, bigamy, prostitution, separation and, ultimately, divorce. The authors acknowledge that it is hard to generalise about marriage in this period. Brides might have been haggled over and treated like commodities, who came with a dowry that could be a cash sum, a few prize bullocks or household goods.
But the joyless marriage of the patriarchal domineering husband and the submissive long-suffering wife was not universal. There was room for romance, intimacy and passion - sometimes from unexpected quarters. Take this letter from Éamon de Valera to his wife Sinéad in 1911: "I need a kiss urgently… I want to press my wife to my heart... Can you sleep without those long limbs wrapped around you again - two weeks - 14 days - how can I endure it?"
For the first two centuries of the period covered, marriages could happen in a much more haphazard, informal fashion than the ritualised nuptials of the 20th century.
A couple might consider themselves hitched by reading a few relevant lines from a prayer book before sexual intercourse. Thomas Irvine, who ended up as a spurned partner, told how in 1777 he and Rossanna Lister "married ourselves privately in the words of the Confession of the Faith, and afterwards, bedded sundry nights together at which I thought the marriage was consummated".
As was the case with Irvine and Lister, there were often disagreements about what exactly had happened, and whether a prayer followed by a fling could be recognised legally as a marriage.
Churches tried to formalise marriage by ensuring that the ceremonies were performed by the clergy in church, but many couples were put off by the high charges and strict rules. As a result, many people who wanted to be married turned to men known as "couple beggars", who performed marriage ceremonies at cheaper rates and were not so fussy about rules.
As the authors put it, couple beggars were usually unattached clergymen who had fallen out with their church for a variety of offences, usually involving women or alcohol.
It was not just a matter of cost. Couples might turn to these freelance operators out of desire for secrecy (they might want a discreet marriage to a servant or to avoid the attention of disapproving parents) . Others were mixed marriages between Catholics and Protestants.
This often fascinating history prints a stern notification from the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Paul Cullen about mixed marriages: "Catholics who, without the requisite dispensations, contract Mixed Marriages, are guilty of a grievous offence against the laws of the Church, and in this Diocese incur, by the very fact, the penalty of Excommunication."
In the 19th century there was a dramatic shift in the age at which people married. Before the Famine, among the "labouring classes" in the West of Ireland, couples married extremely young. In Galway and Clare, the average was 18-21, and in Mayo and Sligo under 20. In Sligo, labourers explained to a doctor why this was so: "If God give us a family, and we marry young, our children will support us when we are beyond work; but if we do not marry soon, we should be broken down before our children should be old enough to support us."
In post-Famine Ireland, the single life must have seemed more attractive, and couples tended to marry at a much older age. The proportion of unmarried men rose from 10pc to 24pc between 1841 and 1901. The comparable rise for women was from 12pc to 20pc.
The Catholic ideal of marriage was enunciated by the warden of Galway. In a sermon he urged a married couple to love "each other tenderly". The husband should "love your spouse as Christ loved the Church, that you should guide her as your companion, that you should always have for her an affection full of tenderness".
The wife was urged "to have for your husband that friendship, that complacence, that respect and submission which the Church always had for Christ her spouse".
That was the hope of the clergy, but the reality on the ground could be different, as the Bishop of Cloyne and Ross between 1769-91 discovered. Bishop Mathew McKenna noted that in the majority of parishes that he visited, there were married couples who were not living together; cohabiting couples who were not married; married men living with women other than their wives and single women variously described as 'kept', 'concubine', 'mistress', 'idle' or 'ladies of pleasure'.