Couples falling out of love with traditional dating agency
Ireland's singletons have fallen out of love with the traditional match-making offered by Knock Marriage Introductions.
In a world of dating sites and Tinder, the service is closing after almost 51 years and 960 marriages.
Fr Stephen Farragher, director of the Catholic dating agency, announced that it was "no longer viable" and would be wound down.
Over the past two years, the agency was kept afloat by donations from bishops which supplemented the income generated from a declining subscriptions base.
According to Fr Farragher, the advent of online dating agencies, as well as dating apps have made it possible for people to meet a partner at the touch of a button.
"The same demand for the service isn't there now, it is being provided by others. The closure doesn't indicate a fall-off in the demand for Catholic marriages. This coming summer will be my busiest in Ballyhaunis in eight years with a wedding every weekend and sometimes two.
"What it does indicate is a complete sea change in how couples are meeting. At least three couples whose weddings I did recently or who are on my books told me they met through a dating agency."
He regretted that couples who found love and marriage thanks to Knock Marriage Introductions were so "coy" about giving it public credit.
Fr Farragher told the Irish Independent that other factors included the fact that as a Catholic agency, it could only accept clients who were free to marry in a Catholic church, thereby ruling out anyone who was separated or divorced.
As recently as 2015, Knock Marriage Introductions was responsible for five marriages and there were three engagements in the last year.
However, according to Fr Farragher, the declining pool of clients was leading to problems. "The fee entitles them to a number of introductions but obviously as the pool of clients was getting smaller, the number of introductions were fewer and people were getting frustrated."
The annual subscription at €200 was much cheaper than other agencies which can charge up to €800.
The agency, which was most popular with farmers and school teachers, "sent out feelers" to the Catholic marriage agency Accord to see if it could help fund it.
But according to Fr Farragher, Accord wasn't in a position to take on the service as its funding has been cut.
He said the Knock service had been losing €5,000 annually for the last year or two.
Its remaining money will be used to refund those who had already subscribed on a pro-rata basis.
The parish priest had been advised that the dating agency faced major changes into the future as it would have to employ a qualified counsellor and draw up policies to cover its duty of care to clients and data protection.
As its only employee was due to retire soon, Fr Farragher stressed that he was already "stretched to the limit" with the decline in priest numbers and could not give it the time that was needed.