Accord prepared 7,262 couples for the Sacrament of Marriage across Ireland in 2023

12 Feb 2024

Caption Pope Francis blessing engaged couple, Denis Nulty and Sinead Keoghan, in Saint Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, during the 9th World Meeting of Families, August 2018 (Catholic Communications Office archive)

Bishop Denis Nulty blesses two engaged couples at Saint Valentine’s Shrine and launches new marriage preparation programme

See below for: the profile of engaged couples to receive blessing from Bishop Nulty; new marriage data from Accord; words of Bishop Nulty and Mr Tony Shanahan; and, the new Accord logo

Profile of engaged couple 
Sinéad O’Connor and Darren Larkin live in Newbridge, Co Kildare.  They met in early 2019, while out one night.  Sinéad said, “We got talking and after two weeks we went on a date.  We went for something to eat and went bowling.”  Sinéad and Darren have been together for five years and are getting married in Saint Conleth’s Church, Newbridge. Sinéad is from Newbridge and Darren is from Blessington

Siobhan O’Shaughnessy and Kieran Davey met online in 2019, and met in person in Dublin a few weeks later. They have been together five years. Kieran proposed in 2022 in Killarney, and are getting married on the 16 March this year, in the Cork’s North Cathedral of Saint Mary and Saint Anne. When talking about Accord’s new marriage preparation course, Siobhan said, “We absolutely loved it!! Such a beautiful weekend to spend together and be intentional with preparing for marriage in that way. It was one of our favourite memories as a couple. We had fantastic facilitators, Ruth and John Hayes. They both made the weekend so informative and fun!” Siobhan is from Co Cork and Kieran is from Dublin.

2023 Accord data on registered bookings for marriage preparation demographics:
New data from Accord shows that 7,262 couples were prepared for the Sacrament of Marriage across the island of Ireland in 2023, and the figure for 2022 was 7,470 couples. 
Other findings include:

Welcoming couples to the Shrine of Saint Valentine, Bishop Denis Nulty, President of Accord CLG, said: I welcome all of you to the Shrine of Saint Valentine here in Whitefriar Street Church, in the heart of Dublin.  Why are we here on Monday, isn’t Saint Valentine’s Day on Wednesday, you might ask?  Well Wednesday also happens to be Ash Wednesday.  We have had that clash of dates before, most recently in 2018, and before that in 1945.  So the choice on Wednesday is ‘romance’ or ‘penance’!  We are anticipating Wednesday by our gathering this day.

In 1945, when Ash Wednesday and Saint Valentine’s Day previously clashed, the relics of Saint Valentine were not yet enshrined here.  They were brought to this location during a church renovation in the 1950’s.  They had come much earlier when the Carmelite Father John Spratt, brought the relics here, gifted to him by Pope Gregory XVI while on a visit to Rome in 1835.  Over the years, thousands of couples like Sinéad and Darren and Siobhan and Kieran have come to have their engagement rings blessed, to light a candle, to pray for an intention. 

So who was Saint Valentine?  And why his association with love?  Valentine was martyred in Rome in 269, after secretly marrying two Christians.  It was a time when weddings were prohibited by the Emperor.  Valentine defied the emperors orders and secretly married couples to spare the husbands being conscripted to serve in war.  The relic here in Whitefriar Street is a vessel tinged with his blood in addition to some of the other Saints artifacts.  The correct veneration of relics looks beyond what is visible and material to God’s love at work in the saint.  While we may look down, we also need to look up!

I have just returned from an International Conference on the Ongoing Formation for Priests in Rome.  A number of speakers didn’t like that phrase ‘ongoing formation’, preferring the phrase ‘accompaniment’.  Just as we need to accompany our priests, so too we need to accompany couples like Sinéad and Darren, and Siobhan and Kieran, on their preparation journey for marriage and into their early years of marriage.

This theme is so close to Pope Francis in his exhortation Amoris Laetitia and the more recent Catechumenal Pathways for Married Life.

We have to go back to November 2017, when an initial meeting took place to begin the process of looking at Accord’s Marriage Preparation Programme, with a view to reviewing how it might be improved upon for the benefit of engaged couples.  Previous to that, the last time such a review happened was in 2004.  The programme that we present today is an important legacy of the 9th World Meeting of Families which we hosted in Ireland in 2018.  I am delighted with the end result which I formally launch now.

I think of the first course that I was involved on the team presenting in Mullingar 35 years ago and the revised and updated programme I joined last month in Carlow.  I have seen how Accord has grown and developed over those years.  Today is a very proud day for our Executive Directors Tony and Jennifer, our Specialists, our Facilitators, and most all for the many couples like Sinéad and Darren and Siobhan and Kieran who will continue to benefit from the sacramental preparation Accord now offers. 

Accord realises that, while our new marriage programme offers a significant pathway of preparation for couples, there will always be a need for other supports.  For example, the  Bishops’ Council for Marriage and the Family is also delighted to offer a resource called ‘Marriage Movements Accompanying Couples’, where sixteen movements are listed as supports for couples preparing for sacramental marriage and those who are married.

But today is about Sinéad and Darren, and Siobhan & Kieran, who – like thousands before them – have come to this holy Shrine of Saint Valentine for a blessing, as they continue on their preparation for marriage.  We pray for them and all couples preparing for the sacrament at this time.

Launching the new Accord marriage preparation programme, and new Accord logo, Mr Tony Shanahan, Director of Accord CLG, said: 
Our work in Accord, whether in relationship counselling or in marriage preparation, is informed by over sixty years’ practical experience and is grounded in the lived reality of today’s couple relationships.  The development of this updated Accord marriage preparation programme – which we launch today – is the result of collaboration between experienced practitioners, both marriage facilitators, and marriage educators, as well as with clergy from all over the island.  As part of the preparation for today’s launch, our new programme was extensively piloted island-wide and we are delighted with the very warm and enthusiastic response it has received from couples.
So what’s new?  The new Accord programme takes account of changes in society and couple’s relationship expectations over the last twenty years.  It incorporates the most up-to-date psychological understanding of what makes relationships happy and fulfilling, while the Church’s understanding of the nature of Sacramental marriage is clearly laid out and its spirituality is woven throughout the programme units.
The programme is grounded in the lived reality of couple’s lives and contains many practical resources and techniques which couples can put into use in their own relationships.
This is the first major revision of the Accord marriage preparation programme in twenty years. It was commissioned by the Irish Bishops’ Conference as a legacy of the 9th World Meeting of Families which took place in Ireland during August 2018.
The programme’s modules continue to deal with the timeless qualities of what sustains a successful relationship and a lifelong sacramental marriage, but the material has been updated to take account of changes in society.  The programme also incorporates the latest couple’s relationship psychological research over the intervening years.  It also incorporates much relevant insight from Pope Francis’ splendid Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), which he published in 2016 and that became an immediate global best-seller.
Our preparation programme enables couples to take quality time out from the hectic wedding day preparations, and from the pressures of every day life, to focus – together – on each other, what the nature of their sacramental commitment to each other means in practice, and what they want and expect from their relationship through all the unforeseen ups and downs of life.  It guides them through essential conversations that they may not yet have had including their family of origin values, work life balance, intimacy and sexuality, extended family responsibilities and parenthood.  It offers them the opportunity to develop techniques for more effective communication with each other as well as better resolution of inevitable conflict.
The programme is an adult education course. Most of the learning is done by the couples themselves in their couple and group discussions, as well as in reflective time out periods called ‘Sacred Spaces’.  This makes the program stimulating, lively and fun.  This is borne out by testimonials from clients who have recently taken the course:
“We found the course very rewarding and began conversations that we usually wouldn’t have”
“Lovely course, very open and realistic in today’s world”
“Course gave a better understanding of our relationship and differences in personality”
“Really excellent and it filled our two days with a reminder of our love and how we can navigate anything together. Thank you ACCORD. We are very happy we did it”
New Accord logo
Accord also presents its new logo today, featuring entwined wedding rings, the international symbol of mutual commitment.  The rings are balanced in such a way as to also represent Accord traditional heart emblem, the universal symbol of love.


Notes for Editors
  • Bishop Denis Nulty is Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin and President of Accord Catholic Marriage Care Service CLG
  • Information on Accord courses, or on becoming a facilitator with Accord, please see or contact us by email [email protected] and phone: 01 5053112
  • Accord was established in Belfast in 1962. It now has 54 centres around Ireland which are operated through three independent registered charities directed from Maynooth, Dublin and Belfast respectively.