One of the most well-known Irish customs is celebrated during leap years, which are years with 366 days instead of 365. Irish folklore is full of fantastic, amusing, and unusual traditions, but some of them are also somewhat old.

It is well known that the last leap year was in 2020. Leap year, also known as a “bliain bhisigh” (pronounce: “blee-in vis-ig”), to use the Irish phrase. But did you know there is a well-known Irish custom associated with Leap Day that is still being observed today (and was made more popular by the film Leap Year, which was released in 2010)?

Leap Year, the movie was a romantic comedy starring Amy Adams and was released in 2010. Adams’s character takes matters into her own (left) hand after another anniversary passes without a proposal, and she travels to Dublin to partake in the Irish custom of “Leap Year” proposals. As luck would be it the next Leap Year is just around the corner, February 29th, 2024. The leap day holiday is still celebrated in Ireland.

According to a local urban legend, on February 29 of even-numbered years in Ireland, women muster the bravery to drop down on one knee and propose to their significant others. Contrary to the conventional gender roles that were expected of them, women in the past were permitted, during the duration of the 24-hour period that encompassed Leap Day (February 29), to make marriage proposals to males.

What happens if the man refused the leap day proposal?

There are also traditions for if the proposal was refused, namely that the man would have to give recompense to the woman. The spurned suitor is customarily given money by her would-be fiancé, which typically takes the shape of articles of luxurious attire, such as silk or fur. This practice dates back to ancient times.

The Origins of Irish Leap Day Proposals

On Leap Day, February 29th, as part of the Irish tradition known as Bachelor’s Day (also known as Ladies’ Privilege), women are permitted to make marriage proposals to males. This custom is said to have originated from a legend about Saint Bridget and Saint Patrick.

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, granted Brigid’s request for permission to propose on behalf of women. She presented her argument, and after some back-and-forth, they came to an agreement in which St. Patrick would give women the opportunity to propose marriage—but only on one day, once every four years, and that day would be February 29. Scotland and England formerly used to have a legal foundation for leap day proposals.

While the battle between St. Brigid and St. Patrick is a wonderful tale the real origins more than likely have to do with the church’s tradition of not allowing wedding ceremonies during lent. Whatever its origins, the Leap Year tradition in Ireland seems to have been well-established by the 1800s.

Shrovetide Marriages

In Ireland, traditional weddings used to take place during the period known as Shrovetide, and Shrove Tuesday was considered to be the best day of the week for such an event. People attempted to be married right before the start of the penitential season of Lent since, traditionally, weddings were not allowed during the season of Lent. Since the sixth of January, also known as Little Christmas, matchmakers would have been hard at work setting up marriages, and the entire community would have been looking forward to attending the wedding ceremonies of those couples who were able to find a suitable partner.

Who was the first person to propose while kneeling?

How did the custom of proposing while kneeling come about? The custom of medieval knights bending before noblewomen are thought to have been the inspiration for the modern practice of a man (or woman) proposing on one knee. The person who is proposing to their spouse will first get down on one knee and then ask their partner the question “Will you marry me?” after getting down on one knee.

What is a traditional Irish wedding ring?

A Claddagh ring, also known as a fáinne Chladaigh in Irish, is a traditional Irish piece of jewelry in which the three intertwined symbols of love, loyalty, and friendship are represented by a crown, a heart, and two hands clasped together.

If you are intending to propose to your significant other on February 29th, you might want to think about whether or not the Leap Year itself is a good time to be married. Because couples of different genders tend to become more evenly balanced over time with regard to who pops the question first, the traditional setting for proposing on February 29th is up for discussion. In Ireland, the tradition of celebrating Leap Year is viewed by some as an archaic and patriarchal practice, while others consider it to be historically uplifting.