In August 1843 an unusual ceremony took place at an undisclosed church in Co. Clare. Fr William John Burke exchanged vows with Catherine Kennedy. Unlike other marriages William John Burke was still a Catholic Priest, married by another Catholic priest. How the ceremony took place in the first place is a mystery and asks more questions than gives answers. Did the priest that performed the ceremony know, or if he did why did he marry them, knowing their circumstances? These questions cannot be answered as there are no records to consult. The only documented account of the forbidden marriage is an article in The Achill Missionary Herald followed by a letter, written by William John Burke, from the Sheriff’s Prison, Galway where he was held in August 1844.
The article was written “to correct a false impression”, of Mr Burke (the author was not named), releasing him from blame for not declaring his marriage to the widow Kennedy straight away, because he had affairs to get in order before he did so.
It did not matter if he did or did not make the declaration as the marriage was found out and he was persecuted for it anyway.
“It was this unjustifiable policy which gave his enemies the opportunity of getting up the false and malicious charge on which he was tried at the assizes of Galway.”
That is how he found himself in the Sheriff’s Prison, Galway City a year later. Naturally the church did not recognise the marriage. It is more than likely that the couple were excommunicated but the priest who married them was not suspended…