My questions arise from a scenario in Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, published in 1939, and hence pertain to Irish law around or before 1939.

As a young Dublin girl, Anna inherits property from her father, a house with inn and shop. Anna marries Finnegan.

  1. Post marriage, what would be Anna's and Finnegan's claims on the property Anna inherited before marrying Finnegan?

Twin sons are born. Later, Anna has another child, a girl, but Finnegan doesn't think he's the father! Finnegan wants to divorce Anna.

  1. Could Finnegan legally divorce Anna?

Finnegan throws Anna out of her home for what seems like 3-4 years.

  1. If divorce was possible, was there a requirement that the couple live separately for a number of years?

  2. If the divorce had legally gone through, what would be Anna's and Finnegan's claims on the property Anna inherited before marrying Finnegan?

Just to note that before the divorce can even happen, Finnegan falls from a ladder and dies.

1 Answer 1


There was no divorce in Ireland between 1937 and 1996

Before 1937, the Irish Free State inherited the divorce laws that were then in force. These required an Act of Parliament (which was ludicrously expensive and therefore not available to someone of Finnegan's means) or annulment (which is strictly speaking, the official recognition that a marriage never happened rather than a divorce).

The house belongs to Finnegan

At common law a woman could own both real and personal property. However, in the case of a married woman the husband had a life interest in any real property: this continued even after the wife's death, and was known as tenancy "by the curtesy". Personal property passed into the ownership of the husband absolutely, with the exception of certain items of adornment or household use known as paraphernalia. Upon marriage, all of the wife's property becomes under the hands of her husband even if it was her family inheritance. Any money the wife earned through labour or trade also ended up in the hands of her husband whom she was expected to obey in the custom of marriage at the time.

  • Thank you. You referenced text also states "For instance, beginning in the eighth century, female heirs inherited real estate if they had no brothers. These women became known as "heiresses" and, while only a small minority of women living at this time, they could exercise a considerable amount of political and legal influence. If an heiress married a landless husband, she was seen as his legal guardian, leading to a very unusual case of complete gender role reversal. " Anna indeed inherited because she had no male siblings. Does this make any difference?
    – fundagain
    Oct 28, 2019 at 5:14
  • 2
    Irish law from the 800s was supplanted by English law when they invaded
    – Dale M
    Oct 28, 2019 at 5:31

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