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

I understand that at this time divorce was illegal in Ireland and difficult in the USA.

Prior to the latter decades of the 20th century, divorce was considered to be against the public interest, and civil courts refused to grant a divorce except if one party to the marriage had betrayed the "innocent spouse." Thus, a spouse suing for divorce in most states had to show a "fault" such as abandonment, cruelty, incurable mental illness, or adultery.

  • In Ireland at this time, could a woman marry a man who is legally divorced in the USA for one of the above reasons?
  • 3
    If the man is legally divorced, it really does not matter how hard or easy was for him to get the divorce; he can remarry. The question would be if Ireland would recognize the man's divorce.
    – SJuan76
    Nov 22, 2020 at 21:03
  • 1
    @SJuan76 Precisely, is there anything in Ireland at the time that could prevent this marriage. I doubt it, but need to be sure.
    – fundagain
    Nov 22, 2020 at 21:46
  • I don't know the source of the quote in the Q (if you are going toi quote it you should cite it) but I think it overstates the matter. The notorious "Reno divorce" was already available in the 1940s and before. Se Nixer My Life in Court for a detailed account of a divorce case involving dubious divorce decrees. However, the other comments are correct, the question is if Ireland would accept the divorce, not how hard it would be to obtain. Also, is this Northern Ireland or the Free State? The laws differed. Nov 24, 2020 at 22:54
  • I have added references. My bad.
    – fundagain
    Nov 25, 2020 at 10:12

1 Answer 1


Article 41.3.3 of the 1937 Irish Constitution said:

No person whose marriage has been dissolved under the civil law of any other State but is a subsisting valid marriage under the law for the time being in force within the jurisdiction of the Government and Parliament established by this Constitution shall be capable of contracting a valid marriage within that jurisdiction during the lifetime of the other party to the marriage so dissolved.

Until this section was changed by the 2019 amendment.

I can find no source to show how "but is a subsisting valid marriage under the law" was interpreted, but it seems that a person divorced in or prior to 1940 under US law would not have been permitted to marry in Ireland after 1937 until 2019 under this provision.

It should be noted that although Finnegans Wake by James Joyce was published in full in 1939, much of it had been written and published in sections by 1926. It is not at all clear just when it is set. In the 1920s, the constitutional provision quoted above was not yet in effect.

  • Good catch on the timing and the constitutional provision.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 22, 2021 at 17:47
  • Thank you. I appreciate it.
    – fundagain
    Apr 26, 2021 at 18:14
  • Just for the record, as a reader, 37 is too late to influence the plot of the novel, and as such is consistent with our USA Divorcee remarrying in Ireland.
    – fundagain
    Apr 26, 2021 at 18:35
  • @fundagain I don't know what the Irish law was on the issue of remarriage after divorce prior to 1937. Is there any agreed consensus as to just when FW is supposed to be set? Apr 26, 2021 at 19:03
  • Definitely no consensus on when it is set (it can be thought of as being set at all times, but one of those times is 20/30s and before). But I am interested in what Irish laws would inform Joyce at time of writing.
    – fundagain
    Apr 27, 2021 at 0:56

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