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Can She Propose to Him? Yes!

For over 1,800 years, women have been allowed to propose marriage to men. Let’s take a look at how this Irish tradition evolved to become part of the Scottish legal codes!

Irish flag

Hey, Christie!

Could you help by answering a question: Can I propose marriage to my boyfriend?

Here’s the situation: Terrance and I have been dating for over five years and talked seriously about marriage this fall but Terry hasn’t wandered into any jewelry stores just yet looking for an engagement ring for me. He is a CPA and it is tax season as I write this. He comes home every night, having worked long hours, and physically exhausted. In fact, he falls asleep in front of the TV muttering about Oregon tax law. I know he doesn’t have the time to plan a proposal so I’m wondering what the options are.

When I spoke to my Irish grandmother, Kathleen, she said that in Ireland on Ladies’ Privilege Day (February 29 or Leap Day), women are allowed to propose marriage to men.

She told me that since I’m an architect established in my career, there is no reason I can’t take the “burden” of proposing off of Terry.

What do you think?

–Deirdre Doubting Herself in Dayton (Oregon)

Hey, Deirdre!

Your grandmother is absolutely right!

In Ireland, Leap Day (Feb. 29) is called “Bachelor’s Day” or “Ladies’ Privilege.”

It’s based on the legend of an interaction between St. Bridget and St. Patrick. (Fun fact: the legend became the basis for legal precedent in Scotland and England.)

How did this happen? Back in the fifth century (400-499 AD), men found many tasks to keep them busy which meant proposing to their lady loves was further and further down his “to do” list. 


Celtic cross
Irish farmhouse

Seeing a problem, Bridget asked Patrick if he would sanction women being allowed to propose.

Patrick offered that women could propose on one specific day every seven years; beloved Bridget negotiated him down to one day every four years. Brava, Bridget!

(Since they weren’t saints yet but both were respected leaders in The Church, I can’t use the term “saint” for either one.)

Often, the wedding occurred very soon after the proposal.

Why was there a push to get married in late February before Lent started?

During Lent (the 40 days before Easter), no marriages were allowed in the Christian church. 

a country church in Ireland
a person with a grocery bag over the head

There’s a larger problem: If an adult were single by Easter, he/she would be publicly shamed by being included on the Skellig Lists. (It was thought that Lent started later on these islands so couples would sail out there to quickly wed before Lent began.) Ballads might be sung about the singles and they would be harassed in the streets. And you thought being single on Valentine’s Day was bad now? Ancient Ireland was far worse!

Fun fact (we think): When Bridget proposed to Patrick, he gave her a silk dress and a pair of gloves.

This transferred over into society: If she proposed and he refused, the man had to make it up to her by buying her a silk gown or gloves.

In some communities, he had to perform a juggling trick on Easter in addition to all of the above.


In Europe, the penalty was greater: He had to buy her 12 pairs of gloves to conceal that she wasn’t wearing an engagement ring.

Fast forward to the 20th. century when the ante was upped to buying her a fur coat if he refused.

Did the Irish tradition wander elsewhere? Yes!

To find out, we need to get back into our time machine to travel to Scotland in the 13th. century.

In 1288–to be exact–the tradition sailed across the sea to Scotland. The Scots took the tradition and actually made laws about it. For instance, it was law that she must wear a red petticoat while proposing. If he refused, he was fined a kiss, a silk dress, or gloves. 

According to legend, Queen Margaret had something to do with the law being passed. We’re not quite sure what…

The Irish tradition spread to England and Finland. By the early 20th. century, the tradition arrived in America.

Scotsman in kilt with bagpipes
A woman proposes marriage to a man.

If you’d like my guidance on helping you plan your proposal, please reach out to me. We have several venues at which the two of you can be alone and then your family, friends, and fans can join you for a party! Let me know how I can help you!

Your friend in the wedding business,

Christie Shyne

Images courtesy of

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