Let’s get this out of the way: It’s 2016, and of course a woman can propose to her partner if she likes. Ireland is all about tradition, however, and more often than not, a man will propose marriage to his lady. But 2016 also happens to be a leap year, and according to another old Irish tradition, February 29 is the one day when women all over the country propose to their man.
It’s said that the tradition dates back to the time of St. Patrick and St. Brigid in the 5th century. St. Brigid wanted women to be allowed to propose, and St. Patrick agreed they could do this once every four years, on February 29 in a leap year. We’re not sure of the validity of the story (and it’s not a huge practice in Ireland), but the idea still makes some Irish men get a little nervous every four years.
If you are brave enough to pop the question and follow the Irish tradition, then what better place to propose to your man than in Ireland? Ireland is full of romantic castles, clifftop walks, secluded islands and beaches and it is even home to the remains of the most romantic figure of all, St. Valentine. Read on for five of the best places in Ireland to propose to your man—whether it’s a leap year or not.
Saint Valentine’s Shrine
If you’re starting in the capital city Dublin, check out the church where the remains of St. Valentine are resting. The relics were brought to the Carmelite Whitefriar Street Church from Rome in November 1836 and are kept in a special shrine to the saint there. After visiting the church, take the Dart suburban rail out to Howth in north Dublin for a walk around the cliffs—the path is where Leopold Bloom proposed to Molly in the novel Ulysses by Irish writer James Joyce, so it will make a good proposal story.—55 Aungier Street
A Romantic Castle
Ireland is also full of romantic old castles dating back centuries—many of which you can either visit for the day or stay in. Kylemore Abbey in
which dates back to 1867, is one of the country’s most romantic backdrops for a proposal. Or, you could arrange dinner in the George V dining room at Ashford Castle, a 13th-century castle hotel set in 350 acres of parkland in Cong, County Mayo. Go the whole hog and book a suite with a four-poster bed—the Reagan Suite has chandeliers, a fireplace, antique furniture, and his-and-hers bathrooms. Start the road to marriage as you mean to continue.
The Skelligs in County Kerry
If he’s a Star Wars fan, take him on a trip to County Kerry in the southwest, home to the rocky island Skellig Michael which features as the home of an ancient Jedi temple in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The Skellig Islands, which are are populated by thousands of seabirds and were home to Christian monks between the 6th and 8th centuries, are only accessible by boat for tourists during summer time, but take a walk on the beautiful Ballinskelligs Peninsula and you’ll have the home of the Jedis as a proposal backdrop—plus some cozy pubs to retire to in the nearby village of Portmagee for celebrations.
If he loves the outdoors, hike to the top of a mountain for panoramic views and total privacy when you get down on one knee. Croagh Patrick in County Mayo is 764m high with incredible views down over Clew Bay and its hundreds of islands (allow two hours for the climb). There’s even a small chapel on top should you decide to rush things along. Further north, Knocknarea in County Sligo is a shorter, 40-minute walk to a mountain top, for sweeping views of County Sligo and the beloved landscape of Irish poet WB Yeats, whose romantic poems might provide some inspiration.
A Lighthouse on the Wild Atlantic Way
If you’d like somewhere really secluded for the proposal, it’s hard to beat a lighthouse. The Clare Island Lighthouse is a landmark which guards Clew Bay in County Mayo, on the Wild Atlantic Way. You can book a luxury stay in the listed property to take in the sea views and romantic setting, enjoying quality time out walking on the island, reading in the library, or relaxing in the drawing room, playing piano or games. Or to have a whole lighthouse to yourself, check out Wicklow Head Lighthouse in County Wicklow on Ireland’s east coast—around an hour south of Dublin. It has beautiful views of the Irish Sea and you can rent the whole lighthouse (it has two bedrooms) for your stay.
Yvonne Gordon is an award-winning travel writer, Travel Journalist Of The Year for Ireland 2015 and AFAR.com Ireland Local Expert, @yvgordon