Wednesday 29 March 2017

Letters: Antipathy towards single mothers remains in Irish society

Cemetery: babies were buried in
mass grave Photo: Andrews Downes
Cemetery: babies were buried in mass grave Photo: Andrews Downes

The story of the babies' cemetery in Tuam has revealed a rather schizophrenic streak within Irish society. There has been considerable outrage and cries of 'shame!' and perhaps not without reason. It seems a little unfair, however, that today's public can heap such opprobrium on nuns who were asked by Irish society to take on this task when it was Irish society – families and courts – who sent these girls to mother and baby homes in the first place because they did not want them around.

It seems equally unfair to specifically blame the Catholic Church, considering such homes operated under similar, or worse, conditions in the Protestant UK. It would be more honest to acknowledge these homes, along with workhouses and Magdalene laundries, came into existence precisely because of a new middle-class that emerged in Victorian times and craved 'respectability' above all else. The Free State continued to operate what it had inherited from the Empire after 1922.

Insofar as 'religion' had any role, it was because it came to be another expression of the brand of 'respectability' so beloved of the Victorian bourgeois. So much for history, what about today? Whereas Victorian middle-class 'religious' morality may have played a role in the past, today's antipathy is rooted in baser motives – sheer economic miserliness.

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