Saturday 20 April 2019

'Powerful and disturbing' - No Country for Women documentary elicits massive response from viewers

No Country for Women, RTE 1, Rebecca Roche
No Country for Women, RTE 1, Rebecca Roche
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

The first half of RTE One's harrowing two-part documentary No Country for Women aired on Tuesday night and elicited a massive response from viewers.

The doc charts women's lives from when we achieved the vote 100 years ago to the present day via the story of a number of Irish women whose lives and those of their mothers and grandmothers were affected by discriminatory legislation.

Asking the question of how much has really changed for women in the last century, the film comes up with some uncomfortable answers about the impact of government, legal and religious control over women's lives.

The first episode: No Country for Women: A Woman's Place aired on Tuesday night and examined women's life in the home and their resulting dependency on their fathers, husbands or religious orders.

Read more: Aoife Kelly: No Country for Women - how can some men still not 'get it'?

Samantha Long explored what life was like for her grandmother Anne who was confined to a 'mental asylum' while Catherine Corless shared the story of Julia Carter Devaney who spent the first 45 years of her life as an unpaid domestic in Tuam’s mother and baby home.  Her story was told with the help of a newly discovered audio recording of Julia herself, made in the 1970s.  She is one of three women in the series who were confined to institutions because of poverty and not having families.

Mary Magee, from Skerries, talked about challenging the contraception ban through Irish courts in the 1970’s, saying “I was having problems with pregnancies: pre-eclampsia, strokes.  I got scared and decided to use contraception.  I couldn’t take the pill because of the stroke, so I found out about the coil.  But you needed spermicide from England and my order was stopped by customs”.

Journalist Justine McCarthy, spoke of the heartbreak of a sister having to give a child up for adoption.

The second half of the documentary - No Country For Women: A Woman's Work - airs tonight at 9.35pm on RTE One.

It will tell the story of women's quest for social and economic freedom and the women who protested the marriage and promotion bars in the workplace, women who fought against laws giving husbands the sole right to the family home and women's lack of independent social welfare entitlements, housing and pensions.

Tonight Rebecca Roche will tell the story of her step-mother Eileen Flynn who she met when she was eight.  Eileen was fired from her teaching job in the 1980s for living with a separated man and becoming pregnant.  Rebecca has lived abroad for most of her adult life and wants to learn more about Eileen’s case.

Samantha Long continues her family journey, learning in this episode about her mother, Margaret who, after being born in Grangegorman Mental Asylum, spent her childhood in industrial schools.  Age 16, she was moved to a Magdalene Laundry where she worked unpaid until her death.

Mary Merritt was incarcerated for fourteen years as an unpaid worker a religious-run laundry.  She was in so many institutions she began to think the whole world was run that way.  Samantha Long meets Mary to ask what work life might have been like for Sam’s mother, Margaret.

Micheline Sheehy Skeffington’s grandmother, Hannah Sheehy Skeffington, was a feminist and suffragette.  She was fired after being arrested protesting for women’s vote 100 years ago.  More recently, Micheline fought her own employment equality case.

Phil Walsh had to leave her work as County Librarian in the 1970s because of the marriage bar. Today and as a result, she still gets a lower State pension and wants that changed.

Here are some more of the reactions to the first episode:

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