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How women's lives have changed: We used to play in the street and know all the neighbours

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Tuesday 19 March 2013. Mother and Daughter: L to R: Shirley and Bridie Murphy, Sandymount. Photo: Douglas O'Connor

Tuesday 19 March 2013. Mother and Daughter: L to R: Shirley and Bridie Murphy, Sandymount. Photo: Douglas O'Connor

Wednesday 20 March 2013. Clarion Hotel. Máire Crehan and her daughter Emer Fox. Photo: Douglas O'Connor

Wednesday 20 March 2013. Clarion Hotel. Máire Crehan and her daughter Emer Fox. Photo: Douglas O'Connor

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Tuesday 19 March 2013. Mother and Daughter: L to R: Shirley and Bridie Murphy, Sandymount. Photo: Douglas O'Connor

At 40, Shirley Murphy is a stay-at-home-mum to two children. Shirley's mother Bridie, who was 40 in 1977, also stayed at home and had three children at that stage and another the following year.

"I don't think there's a huge difference in our lives to be honest," says Shirley, "because she had a nice house, she had all the mod cons." She adds, "She had a dishwasher in 1977 – I don't even have one now."

Bridie gave up work when she was pregnant with her first child, as was the norm at the time. "Not many of my contemporaries worked," she says. "Some did get part-time work, but not many stayed in their pre-marriage jobs."

Shirley returned to work part-time after her first maternity leave. But after six months, her boss gave her an ultimatum: full-time work or none at all. Shirley quit. "Most women don't have a choice," she says.

Bridie did work part-time while bringing up her children – as an "unpaid secretary" to her husband, broadcaster and author Peter Murphy, and she also set up a business with a friend selling freezer packaging. "Deep freezing was just coming in and people were buying big freezers and filling them up. We set up a postal service and we also did demonstrations around the country."

Neighbours

Shirley feels that the big difference now is the amount of contact with neighbours. "There was a lot more of a community then. We would have been out on the street playing all the time and we all went to the local school. Now, the kids on our road are going to three or four different schools and I don't let them out to play on the street so I don't know the neighbours very well."

One other noticeable difference is that both women have the same surname. "She thinks it's really strange that I didn't change my name," says Shirley. "She insists on sending Christmas cards to Mr and Mrs 'my husband's name'."

"She's very definite about that," laughs Bridie. "It was automatic to change your name and everybody called you Mrs."

You had to be married to get a little bit of nookie

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EIMEAR Fox (32) is a musician and a single mother to her 15-year-old son. She sings with band Fox.E and the Good Hands, and teaches music to youth and community groups.

Eimear is in a relationship with no plans to marry. In contrast, at the age of 32 in 1973, her mother Maire Crehan was a married mother-of-four, working as a nurse.

"It was the done thing to give up work when you got married," says Maire. "But after I got married, I happened to be visiting in Holles Street where I trained and they were desperate for staff and they asked me to go back. I was the only married woman on the staff. I don't know how they got around that because the marriage ban was still in place."

Anniversary

Maire married Anto at 22 and they are looking forward to celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year. "I was dying to get married," says Maire. "It was the only way you got a little bit of nookie at all."

Maire went on to have four children in the first five years of her marriage and then another three later on. "I never even thought about contraception," she says. "My mother used to say 'there's ways and means around not getting pregnant', but I was quite happy to be pregnant."

Eimear's life now differs hugely from Maire's life in 1973. "She was very religious. Religion doesn't really feature in my life at all."

There is a generation gap but Eimear feels her strong relationship with Maire has managed to bridge that. "I'm sure I've opened her eyes to a whole new way of being," she says.

Maire sees the difference in the amount of freedom that Eimear has in her life. "Eimear can do anything she wants. She just has the one child so she's not tied to the house. She has her boyfriend and there's no question of them getting married. In my day, that would have been completely frowned upon, you just didn't do it."

Maire worked as a nurse until last year, when she was 70. "I had to give up working for the HSE at 65. I was a fit, able-bodied woman, working harder than any of them, but I had to give it up. So I joined an agency and I was back working in the same place the week after and they had to pay me more."

She is now studying psychology at university in Maynooth. "I absolutely love it. The kids in the class are way, way younger than me, but it doesn't seem to matter, I fit right in."

"It's a completely different life now," says Maire. "But I loved life when I was 32. I loved the babies. I never thought about it, you just got on with life, you didn't analyse it at all."

At 28, i'm not ready for kids ... but mum was

Cia Brannigan changed her name when she got married at 20. By the age of 28, in 1991, she had two children and a mortgage. At 28, her daughter, Louise, has just the mortgage.

"I can remember my mum's 30th," she says. "I thought that it was really old. Now I'm pushing 30 myself and I still feel really young – it was a huge deal to buy the house but we're definitely not ready for the marriage and the children."

Cia and her husband, Tony, had wanted to live together before they got married but their parents wouldn't allow it. "Everything is planned now and that's where the big difference is," she said.

Justify

Louise works as a primary school teacher while Cia gave up her job as a hairdresser when she was pregnant.

"Most of my friends stopped working when they had kids," she says. "I went back to college at 30 and retrained as a holistic therapist."

In many ways, the lives of Irish women have changed immeasurably in just one generation. And yet women are still the ones that are responsible for childrearing and penalised accordingly.

Women still have to justify their reproductive choices and that's when they have choices – there is still no access to abortion, funding for fertility treatment or legislation covering either issue.

Let's hope these battles are not ones we have to pass on to the next generation.


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