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No going back to the miserable 'Valley of Tears'

COMING from the Sixties and early Seventies in Ireland when the 'Mna na hEireann' lay back, closed their eyes and thought of Jesus as their fir were exercising their conjugal rights, I've always thought it rich that many of the mna of my acquaintance could be so vehement in expressing their scepticism as to the sincerity of the 'bright and breezy' brigade.

This was a term I had as a teenager for women like my mam who were good looking, full of life and devilment, wore make-up and enhanced the morale of any male within giggling range of them. According to the older mna, these women who dressed in bright colours, 'tarted themselves up' and so obviously enjoyed the company of men were somehow 'floozies' with no sincerity.

Those were the days of the open turf fire, the stay-at-home wife, the lino-covered floors and garish wallpaper. The days when it was more practical to wear dark clothes and an apron than to have all the hard work on washday with the bath full of washing. The days when after the Angelus, the candle would be lit for the five decades of the rosary and the 'trimmin's' (prayers offered up for the sinners and other causes). The days when living in the 'Valley of Tears' and the suffering of the soul was the lot of every good Catholic.

Usually in the homes of my mother's sisters, the prayers were for my mam -- who wasn't actually a sinner -- but neither was she 'right in the head'. She most defiantly, from what I as a child could see, never lived her life in any 'Valley of Tears', she was too happy in herself. But everyone else appeared to think that because the 'poor woman' didn't know she was suffering proved how far gone she was! The prayers were mainly to get her to be able to see how much pain and suffering she really was going through, then she might have a chance of getting into heaven.

"That one's much too sweet to be wholesome," the older mna used to mutter darkly whenever they met one particularly 'bright and breezy' young woman in our village all those years ago. The young woman in question was working in a shop and always seemed to be laughing at something, her infectious grin and cheery "how's it going?" was somehow seen as being 'insincere'. God only knows, she had nothing to laugh about, they opined. There she was like a brazen young hussy in her short skirts, flowery shirts and high heels, and not a man in sight!

But as a child I loved these bright vivacious young women, they heralded a new era. This new breed embraced their sexuality and personal autonomy with gusto. They were not afraid to tell their men what they wanted, either in the marital bed or out of it. Thanks to them, the view that to suffer in life is necessary to achieve eternal salvation is no longer part of our make-up.

Today I love people who look on the bright side and don't let life get them down. In my opinion, these women were way before their time in the Ireland of Saints and Scholars.

The new Mna na hEireann have long ago thrown off the old constraints of Church and narrow-minded thinking. Our previously provincial attitudes have been changed principally by our ever widening culture base, thanks to travel, immigration and emigration. Abu to the new Mna na hEireann, may we live long and prosper brightly. And if that means for some we're floozies, so be it.


Sunday Independent