Sunday 20 January 2019

Don't mess with an Irish mammy

Everybody knows you don't provoke an Irish mother. Stock photo
Everybody knows you don't provoke an Irish mother. Stock photo
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

On the radio on Thursday, Justin McAleese told Sean O'Rourke that you should never get in an argument with his mother, Mary. You could probably broaden out that rule to 'You should never get in an argument with any Irish mother'. And you suspect the Catholic Church is currently finding that out the hard way.

The Church has weathered a lot in its time - reformations, angry kings, Vatican bankers, overzealous inquisitors, singing priests, the sexual revolution, The Beatles, Ratzinger, Father Ted. And it largely survived, diminished at times, but still plodding along. But now it is going to come up against a force the like of which it has never felt, a force of which it has no comprehension, a force it underestimates because she is, after all, merely a woman. Maybe they need to ask Justin for tips.

And not only is the Church going head to head with an Irish mother - it's worse than that - it is going head to head with an Irish mother spurned. And these guys think they know about hell's fury? They ain't seen nothing yet. Everybody knows you don't provoke an Irish mother. And you certainly don't tell her, when she wants to speak at a conference for International Women's Day, "that carry on is all very well but not under my roof". Everybody knows that's mammy's line. You don't try to turn her own tactics on her. Mammy doesn't like a smartarse.

And, of course, Mammy is great for the choice use of language as well. Mammy knows that it's not the highfalutin stuff that hits the spot. It's the casual dismissive bits; words like "codology", and stuff about turning up the hearing aids. Mammy knows that a bit of ridicule stings the male ego as much as all the reasoned arguments in the world.

The other irony that the Church probably fails to understand here is that Mary McAleese, as an Irish mother, represents the Irish Church better than any clergyman. Because all those years, while the Church was keeping women down and demonising them and their biology and sexuality, it was the Irish mothers who were the backbone of the Church here. And even now loads of them still put on their gloves and scarves whenever they can and head up for a pray, despite their increasing disenchantment.

Mary McAleese is right to take issue with the Church's characterisation of Christ as a homophobic politician. Irish mammies know Christ better than any of the old men in frocks do. And the mammies have reared up now, in Christ's name, to claim back their Church. And you have to think he would approve.

And on Mother's Day let us feel a swell of pride that it might be an Irish mammy who finally makes the Church change, if only in order to save itself.

Sunday Independent

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