Sunday 17 December 2017

An illegitimate child could sink a family further into poverty

Saint Peter's square in Rome
Saint Peter's square in Rome

There was a time in rural Ireland when the amount of money donated by individuals and families to various Catholic Church collections was read out from the altar by the local priest at Sunday Mass.

As the priest intoned his way through the names, listing whether they gave five shillings, 10 shillings, one pound, or even the odd five pounds, it was a public affirmation of where people were placed in the social hierarchy. Those financially better off were obviously near the top of the contributions list, those doing not too badly in the middle, and the really hard done by somewhere near the bottom.

So when it came to monies for Christmas or Easter Dues, or whatever the awesome power of unquestioned Irish Catholicism expected at the time, everybody knew and accepted their place. This was determined by their economic circumstances. And it would be unmarried mothers from the five shillings – or less – contributions figure, who would most likely end up in places like the converted Famine workhouse run by the nuns in Tuam, now at the centre of international controversy.

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