Single Motherhood in 20th Century Ireland

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This book explores the cultural representations of unmarried motherhood in 20th-century Ireland from a variety of perspectives (literary and film studies, applied sociology and history) in order to analyze different discourses of femininity and motherhood. The book analyzes cultural artifacts in which the central theme is unmarried motherhood in an Irish context in order to outline and describe the different strategies at play in the representation, negotiation and contestation of traditional discourses of femininity which marginalize and, in some cases, erase women’s experience of lone parenthood.

This book emerges as a unique and up-to-date collaborative work of international scholars which contributes to the study of the aforementioned discourse. The collection achieves a detailed study of cultural practices from a variety of perspectives which include not only close literary analysis in the light of post-colonial and feminist theory but explorations in feminist history, sociology, film studies and cultural studies. The book examines how the discourse of deviance progressively becomes dominant in post-famine Ireland to refer to any sort of deviation from the female norm, and it explores the representation and denunciation of this discourse in a wide range of cultural artifacts in order to show their value as contributions to the re-inscription of women in social history.


“ ... The essays gathered in this collection offer a series of paths through the gendered workings of shame in twentieth-century Ireland. By juxtaposing different cultural sites, times and processes, the essays, individually and collectively, identify shame as a framing emotion in the social life of twentieth-century Ireland – the shaming of women; ashamed women, families and communities; shame in the lack of shame; intimate and not-so-intimate practices of shame; shame carried in memory; cultures of shame; and a gendered power geometry reproduced through shame. As knowledge of the denigration of women in mother and baby homes and within families began to circulate in documentaries, films, literature, politics and in the print media in the 1990s, the Irish public was faced with the question of how ‘ignorance’ had prevailed. What kinds of forces and practices reproduced this assumption of ignorance of events that were so commonplace in the everyday life of twentieth-century Ireland? What happens when shame is only associated with activities in the past? If shame is a human condition that cannot be banished, how is it mobilized for particular ideological and political ends at different times and in different ways? This collection addresses these questions and the further question of how the national shame evoked by recent revelations is being put to work in the present ...” – (from the Preface) Dr. Breda Gray, University of Limerick

“ ... The most exciting aspects of the work are the originality and interdisciplinarity of the research and the, perhaps surprising, inter-relatedness of the essays it contains: the interweaving of perspectives. As a historian, political scientist, and teacher of Women’s Studies, I felt that this was a work that would be of value to students at every level - from Adult Education certificate and diploma classes, to undergraduate, to post-graduate – and in many disciplines (e.g. literature, folklore, history, politics, sociology, film studies) as well as interdisciplinary courses (including women’s studies, Irish Studies and cultural studies). It is interesting to see not only important papers by well-known scholars such as the editors of the collection and Gerardine Meaney, Anne O’Connor, Sinead McDermott and Louise Ryan, but also by new voices such as Clíona Rattigan and Clare O’Hagan, whose work has attracted much interest at conferences and both of whom have made an impact in radio appearances ...” – Dr. Sandra McAvoy, University College (Cork)

“This topic is one currently deserving attention. As both the editors and contributors convincingly argue, maternity and femininity have been closely entwined in the construction of the Irish state, legal and social marginality deriving from so-called ‘deviant’ forms of maternity ... This selection of articles is looked at from the points of view and methods of history, sociology, folklore, and literary criticism, and examined in the discursive realms of film, literature and the press, or sometimes in a combination of these sources ... This collection offers rich and scientific perspectives in a language and style that is accessible to a large readership ...” – Dr. Pilar Cuder-Domínguez, University of Huelva

Table of Contents

Introduction by M. Cinta Ramblado-Minero and Auxiliadora Pérez-Vides
Gerardine Meaney – The Gothic Republic: Dark Imaginings and White Anxieties

Part I: Irish Culture and Single Maternity
Bríona Nic Dhiarmada – Speaking on the Double: Mairéad Ní Ghráda’s An Triail
Anne O’Conor – Representations of Unmarried Mothers in Irish Folklore

Part II: Single Maternity in Twentieth-Century Ireland: Socio-Historical Perspectives
Clare O’Hagan – Ideologies of Motherhood and Single Mothers
Clíona Rattigan – ‘Dark Spots’ in Irish Society: Unmarried Mothers and Infanticide in Ireland from 1926 to 1938
Louise Ryan – Irish Newspaper Representations of Women, Migration and Pregnancy Outside the Marriage in the 1930s

Part III: The Magdalen Laundries in Literature and Film
Aida Rosende-Pérez – ‘Washing Away Their Sins’: Unmarried Motherhood in Peter Mullan’s The Magdalene Sisters
Paula Murphy – ‘Wayward Girls and Fallen Women’: Negotiating Fact and Fiction in the Magdalen Laundries

Part IV: Unmarried Mothers in Contemporary Film and Literature
Dervila Layden – A Welcome Addition to the Family? The Snapper and the Development of Irish Society
Patrick Walsh and Marcus Free – Papa Don’t Preach: Irony, Contradiction and the Unmarried Mother in December Bride and The Snapper
Sinead McDermott – Mary Morrissy’s Maternal Subject

Part V: Single Maternity and Irish Women’s Writing
Siobhán O’Connor-Semahedi – Representation of the ‘Unmarried Mother’ in Brinsley Macnamara’s Valley of the Squinting Windows
Deirdre O’Byrne – Scandalous Women: The Representation of Unmarried Motherhood in Short Stories by Mary Lavin, Edna O’Brien and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne
Auxiliadora Pérez-Vides – Visualizing Single Maternity in Edna O’Brien’s Down by the River
María Amor Barros del Río – Unmarried Mothers Marrying Ireland: Subversive Strategies in Edna O’Brien’s Literature

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