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Chapter 1 analyses the construction of nineteenth- and twentieth-century lay Irish Catholic womanhood. It demonstrates that women and girls were bombarded with messages on Catholic womanhood from an early age and reveals that the Church hierarchy’s sustained and determined attempts to define the ideal woman were linked to not only the evolution of Catholicism but also to the creation of the modern Irish nation. Chapter 1 also exposes the ideal as pervasive but essentially fragile. It demonstrates that constructions of Irish womanhood sometimes were more wishful thinking than reflective of reality and, in fact, demonstrated deep-seated anxieties about the changing roles of women in the modern world. Women themselves, meanwhile, through their writings and consumerism, did much to fashion and, in some cases, contest the Catholic model of womanhood.

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