The Irish Catholic mother
in Irish women and the creation of modern Catholicism, 1850–1950
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Catholic memoirists and diarists from the 1850s through the late twentieth century affirmed their affection and awe for their mothers, whom they depicted as self-sacrificing and martyr-like. In recent decades, however, scholars have assigned to the Irish mother a more sinister role, indicting her for colluding with priests and thus helping to instil a repressive and damaging Catholicism in future generations. Chapter 3, ‘The Irish Catholic mother’, debunks the martyr/villain trope through a detailed analysis of Irish Catholic motherhood. It compares constructions of motherhood (both contemporary and scholarly) with mothers’ real-life experiences. Mothers’ own words, particularly evident in their letters to bishops, demonstrate that they did not always work in tandem with the Catholic clergy but frequently negotiated the authority of clerics. Women asserted their autonomy within the home and over their children even as they made use of their status as mothers to demand that priests and bishops respond to their needs and wants.

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