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Author: Cara Delay

Irish Women and the Creation of Modern Catholicism is the only book-length study of lay Catholic women in modern Irish history. Focusing on the pivotal century from 1850 to 1950, it analyses the roles that middle-class, working-class, and rural poor lay women played in the evolution of Irish Catholicism and thus the creation of modern Irish identities. This project demonstrates that in an age of Church growth and renewal stretching from the aftermath of the Great Famine through the early years of the Irish Republic, lay women were essential to all aspects of Catholic devotional life, including both home-based religion and public Catholic rituals. It also reveals that women, by rejecting, negotiating, and reworking Church dictates, complicated Church and clerical authority. Irish Women and the Creation of Modern Catholicism re-evaluates the relationship between the institutional Church, the clergy, and women, positioning lay Catholic women as central actors in the making of modern Ireland. It also contests views that the increasing power of the Catholic Church caused a uniform decline in Irish women’s status after the Great Famine of the 1840s, revealing that middle-class, working-class, and rural poor lay women fought with their priests, dominated household religion, and led parish rituals, thus proving integral to the development of a modern Irish Catholic ethos and culture.

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Cara Delay

. The story of modern Irish Catholicism and lay women therefore is complex, marked by losses and gains. The complexity is increased still further because the changes documented by first-hand accounts of Irish Catholicism existed alongside remarkable continuities. From the desolation of the famine years right through the first few decades of independence, Catholicism was central to women’s ordinary daily lives, and women actively participated in ­devotional life and the creation of their religious identities. The role that Catholicism has played in creating modern

in Irish women and the creation of modern Catholicism, 1850–1950
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Cara Delay

leaders in education and philanthropy. As this book has argued, Catholicism was not a uniformly oppressive and disempowering force for lay women, and it was not dominated exclusively by the male hierarchy. Through an examination of Irish Catholic lay women’s lives and actions from the famine era to the middle of the twentieth century, this book set out to illuminate a topic that has been virtually ignored in the historiography not only of Irish Catholicism but also of Irish women’s history. It also sought to disrupt the overly simplistic interpretations of Irish

in Irish women and the creation of modern Catholicism, 1850–1950
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Cara Delay

-century Irish girls. Hyland’s narrative also raises questions about the ways in which girls experienced their Catholic childhoods, a topic understudied in both Irish women’s history and the history of Irish Catholicism. Through an analysis of women’s life-writings, including diaries, oral histories, autobiographies, and memoirs, this chapter explores the realities of growing up Catholic and female from 1850 to 1950, with a particular focus on the first half of the twentieth century. At this catholic girlhoods 59 time, religion served as the major influence in Irish girls

in Irish women and the creation of modern Catholicism, 1850–1950
Cara Delay

nineteenth century, the popular Margaret Cusack, nun of Kenmare, translated devotional works, wrote histories of Irish Catholicism, composed autobiographical works, and published novels.125 Cusack’s writings paid particular attention to the proper responsibilities of women and girls. In Woman’s Work in Modern Society (1874), she focused on the roles that mothers played in their daughters’ moral and religious education. 38 irish women If Catholic mothers did not focus their attention on ­preparing their girls for salvation, she argued, the results would be disastrous

in Irish women and the creation of modern Catholicism, 1850–1950
Cara Delay

accompany their wives’, writes Taylor, ‘but it was almost always the woman who was represented as the instigator’.9 As Taylor suggests, Marian apparitions were essential to the creation of a modern feminised Irish Catholicism. Through Marianism, Irish women emerged as central actors in popular religion. By the mid-nineteenth century, a uniquely Irish devotion to the Virgin Mary was flourishing. Irish Catholics, for example, celebrated May as Mary’s month. Each May, ordinary Catholics decorated Marian shrines, and pilgrims to these shrines made their way through towns

in Irish women and the creation of modern Catholicism, 1850–1950
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Cara Delay

in childbirth. And she too defied a patriarchal authority: in this case, the doctor. When faced with difficulties such as childbirth, Irish women blended Catholic practice into their vernacular customs, making Irish Catholicism more tangible and tactile in the process, and aligning it with much older systems of belief. gender and space 183 Throughout the nineteenth century and into the first decades of the twentieth century, popular views decreed that pregnancy and childbirth not only left women open to danger but also left their bodies polluted. New mothers

in Irish women and the creation of modern Catholicism, 1850–1950
Cara Delay

drama of modern Irish Catholicism. In their petitions to their religious superiors, lay Catholic women often referred to their relationships with their parish priests and curates.3 This correspondence thus provides a window onto both women’s agency as letter-writers and petitioners and the complex relationship between women and the clergy from 1850 to 1950.4 For some women, in an age of Church revival and renewal, the priest came to represent a caring and trustworthy authority figure, even a confidant. The relationship between women and priests, however, was contested

in Irish women and the creation of modern Catholicism, 1850–1950
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Cara Delay

modern phenomenon of the single-family home and the nuclear family. In his view, the home became, by the late nineteenth century, the ‘fundamental unit of culture’ and thus the primary site of religious consumption.25 Acquiring devotional items for the home was a primary duty of Irish wives and mothers. Thus modern Irish Catholicism, with its visual and material culture, was deeply wedded to commercialisation and consumerism. Indeed, the rise of the middle classes in Ireland, as elsewhere, was accompanied by ‘the rise of commodity culture’.26 In Lisa Godson’s analysis

in Irish women and the creation of modern Catholicism, 1850–1950