This study reveals the desperate plight of the poor, neglected, illegitimate and abused children in an Irish society that claimed to ‘cherish’ and hold them sacred, but in fact marginalized and ignored them. It examines the history of childhood in post-independence Ireland, breaking new ground in examining the role of the state in caring for its most vulnerable citizens. In foregrounding policy and practice as it related to poor, illegitimate and abused children, the book gives voice to historical actors who formed a significant proportion of the Irish population but who have been ignored and marginalized in the historical record. Moreover, it uses the experiences of those children as lenses through which to re-evaluate the Catholic influence in post-independence Irish society. The historiography on church and state in modern Ireland tends to emphasise the formal means through which the church sought to ensure that Irish social policy was infused with Catholic principles. While it is almost cliché to suggest that the Catholic Church exerted influence over many aspects of Irish life, there have been few attempts to examine what this meant in practical terms. The book offers a different interpretation of the relationship between and among the Catholic Church, the political establishment and Irish people.
This book speaks for historical actors who formed a large sector of the Irish population but who have not been noted or have been marginalized in the historical record. It examines the plight of poor, illegitimate and abused children to re-evaluate the Catholic influence in post-independence Irish society. It also provides a different interpretation of the relationship between and among the Catholic hierarchy, the political establishment and Irish people. The place of the family in Irish society is addressed. Irish society quickly became convulsed with misery, grief and anger, and all of that emotion was directed almost entirely at the Catholic Church. Legislation and parliamentary debates, government commission reports, annual reports of the Departments of Health, Education and Social Welfare, and the archival material of various government departments offer insight into official attitudes towards the state's responsibility in caring for poor, neglected and abused children.
This chapter presents an examination of social conditions and social policies. It specifically argues that the nationalist vision of frugality and simplicity translated into a lack of initiative on the part of successive Irish governments, and children paid a particularly high price for that lack of initiative. It is noted that the larger the family, the more likely it was that the children of the family would experience poverty, poor living conditions and malnutrition as part of their daily lives. Financial constraints aside, the boards of public assistance often displayed a mean spiritedness that may seem staggering to modern sensibilities. Many poor families were broken up when children were sent to industrial schools for no reason other than that their parents could not support them. The life of the average poor legitimate children does not appear to have been all that much better than the life of the illegitimate child.
This chapter makes an analysis with regard to illegitimate children being raised in their own homes and families. It is noted that illegitimate children born in county homes and maternity hospitals were as likely to go home with their mothers as they were to be boarded out, sent to institutions, or sent overseas for adoption. Illegitimate children were either rejected or marginalized by stepfathers who resented the burden of providing for other men's children. Concerns about boarded-out children being overworked was further reflected in concerns for their school attendance. Some boarded-out children were neglected because of the age and infirmity of their foster parents. Children at nurse were particularly vulnerable to extreme neglect, and thus to premature death. A significant number of illegitimate children were raised with their own families, and they likely had experiences that differed little from working-class children who were born to married parents.
This chapter discusses the provision for illegitimate children in institutional settings. It is suggested that many unmarried mothers left the institutions in a matter of months, and many also took their children with them. Local authorities were concerned primarily with the cost of caring for children. Furthermore, evidence indicates that individual industrial schools ‘lobbied’ to have children sent to them in an effort to keep capitation grants flowing, and local authorities bowed to pressure to maintain children in institutions rather than foster families. It is true that some government officials and some of the religious orders who ran Ireland's industrial schools and mother and baby homes preferred to institutionalize illegitimate children rather than board them out or allow them to remain in their own homes. The narrative accounts of institutional life reveal that the lives of illegitimate children could be filled with abuse, neglect, rejection and instability.
The Carrigan Committee, the age of consent, and adoption
Events surrounding the Carrigan Committee and the presentation of its report suggest that the assumptions, beliefs and behaviors related to sexual morality in post-independence Ireland were complex. The Catholic hierarchy opposed adoption on several grounds, and no administration was willing to cross the church on this issue. Adoption by an American family under American adoption laws provided the only alternative to institutional life or an insecure informal adoption or fostering arrangement in Ireland. The adoption of legitimate children presented a challenge in the context of the government's conceptualization of ‘normal’ or appropriate family composition. The evolution of Ireland's adoption process up to 1952 reveals the yawning schism between the republican ideal to ‘cherish all the children of the nation equally,’ and the way the state dealt with children who for whatever reason could not be cared for and protected by their own biological parents.
This chapter investigates the physical and sexual violence to which children were subjected in twentieth-century Ireland. The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), in spite of its founding mission to protect children from ‘cruelty,’ rarely dealt with explicit cases of cruelty, abuse, or assault in the course of their daily rounds. The use of corporal punishment in national schools is then discussed. Children were subject to a significant degree of sexual violence in twentieth-century Ireland. Sentencing and conviction patterns show that sexual crimes against children were not treated as serious, and no one recognized the potentially harmful long-term effects of sexual abuse on children. Irish society at all levels tolerated a degree of violence against children that was striking in its regularity and routineness.
Contemporary cases of infanticide typically are greeted with revulsion and incredulity within an Irish population. The Infanticide Act could be seen as an effort on the part of lawmakers to bring statute into line with what had gradually become standard judicial practice. The reaction of Catholic writers to infanticide represented a mixture of theology and pragmatism that occasionally conflicted with official Catholic teaching. The 1949 Infanticide Act owed less to the influence of the Catholic Church than to a combination of British criminal justice principles, current judicial practice and basic pragmatism. Judges and juries usually approached infanticide cases from the assumption that the ‘typical’ infanticide defendant was a poor, seduced, desperate woman who committed infanticide on the spur of the moment, out of a sense of panic and shame.
Transcripts and newspaper accounts of infanticide cases suggest that the sexually ignorant, innocent and demure woman does not necessarily reflect the experiences and motivations of ordinary Irish women. The involvement of family members in individual cases of infanticide offers insight into the role families and communities played in defining and regulating the moral and sexual behavior of their members. While all of the women presented likely experienced some degree of fear, shame or desperation in killing their newborn children, it becomes clear that newborn children were easily expendable in their efforts to protect their own and their families' reputations. The evidence in infanticide cases begs a re-evaluation of constructions of sexuality, maternity, family life and childhood that were disseminated through moralist literature and have been accepted almost uncritically by feminist and social historians.