Written on: 10. 7. 2021 in the category: Uncategorized

Lynch-mobs love going over old ground again

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The great thing about a lynch mob is that it never learns, never listens and never repents. Quite the reverse: it never ceases to revisit old ground to gore the odd hapless survivor. Now I didn’t know quite what to expect when I wrote the column below nine years ago, but I was reasonably sure that Yvonne Murphy would be in for a hard time when she finally produced her report. And so it proved. Most of you will have read Anne’s Harris superb rejection of the lynch-mob’s howling rage over Yvonne’s measured report, in which my former chum from UCD, the irreproachably brilliant Mary Daly, also had more than a hand.

Anyway, this is what I wrote when Yvonne was first commissioned to undertake her study of these children’s homes. The information that it contains all came from The Irish Times archive, using the words “unmarried mothers” as a search tool. This means that any commentator who wanted to acquaint themselves with some of the true history of this deplorable episode in Irish history could have done so. So far as I can see, none did, not even those with access to state archives: I need hardly tell you the horror that passed my system when I realised that NINE YEARS had elapsed since I wrote these words……

And now it’s the turn of the Bon Secours sisters for their hour of national hate. Good luck girls – and just pray that the mob soon moves on elsewhere. Your deeds will probably soon slip down the register of unbearable infamy, while the national psyche seeks new targets for our traditional community-sport: hunting-pack hysteria.

Now whatever happened in Tuam didn’t occur in isolation:  Irish society as a whole conspired to stigmatise unmarried mothers. And not just Ireland. In the US in 1922, simply because she was unmarried, and on orders from Washington, an English single immigrant mother and her son at Ellis Island were granted permission to enter the US only after she had posted a $1,000 bond, presumably lest she corrupt American manhood.

In 1924, not coincidentally, soon after independence, County Galway’s Library Committee submitted a large number of books to the Archbishop of Tuam for his approval. He duly condemned to mass-incineration any published works that he even suspected of being anti-Christian, or about sex, or engaged in – yes, here it is – ‘the glorification of unmarried mothers.’

The offending books were duly burnt in a sanctimoniously episcopal bonfire over Christmas 1924, a deed justified by Galway Library Committee. ‘Whatever was done was honestly and conscientiously done in the moral interests of the people,” it stated, “and we fear no publicity or criticism and have no apology to make.”

Contrary to some reports, George Bernard Shaw’s books were not burnt – but instead were made inaccessible, to be read only with the special authorisation of the book-burners of the Library Committee. Shaw got off lightly. The committee-secretary observed sagely: “No-one would hold that authors such as Tolstoy are suitable for circulation.”

The committee’s Professor Howley of UCG agreed: “What was to be done with these books? Was there any great sin in incinerating them?” Five years later, Howley was elected President of the Library Association of Ireland; its vice-president was Professor Eoin MacNeill of UCD, formerly head of the Irish Volunteers, thus effectively putting an official imprimatur on the strategy of censorship by fire.

In 1928, Senator Toal told Monaghan County Council of a serious outcry over ‘the problem of unmarried mothers’. “They should not make a palace of the County Home …there was one class (of inmate) that was increasing. The County Home provided for them after they misconducted themselves…they

get treatment and nourishment for themselves and their children ..then they go out about the country and then come back in again….a great many were ‘hardy annuals’ who (are) bringing disgrace on the county.”

Four years later, Monaghan council heard that attempts to bring prosecutions against unmarried mothers had proved – as the Council Chairman J. F. Smyth elegantly put it – ‘abortive.’

When in 1938 a Catholic priest – yes, one of the nowadays-hated representatives of Rome – Father Donohoe strongly condemned Carlow County Council’s policy of compulsorily incarcerating single mothers and their children in the County Home, the county council chairman Mr Hughes TD replied: “Why should we give them the right to refuse? They are living on the charity of (the) people.”

*The Bon Secours sisters set up their home in Tuam not long after the Archbishop’s book-burning capers there. Is the atmosphere any less fevered today, when newspaper headlines shriek about ‘Ireland’s holocaust’ – a grotesque terminological requisitioning of the most abominable crime in Europe’s history? A solicitor, Kevin Higgins, last week even said to the High Court that a senior Bon Secours nun ‘was lying through her teeth…as is the norm for the Bon Secours sisters.’*

The norm? An officer of the court actually said that? So let’s get a few things straight. The bodies of some 796 brutally slain children were NOT secretly buried in the Tuam site. That’s simply the number of children who died there – around thirty-six a year for thirty-six years, and tragic though these deaths unquestionably are, there’s no evidence that any of them was murdered. Moreover, of all the unspeakable statistics of Irish independence, perhaps none equals this: between 1922 and 1950, 183 women were tried for infanticide.

What should we do now? Burning a few nuns might be a good start: no doubt our media-Salemites will eagerly light the faggots gathered around a few elderly Bon Secours ankles. Also, perhaps we should also extend Judge Yvonne Murphy’s limited enquiry into all 180 institutions minding children from 1922, including the Protestant Boys Orphanage in Clifden, which some gallant IRA arsonists destroyed in 1922, just two years before the equally heroic book-burning at Tuam not so very far away. (A useful tip to patriots: whenever in doubt, burn or blow up). So if the Government would kindly grant my friend Yvonne another fifty years or so of life, and agreed to spend the combined equivalent of the costs of the Beef, Planning and Payment-to-Politicians Tribunals on her enquiry, aided perhaps by a few, wide-ranging, fearless and frank séances, the Irish people might finally get, as we say these days, ‘closure’, whatever that may actually mean.

On Tuesday, the Taoiseach treated Dail Eireann to an amdram display of scripted rage over the historic fate of single mothers. Yet last year, he was hailing the men and women of 1916. He cannot pretend that the Ireland of the 1920s was not made by that generation of pseudo-republican papist zealots, who when their time came, faithfully handed over the institutions of the new state to the Catholic hierarchy. Which is why Galway County Library Board outsourced censorship duties to the Archbishop of Tuam and his box of matches, and why the Free State’s Obscene Publications Act soon afterwards outlawed the public use of the words ‘abortion’; and ‘menstruation’. Thus, The Irish Times mentioned the latter (admittedly deeply depraved) word in its report on the Committee of Evil Literature in February 1927. This word did not appear again in the Times until 1946, in an agency-article on the after-effects of the atom bombs on Japan – perhaps the subs didn’t notice it, or maybe adjudged the contextual incineration of 150,000 human beings to have drained it of any possible aphrodisiac effects – and never again until the 1970s.

The policies of Irish governments for decades were driven by the semi-hysteria of Catholic religiosity. Was this really so very different from appeasing the screaming breast-beating Tuam-zealots of today?

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