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Saturday, 18 March 2017

In the Name of the Mother. Once we were Bastards.

                                                            CHERISH (WARRIOR WOMEN)

"So, you could take him to court for maintenace, yeah,  there's a law now, but you'd have to prove he was the father.  When you got there."
"You mean like swear to it in the court?"
"I mean like stand there and watch him call ten of his pals to say they all slept with you, and it could have been any one of them, the sort you were"
"Oh"
"Yeah, that or some version of it."
That was a discussion among women in 1980 at a Cherish meeting. It was concluded that it was preferable to rely on the Unmarried Mother's Allowance, in a general discussion on practical survival in a begrudging world where landlords did not want single mothers, childcare was random,  and available work was not for you. You ploughed on in your solitary existence of queuing and jumping through hoops for social welfare handouts, finding and warming up damp, dank crumbling flats as best you might, spinning from your own body and soul a haven to keep a child alive, safe and loved.

You had Cherish, the organisation set up by single mothers to support and advocate for rights, to let you have scare information on basic survival stratagems. They, in weekly meetings, let you in from the cold of solitary hardship, warmed you up with companionable, inclusive advocacy. There was a lot of brave souls in there in the Pembroke Street Cherish headquarters. Many warrior mothers, who knew the oppositional harshness of the world towards women who claimed their own children to rear. A new world only possible when the Unmarried Mother's Allowance became available in 1973.


The burning issue for Cherish, the battle line drawn, was the abolition of Illegitimacy. The committee lobbied TDs, the Taoiseach Charles Haughty,  anyone who could be made to listen. They pushed the issue doggedly.  As the new bill was introduced in the Dail, there was passionate, agonised debate about the granting of access rights to the fathers, which would come with the rest.
"So... he wants no responsibility, he took no responsibiilty, he made damn sure to play no part in any of it, except to deny me, deny the child, so... tell me why, why the bloody good fuck should I, should we, should anyone give them the opportunity to cause more damage now?"
The proposition of supportive responsible fatherhood was too exotic, too unknown to be entertained.

The status of Illigitimacy was not abolished until 1987. The ending of bastard status for children was resisted, right down to the wire, by the establishment.  Thereafter,  DNA testing became available with consequent successful extraction of maintenance from men.  And they, having been hauled kicking and screaming into fatherhood, began (at last) to look for access.

It all comes back to you, listening to the passionate demonising of the Church, the Nuns, on the uncovering of dead children at Tuam. I don't say discovery, because it is not. it was known anecdotally and by the townspeople of Tuam for decades. I don't say 800 babies either. That is the total number of infants named, who died in the Bon Secours Convent in Tuam over a thirty six year period.  Oh, you could demonise the Catholic Church. Why not? What does it matter. They are burnt out, a busted flush, irrelevant now, and they are in the frame. And there is a fine warm glow of virtuous righteousness to be got from it. But its a crock. And it does matter actually.

                                              ALL THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTIONS

You could usefully, in a neat reframing, demonise Men. They are equally in the frame. I listen to blaming assertions that we were all terrified, cowed, by Catholic Church. Not cowed enough apparently to stop men having sex outside of the holy bonds of Matrimony on a regular basis.

See it in context too. The Church was adamant in confining sex to marriage and the begetting of children for women. Sexuality, erotic feeling, sensuality was non existent in women in that narrative, unless you were a whore, a prostitute. Men, then, engaged in a kind of sex that more resembled a wrestling match. i.e. you weren't supposed to want it unless you were married, and after babies. Or seeking to lay a trap. You could say the church, men in frocks, created that kind of thinking, but how exactly did unmarried women got pregnant in such numbers, unless they forced, taken advantage of, judged and discarded if they failed to fight you off.  The sinister logic of blaming the injured party. Or they were whores.

Eight hundred children named in a heart breaking rollcall released all over social media, bear their mother's name, i.e. the christian name given by some desperately hopeful woman, and that woman's surname. Each name were recorded by the Nuns as the children came into the world and left it again.
That's where the information came from.

Protestant women did not go for deliverance to the Nuns. They were sent to Bethany Home in Dublin. Bethany Home Survivor's group have joined in the angry chorus, seeking redress, to be likewise acknowledged. Those women and children suffered a similar fate. The death rate for infants in those homes were on the same scale. The children's death certificates record 'marasmus' as cause of  death. They died of marasmus.  Marasmus was a poem of severe malnutrition.
                                                 
                                                        NUNS  MEN AND MARASMUS

That's what killed them all one way or another, malnutrition, so that they succumbed to infection or died of hunger. Catholic and protestant institutions, same difference. They were given no place in the world and no father. Period.

It was not until the dawning of the welfare state that the Unmarried Mother's Allowance made survival possible,  so that women could even begin to address this situation, to claim their own children, to attempt to re educate men. That and DNA testing allowed them to begin.

You listen to tales of barbarism towards women in Muslim countries, other countries,  India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, enraging tales of women abused and blamed, punished for the abuse perpetrated on them by men. Evil, evil, evil, it clearly is. You think that evil is another country. It isn't. The imbalance of power between the sexes causes horrors, damage and destruction wherever it occurs. India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia,  Ireland.

                                                         TO FALL SO FAR (FROM GRACE)

The Church colluded with a dominant patriarchal society in Ireland to starve, control, and punish. No good could come from it,  no good did come from it.  Some sort of Social Order maybe. The only point in exposing this now is to learn from it, to understand it, to see human nature in all its shadings. Particularly if we are to try living decently in this twenty first century world where helpless Grace is abused, tortured and abandoned, over and over and over, year after year after year without end.