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Ireland, I Love You But…

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It’s the 8th of March. This day is important. This month is also important; after all, March brings with it St. Patrick’s Day. Or Paddy’s Day, if you prefer. Not Patty. Never Patty. Patty is a girl’s name, or what you call burger meat, or, apparently, an item of food covered in dough or batter. I can’t explain the full-body cringe I experience when somebody calls it Patty’s Day.

March always sweeps in a deep love of everything Irish, all things green and shamrock-shaped. Anyone with even a drop of Irish blood to their name puffs out their chest with pride and loudly proclaims their heritage as if they had traveled back in time and handpicked their ancestors themselves. Landmarks across the world turn green in solidarity, and there are drunken parades in hundreds of cities. It’s really quite heartwarming to see how many people across the globe identify with the Irish.

And why wouldn’t they? There are so many great things about Ireland. So many. The landscape, the people, the batter burgers, the pubs, the music, the slice of Ray’s pizza after a night out in Dublin, the banter, the brunch options, the architecture, the history… I could go on and on. Today though, I’m not going to talk about any of that. Today I want to talk about something important that doesn’t cast Ireland in the best light, to say the least.

[Sidenote: They say you should never talk about politics, sex or religion. Since I’ve already discussed politics, and I’ve already talked (about not talking) about sex… consider this post hitting the trifecta. This post contains a smattering of all three.]

Ireland is sometimes called ‘the land of saints and scholars’ because of its long history of catholicism and lyrical storytelling. When most of the country gained its independence it was a poor fledgling state, and the Catholic Church stepped in to help in much the same way as that sketchy sober guy in the corner who’s been watching your friend get plastered appears at her elbow at the end of the night when she can barely stand and graciously offers to “bring her home.”

The Catholic Church went about inserting itself into every facet of society. Churches popped up everywhere, dividing the country into little parishes that formed communities. They poured money into the education system, starting many catholic-run schools. They helped a struggling country to get on its feet.

At the same time though, they imposed their values on the country. Through a brutally tight interlocking of church and state, we ended up with a country that punished women for their sexuality; unmarried women who got pregnant were sent to Magdalene Laundries run by orders of nuns, where they delivered their babies (who were taken away from them and sold) and entered into a form of indentured slavery. Some lived there until they died. The last Magdalene Laundry only closed in 1996.

This past week a report came out about the bodies of 796 babies, ranging in age from 35 weeks to 2 or 3 years old, that have been found in what used to be a septic tank in the grounds of one of these laundries in Tuam. It seems many, many babies sickened, died, and were then placed in this septic tank and erased from the narrative. As they were ‘children of sin,’ their lives were almost disposable. At the moment it is unclear if this horror is an anomaly, or a systematic practice that took place at other laundries.

Imagine the eye-watering hypocrisy of decrying contraception and abortion as the pinnacle of sin, while placing little to no value on the lives of unmarried women and their babies once they were born.

As recently as 1984 – two years before I was born – a 15 year old schoolgirl named Ann Lovett got pregnant and – with no options available to her – tried to deliver her baby by herself in the Virgin Mary’s Grotto behind the church in her village. She was in her school uniform. She carried a pair of scissors in her schoolbag to cut the umbilical cord. She bled out and her baby died of hypothermia there on the cold hard ground as the statue of Mary looked on in bland indifference.

Less than five years ago, a woman named Savita Halappanavar died an entirely preventable death when the doctors were unable to terminate the septic pregnancy that was killing her thanks to the 8th amendment of our constitution. The 8th amendment was brought in on the 17th February 1992, and states that the the unborn has just as much of a right to life as the mother. This has resulted in cases such as the X Case, where a 14 year old girl who had been raped was prevented from travelling to England for an abortion, despite being deemed a suicide risk. Abortion is completely illegal in Ireland.

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Every day, approximately ten Irish women travel to England for an abortion.

I know and understand the reasons that people are pro-life. I respect them. If you are pro-life, that is your prerogative.

What I cannot understand is that my life, with all of its intricacies – my memories, my hopes, my hobbies, my relationships, my experiences – is considered equal to that of an unborn baby. I cannot understand that my life, half-lived, is only considered as important as that of a fertilised egg, and that that is enshrined in the Irish constitution.

Typing all of this has been heartwrenching. Thinking about the way that my country, which I love, has treated women in the recent past hurts. It twists something inside me to think that if I had been born even fifty years earlier, I could have been a Magdalene. I could have been an Ann Lovett. I might have been young and in love and unlucky. Even now, I could be young and in love and unlucky. Even now, I could be Savita.

Today is the 8th of March.

Today we strike for repeal of the 8th amendment.

0 thoughts on “Ireland, I Love You But…

  1. Truly powerful post and extremely well written. The fact that a religion, a politician, or indeed a political party thinks they have a right of control over an individual is inherently wrong to me. On a side note, I am proud to be of Irish heritage, and I enjoy some of the benefits of St. Patrick’s Day (such as a huge upswing in Irish musicians touring here during March), much of it leaves me cold. On the day itself I have been known to shun wearing green and pretend to be a Norwegian named Lars instead of being of Irish. It saves me from what you describe in your opening paragraph!

    But seriously, I think this is one of your best posts thus far.

  2. Wow Quinn! I so very much admire and applaud ANYONE who isn’t afraid to tell, to share the ENTIRE story of a people, place, or thing! Not just the sugar-coated happy parts, but the ugly too. Bravo, bravo, BRAVO you empowered woman!!! <3 😀

    In my humble opinion, this sort of inhumanity and ideological insanity is more a human condition than a national crisis. I could share some horrific stories from my native lands too. Nevertheless, if freedom to question, freedom to express ingenious and/or challenging ideas upon an ideology or mythical traditions is oppressed… ignorance follows, even extinction. A famous American politician once said:

    “My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.” — Adlai Stevenson

    The human condition complete with incessant fear, manufactured ignorance, peer-pressure or peer-assimilation, and the enormous power of the placebo effect, or “expectation” — whether based in reality or not — eventually leads a group into very Dark Ages indeed. The [perpetual] unexamined life is a life not worth living. Most all human superstitions (or religions) are rote with these debilitating ingredients. Their consequences are seen in matters of which you speak here and sadly have been so since the 1st-century BCE around the world. 🙁

    How peculiar that we brilliant(?) humans are SO DIFFICULT to dislodge from ancient antequated paradigms, huh!? Astounding really.

    Excellent post Quinn! Thank you for your loud, important, female-empowered voice! <3

  3. Thank you for writing and sharing that. I was completely oblivious to this and I think it is something that people must hear about. I can’t say for 100% if I am pro life or not, though I am slightly gearing towards pro-life, however in my mind it’s not so black and white. I really believe it depends on the circumstances and I truly believe that God is forgiving and people who do believe in God forget this. We’re human, we all make mistakes and I have been taught from a young age that God loves us more than any mother can love her child, so surely God is much more forgiving then we may give Him credit for. I fail to understand the hypocrisy, what good is it to be pro-life if babies will be dumped in that way? There’s no justice in that and it’s breaks my heart truly for wasting that life that many protest over constantly. Might as well have been terminated in the womb than to suffer a sickly painful death.
    Great post, I absolutely loved it.

      1. I’m glad you did, someone had to shed the light. It does sadden me immensely how cruel the world has become and how badly women are looked upon even till this day who have babies out of wedlock. Reading your post actually brought tears to my eyes, it was heartbreaking and yet enlightening

  4. My opinion on this, as it is with everything that is political, is that the people ought to have the right to set the rules that they wish to be governed by. All too often we elect people who promise one thing and then turn their backs on those who had elected them. Let the voice of Ireland be heard.

  5. The Philippines and Ireland share very many similar aspects in this regard. Only in 2012 did they pass the Reproductive Health Bill that would finally universally guarantee access to contraceptives and maternal care. Abortion still remains illegal, and we have so many families living in poverty and struggling and the numbers continue to grow because these poor uneducated families know very little past what the church tells them, lest they lose that form of support as well. I do also find it especially poignant that you write this on what also happens to be International Women’s Day. I would never disparage someone of their beleifs, but I do hope one day many of these nations would realize that belief and law are two separate things and should remain so.

  6. I too thought this probably your best post yet. Very well written! It broke my heart to read the horror that went on in your country, I can’t believe it was going on all the way up until 1996. It is inexcusable. I am pro-life 100% but I am pro-choice too. I do not at all believe that your life is less important than that of an unborn child, just the same that I do not believe yours is any more important than theirs. It is not my place to choose or to say. I think the lines have been blurred to the point where pro-life isn’t what people want it to be and neither is pro-choice. It is for that reason that I usually stay out of the subject altogether. Needless to say, I thank you for writing this and educating others on a subject they might not have known about otherwise. Your sentiments were heartfelt and I can appreciate that to the fullest.

  7. This. Was. Amazing.
    I’m in complete awe and I’ve read this post twice.

    I’m Catholic and also Irish. But I don’t go to church and I don’t follow Catholic beliefs because there’s a lot I don’t agree with. I was basically ‘forced’ to be Catholic by my grandmother. She was a Nun (or was trying to be one) until she met my grandfather.

    And I’m totally guilty of the ‘St. Patties Day.’

    One day I’ll hopefully be able to visit Ireland. Such a beautiful place. ❤

  8. Excellent work: Poignant, moving, rational. Thank you for it, especially given how disturbing it was to write it. But I’m so glad you did.

    I’m curious, do you think the 1992 amendment will be changed or repealed at some point? Is there currently any creditable movement to do that? If not, I think there certainly needs to be one.

  9. That was heartbreaking. I knew it was bad but I didn’t know it was that bad.
    And also – really well-written Quinn. That could easily be published in a magazine/newspaper.

  10. Great post. As a tenuously unsure pro-lifer, I wrestle with the abortion issue constantly, one thing I know is it isn’t a simple one. But, the very real and monstrous injustices and physical peril women and their babies have had to face should always be front and center in our minds above any political ideology or affiliation. Your post immediately made me think of Philomena, a film that I didn’t think that I’d like but I found really touching in the end.

    1. I know it’s such a sensitive subject and touched on nerves on both sides.. Yes I watched Philomena, if you’re interested there’s an Irish movie called The Magdalene Sisters that’s based on the true stories of three women sent to the Magdalene Laundries. Unsurprisingly it’s not as light-hearted as Philomena but it is truthful to the time.

  11. You write beautifully and powerfully. Woman’s rights have such a long way to go. In Australia, we read with horror about the tiny bones that were discovered. It came in the same week the inquest into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church (and other institutions) revealed other heinous acts against children. One poor mother was told that because her adopted daughter was born as the result of a sinful act that the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a priest (which lead to her suicide) wasn’t significant enough to warrant an investigation. Thirty years later she still hasn’t seen justice done.

    1. I feel that the Church’s reluctance to even confront the sins of the past – let alone make amends for them – is a huge mistake. I didn’t go into it but the systematic abuse of children at church-run schools and in parishes across the country, although eventually apologised for, has only been paid lip service here. The state ended up paying the victims compensation and the church now “owes” the state €50 million just for the victims of sexual abuse.

      I put it in quotes because I don’t think the state will ever see that money. As usual the people of Ireland paid for the Church’s misdeeds, only this time literally.

      1. I was raised Catholic but by the time I was in my early teens I was not a believer. It is a despicable institution that would only need to sell on or two of its jewelled tabernacles or offertory cups to raise that amount of money. But it will not. The more one learns the more it stinks. Atheism rocks. It is a belief system that exploits no one.

  12. I have to agree with Robert and say that I think this is one of your best posts so far. That was so well written.

    I am not of Irish descent but you don’t have to be to realise that those things you describe are wrong and should never happen.

  13. I had no idea that abortion was illegal in Ireland. I am only vaguely aware of Ireland’s deeply religious ties, something I’ve heard about in passing but never thought too much about it.

    What happened to those women and babies is awful. Every one should have the choice to have a baby or not and a safe place to go to terminate it.

    On another note… everyone around here says St. Patty’s Day… but really with our accents it sounds like St. Paddy’s, so not so cringe inducing!

  14. Thank you for the enlightenment. I had no idea of the history between Ireland and the Catholic church (though reading about it seemed to have connected a bunch of dots in my mind).

    As a prior victim of rape and of having a pregnancy scare by my abuser, this topic always stirs something up in me. It’s scary to think that not too long ago, these practices were in full swing and that, if in another time, I could have been sent to a Magdalene Laundry.

    I could talk about this topic for days and not run out of things to say. I’ve even edited this comment at least 10 times to try and stay as PC as possible, but I find it completely absurd that people think a woman’s life is equal or even less than that of a fetus.

  15. An excellent post, Quinn. My son-in-law Declan is from Dublin and feels the way you do, we have talked about this subject. It is important for your voice to be heard, as that’s the only way change will take place, when enough voices are raised.

    On a lighter note, Declan’s father’s name is Patrick… he is called Paddy. Here is a story I wrote about St. Paddy’s Day once… http://tedstrutz.com/2012/03/15/俳句-haiku-bombers-2-st-paddys-tacos/

  16. Brilliantly written Quinn. This is a pitch-black scar on our past, still rippling in present day, and the recent revelations at Tuam, the legacy of Magdalene laundries and the women bravely still telling their stories to family and media is shocking but hopefully will increase the intensity of light shone on horrid actions by the church.

    It is a bold writer to express views on this subject so I honour you for doing so, particularly as the global perception of Ireland is almost universally of a country steeped in craic agus cool, a country of people emanating warmth and welcome…all of this is true, but it is also imperative that we share the truth of a past many in Ireland have worked to keep buried and debunk the myth that all is simply rose in Ireland’s history. In doing so, the young women, babies and families gravely impacted by such horrendous practice that went on behind closed doors in Tuam will no longer be cloaked in a shaming silence.

    Well done on your wonderful blog.
    Estella

    1. Thanks Estella. I agree, it’s such a dark stain and it will never come out. I don’t think we should just cover it over though I think we need to pull it out into the light and examine it so it never happens again. Thanks for dropping by.

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