Pegeen O’Sullivan reviews Motherhood in Ireland: creation and context, Patricia Kennedy (ed), Mercier Press, 20 euros pbk
THIS INVALUABLE book, which includes two appendices and 18 pages of bibliography, is made up on 21 articles on widely differing aspects of motherhood written by Irish women, each of whom is a specialist in her field.
For those of us who can remember Ireland in the 1930s, this is an enormously cheering book.
The overall picture is of a society that is happy with children. However, the authors are quick to point out that one size does not fit all. After a sensitive study of the grief of infertility, Flo Delaney goes on to speak with equal respect of women who consciously decide against having children.
It is typical of the respect shown by the authors of this book that the chapter on Traveller mothers is taken verbatim from the recorded words of three generations of women from a Traveller family. It is good to know that the health of the Travellers is now up to the standard of the settled community though, sadly, their infant mortality is 12 times as high.
There are two revealing remarks about living in Britain. In England no one called you an itinerant: “...you are passed as a Paddy”; and “I was brought up in England so I went to school”.
In the chapter entitled Mind Maps we encounter some shockingly unregenerate men. One opines that “fatherless males become ‘floating barbarians’ who are also associated with nitro-glycerine”. It always surprises me that people who predict such catastrophic results from absent fathers are not pacifists -- nothing so deprives families of the undoubted benefit of fathers as war.
If much has been done to alleviate the lot of women, much more remains to be done, particularly in respect of women in jail.
Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8JR
Copyright © 2004 Pegeen O'Sullivan