Pregnancy and infancy in modern Ireland
The portrayal of Irish society in the past as sexually repressed and dominated by the ethos of the Roman Catholic Church is a familiar one. Yet, there has been surprisingly little research into how this moral regime functioned in practice or how individual men and women responded to it. The chapters in this volume explore some of the means to which Irish people negotiated their way around the legal and social regulation of their private lives from the seventeenth through to the middle decades of the twentieth century. They question many of the common assumptions made about Irish society and sexual practices. Individual chapters suggest, for example, that the history of birth control in Ireland is more complex than has been recognized; that sex outside marriage was more frequent than a previous generation of historians appreciated; and that, despite the much vaunted love of children by Irish families, infanticide was a regular occurrence in eighteenth- and nineteenth- century Ireland. It was also a crime which members of the local community often helped the perpetrators to conceal. The book, thus, amply fulfils the ‘ground breaking’ remit of the Institute of Historical Research for its new series.
A core aim of the Women’s History Association of Ireland is to promote research into the history of women. The association was very pleased to host the 2010 conference on the theme of infants and children in Queen’s University Belfast. The proceedings, edited by the conference organizer, Elaine Farrell, not only represent a significant contribution to the history of women in Ireland but they also open up new research agendas into the history of childhood and of parenthood. In English historiography, women’s history emerged from a renewed interest in social history in the late twentieth century. By contrast, in Ireland, as this volume demonstrates, women’s history has been one of the driving forces behind the development of Irish social history.
Many of the chapters in the collection examine issues that still have a contemporary resonance in Irish society. They provide a valuable historical context for the public discourse on topics such as the use of contraceptives, abortion, single motherhood and the care of children. For this reason, too, the book should have a wide readership and impact.