An Irish expat in Boston feels ashamed to be Irish at the moment.
It’s hard to like or be proud of your own country, a country where bad things have happened: church-concealed child sexual abuse, women’s labor camps, a.k.a. Magdalene Laundries, and, now, 796 unconsecrated and unmarked baby graves. No, not ‘happened.’ These atrocities were perpetrated, ignored and criminally concealed. The victims? Women, children and the poor. The atonement? Little to none.
Even if the national will or means were there, even if it could be orchestrated, how would Ireland carry out a reconciliation process? What does it take for a country to have or to acquire the morality, the humility and the will to atone for collective cruelties to its most vulnerable citizens?
I don’t know. But I do think that a formal separation of church and state would be a very good start. So would an end to the hypocritical set of laws that still mandates that 21st-century Irish women must travel overseas for legal, safe abortions.
Aine Greaney made it to adulthood all right, without being locked up in a laundry or having a baby yanked away from her to be sold to someone from California.
So this particular brand of Irish “bad thing” didn’t happen to me.
But please tell me that there is no woman with a uterus, a brain and a heart who has read the reports of the St. Mary’s mothers’ and babies’ home in Tuam, County Galway — plus the follow-on reports from other similar homes in Cork and Westmeath – and not felt sickened? Surely no woman can read about those interned and tortured unmarried mothers and not know that this is about all of us?
Lest we protest that history is history, that we cannot superimpose a modern, enlightened sensibility upon a church-whipped past, let me assure you that this shaming of women, this Irish neutering of our female sexuality, extended well into and beyond the 1980s.
Which means that it will take decades more – it will take a couple of generations dying off – before it’s out of the system altogether.
I have always been proud of how, regardless of economics, religious belief or social class, we Irish maintain and observe a ritualistic solemnity around death. Even in the most impoverished, most illiterate times, we perform those sacred rituals that send the dead off to their next place. Irish companies and nonprofits allow their employees much more bereavement time than their American counterparts. During and after the full, two-day funeral, we Irish make enough tea and deliver enough curries or casseroles to keep the bereaved from feeling lonely or hungry or abandoned.
But I was wrong about this national trait. My pride was misplaced. This latest story proves that our Irish reverence was only for those who died under our approved moral codes — a code that had little or nothing to do with morality. For the Irish, some corpses are more equal, more deserving of ritual and reverence than others. What a national and diaspora-wide disgrace.
Which is really morality – kindness and compassion, or keeping your legs closed?