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All churches ‘bastardised’ children

Patrick Kelly’s letter (January 31) on behalf of his — in his words — “bastard father,” and those like him who were castigated by Church pulpiteers and others, (1916, Granard, in his case) bears reflection.

It was not just the Catholic Church, but the several churches, and these, in combination with the State and the establishment and gentry, who slurred children born out of wedlock and their mothers.

Church directories show that Magdalen Homes were not merely Catholic Church establishments; they were collaborative, endorsed by society to penalise unorthodox behaviour.

This was practical: the vast majority of people were poor, living, if they were city dwellers, whole families to a room or two, or in thatched cottages in rural areas and similarly packed like sardines. These circumstances were occasions for incestuous relationships, according to the Catholic Church. There was no social welfare for families without bread-winners. So, unlucky mothers and their ‘illegitimate’ offspring were punished. Punishment included being ineligible for entry to the priesthood or religious orders.

Unnatural, celibate careers in religion were advocated as part of a complementary public policy. In Mr Kelly’s father’s time, more people were in religion, often as mendicants, than were employed in local government.

In the course of years of genealogical research into my surname, I have read through more than 80 rolls of microfilmed parish registers, covering close on a thousand Catholic parishes, in our National Library. While some entries were marked ‘illegitimate’, or the Latin equivalent, as was required of officiating clergy for both early births and births out of wedlock, only a handful were emblazoned in anger, with the word ‘bastard’ writ bold, or contained in a box for all to see. It was sad to read that Mr Kelly’s father was left behind when his mother’s marital family emigrated to Australia. It may have been for legal reasons, and he should investigate this further.

Today’s society is different: a kind of internship, complete with family formation, is now the norm for couples who marry and nurture their children to maturity. Others have children without the support of father-partners and expect, and enjoy, life-long benefits provided by the State. Other worthy causes of State support lose out on this account.

John Colgan
Leixlip
Co Kildare


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