The Personal and Political within Catholic Ireland


Sci-fi is a genre that I’ve never been able to get into and have never had the desire to change this. I find myself in the strange position now, however, of wishing I was some kind of sci-fi expert so that I could easily find a term for something that is half alive and half ghost. If there were such a term I’d use it to personify catholic Ireland, an institution that is still alive but dying with a ghost that wields most of its power.

Catholic Ireland was a violent, brutal regime that existed – among many other reasons - to dehumanise, torture and inflict as much pain as possible on women. The church sexualised us from no age through instilling notions of modesty and chastity in us. They then shamed us and hid us away when we did have sex and the evidence was there to prove it. While in hiding they tortured us in laundries and traumatised us in Mother and Baby Homes.

Through their harshness and utter contempt for us they murdered us and closed off whatever markers stood to show we existed and that we mattered. They dumped our “illegitimate” children in septic tanks and prayed not for their “souls”, but that they would never be found out.

The institution that created these conditions stands in rubble, but its ghost haunts us.

The old Ireland was seen in the present Ireland when Savita Halappanavar was told that her life and her health didn’t matter because “this is a catholic country.” We saw it again when the state tortured an asylum seeker who was so desperate to have an abortion and left with no other choice than to go through the gruelling and grinding Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act which led to the state forcing a c-section on her at the earliest opportunity. When a pregnant woman had died but was kept on life support despite the wishes of her family we heard the howls of a ghost we are so, so sick of.

The generations before us started the execution of this institution and we are finishing it off. The present Ireland consists of a fierce movement of young women banishing this ghost and taking control of our bodies and choices. For many, this goes beyond obtaining abortion rights, we want to change society and our place within it. No longer will we be treated like vessels. No longer will we branded hysterical for resisting. No longer will we be the slave of the home. No longer will we put up with this brutal oppression.

Just like in the generations that came before us, these two worlds clash and collide constantly. Oftentimes these worlds are the size of our homes.

This writer is a queer, abortion rights activist and anarchist organizer. This writer’s mother was a nun in catholic Ireland whose faith is as devout now as it was then.

These clashes and collisions aren’t always as simple or as exhilarating as the Rally for Choice and Rally for Life standing in close and heated contact on O’Connell Street. It’s coming out in a letter that you left on the kitchen counter on your way out to do a pro-choice stall because you were too broken from years of internalising homophobia to admit who you are to your mother’s face, despite your queerness radiating from every inch of you since birth. It’s being told you have blood on your hands for helping those women. It’s being told you’re loved and accepted and adored no matter what but being asked again and again if you’re still gay. It’s knowing that the person who has done the most for you in your life and who you love the most thinks that your views and actions, and possibly you, are evil.

It's finding out your mother worked in a Mother and Baby Home and spending the whole night in tears listening to the stories of women who came through it. It’s knowing that she was the kindest nun there, but that silence and turning a blind eye is complicity.

It's no longer being told that you remind your mum of her favourite person, your granny, because the qualities you share, your strength of mind and spirit, flourish when you are working for that which your mother hates the most. It's sensing how much hurt that must cause when that resemblance surfaces.

It’s a constant battle between longing for that time before you agitated against the church, and completely loving the person you have become and the activism you do.

It’s an indescribable sadness that no matter what is said or done, religion wields a power that no person can break for another.

It's knowing all too well that the personal is political, and while the big battle rages against the state and the church, mini-battles that are so insignificant in terms of scale within this war carry on. It is soldiers within our feminist army who suffer the wounds from the most unlikely of places; not directly from the church but from our mothers, our fathers, our aunts and uncles and so on.

The collective damage of the church outrageous us; the individual damage breaks us. The remedy for this damage lies in us destroying that which attempts to destroy us. It lies in the fight for a world with neither gods nor masters, with neither popes nor patriarchs.

Words: Fionnghuala Nic Roibeaird