Good riddance to a hidden Ireland of not that long ago

Majella Moynihan: A heart rending tale of injustice, pain, courage and eventually happiness. Photo: Courtesy RTE.
Majella Moynihan: A heart rending tale of injustice, pain, courage and eventually happiness. Photo: Courtesy RTE.

Country Living with Francis Farragher

On an August Sunday last year, as a group of us travelled down from Dublin after our hurlers had been beaten by Limerick in the All-Ireland hurling final, we stayed tuned to a documentary on Radio 1 that told a shockingly sad story.

The year was 1946 and the story was that of a then 25-year-old single woman from Listowel by the name of Peggy McCarthy who found herself pregnant and in desperate of medical attention when she went into labour.

In summary, Peggy McCarthy was refused admission to two local hospitals because she was an unmarried mother, and belatedly, when she eventually got into Killarney Hospital, she died but her baby daughter, Breda, survived.

As if things weren’t bad enough, the local Parish Priest – a Canon Patrick Brennan – refused to allow her body to be brought to the church but the locals rose up in protest and broke through the locked gates allowing her remains to be kept overnight in the church.

The documentary entitled In Shame, Love, In Shame, then went a step further by chronicling the lifetime experience of Peggy McCarthy’s daughter, Breda, who ended up being institutionalised under the so-called care of the nuns, working in the Magdalen Laundries.

Anyway, as we chatted about how Ireland could have been such a horrible place back in the 1940s and 1950s, we all felt that a major change for the better had come with the modern Ireland – probably from the 1980s on – in terms of tolerance, respect for every individual, and a return to basic Christian values of charity, kindness and looking after one’s neighbours.

And then a few weeks back, in another Radio 1 documentary, entitled, The Case of Majella Moynihan, here was ‘old Ireland’ back to us once again, not in the darkest days of the 1940s and 1950s but in the mid-1980s.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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