Bad romance: 10 surprising facts about the Irish and sex
What is it about the Irish and sex? Pre-Christian Irish attitudes to sex were decidedly more liberal than in recent times, where Cupid was saddled with a chastity belt by an outwardly pious nation. But have times changed? You be the judge. Here are 10 surprising facts about the Irish and sex:
1. Sexual Equality
Ancient Irish laws, called the Brehon Laws, provided women full equality with men. That’s right, they could inherit property or bequeath their own; they could marry or divorce the man of their choosing; even the right of a woman to experience satisfaction in marriage was enshrined in its legal framework. In Europe, where burning uppity women at the stake became a national pastime, the Irish attitude to sexual equality between the sexes was nothing short of revolutionary. Stamping out of the Brehon Laws, and with them the rights of women, was finally accomplished under Queen Elizabeth of England.
2. The land of sex and sinners
When it came to matters of love Edmund Spencer, the Elizabethan poet, was appalled by Irish men, who were in the main, he wrote, a bunch of lascivious bisexuals who offered themselves freely to both women and men before his shocked gaze. Spencer enthusiastically recommended the extermination of the Irish race but was himself burned out of his famous castle in County Cork.
3. Bad Romance
The Irish much prefer a dramatic finish to a promising start. Think of Diarmuid and Grainne, think of Charles Stewart Parnell and Kitty O’Shea. Most of all think of poor Oscar Wilde. Wilde’s affair to remember will still be passionately discussed by people not yet born. Having married a beautiful but unsuspecting woman before his latent homosexuality became blatant, the real love of his life turned out to be Lord Alfred Douglas, a whey-faced flaxen -haired youth who ruined his life and reputation. In response Wilde did what generations of Irishmen have, he wrote a ballad that has outlived them all.
4. Do You Take This Man?
According to Yale historian John Boswell, the early Christian church in Ireland included widely performed sacraments and marriage rites for men, which means that the first instances of same sex marriages were held in Ireland. Tell that to your bishop the next time he fulminates against the gays.
5. Yes, I said, I will, yes
James Joyce and Molly Bloom. Their names will always be inseparable. Molly was a facsimile of Joyce’s flesh and blood wife Nora and in Ulysses, Joyce’s masterpiece, both writer and subject scandalized Ireland two decades before it became the philistine Catholic gulag he feared it might.
Joyce understood the twin threats to Ireland (and in a way, Irish women) came from Britain and Rome, so he recorded and celebrated every aspect of the Irish themselves from womb to tomb, how they lived and how they loved, the better to keep Ireland safe from colonial powers and spiritual dominance.