There has been a campaign in some of the Dublin press in recent weeks to blame Irish parents for the horrors that befell so many of their daughters in the nation's once plentiful Mother and Baby homes and Magdalene laundries - but it won't wash.

Pinning that tail on that particular donkey is an unmistakable attempt to absolve the Church of what so often happened to these young women once they were in the “care” of the nuns.

It's just a particularly bad faith exercise that says if everyone was to blame, then no one was to blame. On cue, one prominent conservative journalist in the Sunday Independent used his pulpit this weekend to write that Irish families were really the first to fail their daughters. So you see, it was all -your- fault. 

But were Irish families really the first to let these women down? I'd have thought the first and most intimate person to fail them was the man who had participated in the pregnancy and then absconded once the consequences became clear. 

Immediately after him came the shaming, cauterizing teachings of the Church to isolate the woman and make her feel powerless and soiled. The men usually escaped all religious and social censure. No one ever seemed to even look very hard for them.

Where did all these vanished fathers disappear to? Was there a land of vanished Da's? Why have we never read a national exposé about who they were and what they did and how they lived with the hard consequences for all the long years after?

Oh, that's right. Because they didn't usually suffer many consequences. They walked between the raindrops for the rest of their days. The shame and the sin and the social isolation were asymmetric and they belonged almost uniquely to the women they had impregnated and abandoned. 

August 26, 2018: A vigil at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway. (Getty Images)

August 26, 2018: A vigil at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway. (Getty Images)

I don't think we talk enough about this. About the gulag archipelago created by the Church to control women's lives and maximize the Church's own power through the 20th century in Ireland.

I don't think we realize just how deeply the early Irish state colluded and was, in part, built on the subjugation of women and the taking away of their power. 

Think of the town or village where you grew up. Ask yourself where the local grotto was. Usually, a statue of Mary occupied a place of some prominence, where all could see it. Now ask yourself what that image represented? You were looking at a mother who was also somehow still a virgin, a powerful but passive figure who continually subjected herself to God's will without any backchat at all. 

No matter how any living breathing Irish woman tried, she could never hope to reconcile the paradox of all that spotless purity and power. Mary had once conceived without sin, but you on the other hand? It was an image of celestial power in the sky that robbed you of your personal power on earth. Robbing women of their personal power would be big business for the Irish Church in the 20th century.

August 26, 2018: A vigil at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway. (Getty Images)

August 26, 2018: A vigil at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway. (Getty Images)

Yes, I'm also referring to the Irish children that the Church purloined and then sold. Tens of thousands of them. Often money was exchanged. Significant sums of money. Irish families, trying to avoid the shame of an unmarried daughter's pregnancy, were often silent or complicit. So, first, they were robbed of a grandchild, and then they were silenced by their fear of exposure. It was a system that was as effective as it was cruel. You were robbed and couldn't speak about it.

Imagine this kind of theft happening even once to a young mother, but then imagine it happening over and over to a nation. When I was at school in the 1980s, a girl that I knew and liked didn't come to class one Monday morning. Soon it became apparent that she would never come back at all.

January 13, 2021: A memorial at the site of the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway. (Getty Images)

January 13, 2021: A memorial at the site of the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway. (Getty Images)

Her desk sat empty and no teacher ever announced what had happened to her. She just vanished overnight, like a character in a mystery novel. Inevitably we just heard the speculation of our peers. Storylines were created for her. She was forgotten about quickly, I recall.

So you could still fall off the face of the earth and no one would make much of a fuss about it in Ireland in the 1980s. The mother and baby homes were still in operation. We grew up around the vestiges of that system and what it did to Irish women and the lesson now is to never again allow any church to dominate the national landscape, because we have learned comes at an unspeakable price. 

Writers who minimize the Church's culpability and emphasize the families are playing bait and switch because one held all the power and the other suffered all the consequences.

Iht 600x300px with button2