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​Irish Unmarried Mothers in Britain Speaker:​Dr Lorraine Grimes

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Being a single mother can be extremely challenging. Being a single mother in Ireland from the 1920s to 1980s was arguably even more so.

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In the early years of the Irish Free State, social stigma towards unmarried motherhood left limited State assistance or public support for single mothers and their children. An unmarried mothers allowance was not introduced in Ireland until 1973. While some single mothers may have been supported by their families, those who were not faced inequities on many fronts.

The ill acceptance of single motherhood in Irish society meant women were faced with few options. Entering a mother and baby home run by a religious congregation was one of the only forms of assistance available to single mothers in early independent Ireland, which rendered them secluded from the rest of society, and living under restrictive regimes.

Adoption was not legal until 1952, but informal adoptions still took place within mother and baby homes organised by the religious congregations. Issues around the mother’s consent of these adoptions have come to light in recent years, thrust forward by the stories of women such as Philomena Lee recounted in the media, and in books and film.

Without the support of a relative or friend, it was almost impossible for a single mother and her child to remain together. Some women worked and paid for the boarding out or fostering of their child. Through this arrangement, the child had the chance to experience life within a family home, but they were away from their mother and some may have been mistreated.

So what other options did unmarried Irish women have if they became pregnant? Migrating to Britain may appear to be a pragmatic choice in hindsight, but we know very little about how the women who chose to do so fared after leaving. As a single mother and an immigrant in Britain, did they face further stigmatisation? Did they keep and raise their child there? Did they face the same limited options and challenges as they did back home? Or was society more accepting?

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Organiser Manchester & Lancashire FHS

Organiser of ​Irish Unmarried Mothers in Britain Speaker:​Dr Lorraine Grimes

Manchester & Lancashire Family History Society was established in 1964. The Society encourages and supports research into family history and works for the preservation of and improved access to relevant archival material.

An important part of the Society's work is to educate researchers so that they may get the best out of their research through a regular programme of talks for beginners and quarterly meetings with speakers on topics relating to family history and local history within Greater Manchester. M&LFHS members benefit from free and/or priority access to these events.

For details of how to join M&LFHS visit the Society's pages at www.mlfhs.org.uk

 

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