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

Date: 
Wednesday, January 19, 2022
Location: 
Online

Time: 19:30-22:30 GMT

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DRI's Dr Lorraine Grimes will be speaking about her research on unmarried mothers in Britain at a seminar run by Manchester & Lancashire Family History Society (FHS).

About this event

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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