Problematising Pregnancy in Ireland, 1864-1913

Submitted by Dr Ciara Breathnach, Department of History, University of Limerick, Ireland.

Key words: infant mortality, illegitimacy, institutions

 

Problematic motherhood in Free State Ireland was routinely conflated with discourses of morality and illegitimacy, this tendency meant that overarching issues of health inequality and associated problems did not receive due consideration.  Indeed, the socio-legal positioning of the family followed the dictates of Roman Catholicism, the majority religion, much to the detriment of the socially disadvantaged. Together with Eunan O’Halpin I have co-written two articles on unknown infant dead, where parentage was unknown (Irish Historical Studies, 38:149,2012) and on the subject of unnamed infant dead, where parents were known to the authorities (Social History, 39:2, 2014) and placed them in wider social contexts. Our analysis of the records of civil registration and coroners’ courts records has led us to the conclusion that dire poverty played a central role in both instances, irrespective of marital status. This research has raised a host of other research questions about general cause of infant death –to include issues such as maternal health status, stillbirth and general ‘failure to thrive’- we quickly realized that we would need a much larger dataset.

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