Given the teachings that informed the birth and evolution of the State, teachings that still have a profound influence on our idealisation of motherhood, our society reserves a particularly special disdain for single mothers.In this newspaper in 2005, columnist Kevin Myers writing about “mothers of bastards” said: “from such warped timber true masts are seldom hewn”.Fr Sheehy later defended his actions, saying he had no regrets and by way of explanation said: “She’s the mother of a young child as well and, you know, that in itself doesn’t look good.” Again his comments were widely criticised, but the numbers who joined him in his actions in the Tralee courtroom give lie to any argument that his sentiments were his own only.
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My now four-year-old son was six months old when a man – educated, urbane, older than I was – shouted at me: “If you didn’t want the child, you should have kept your knickers on.” I was coming out of, what both I and my son’s father would now agree, had become an impossibly difficult relationship.
It was a trying time for us both and we both received support from friends and family.
However unpalatable a truth as this may be, Ireland is not yet a welcoming society for single parents – whether single mothers or single fathers.
Separated fathers who experience the inverted patriarchy of the family courts or who are denied rent allowance sufficient to allow them provide a home with space enough to have their children stay overnight will testify to systemic prejudice directed at them.
The article may have outraged public opinion but there is little doubt he expressed a view held well beyond Dublin’s Fleet Street, albeit a view few would dare express publicly.