In Ireland both men and women are down-graded, ridiculed, put down

Fears that this is developing into a valueless society

 Belvedere College students Matthew Collins, Adam Goodman, Niall Miller and Jack Rutledge participating in the Annual Sleepout to raise funds for the Homeless in 2012. Photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES

Belvedere College students Matthew Collins, Adam Goodman, Niall Miller and Jack Rutledge participating in the Annual Sleepout to raise funds for the Homeless in 2012. Photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES


‘Ah, Da, tell us the story again about the hospital ship.” He smiled with delight, but my mother groaned: “Oh not again, give us a break.”

She had heard it over and over, but we, as kids, never tired of the story, told by my father, who dished it out with a generous helping of poetic licence.

As he told it he “laid it on” – nothing was lost in the telling.

He was a chef on a hospital ship during the first World War.


This ship must have been an indestructible vessel because according to my father it was strafed, bombed and torpedoed, but somehow or other Mick Byrne, my father, continued to cook for the wounded soldiers and sailors on board the ship.

With graphic imagery he would describe the scene – blood everywhere, men without arms or legs enjoying the delicious food he prepared.

The vivid description by my father of the mutilated soldiers and sailors on that ship gave me a profound and lasting anti-war attitude, which has stayed with me all during my life.

Storytelling has a formative impact on the younger generations.

Older people have storehouses of experiences that younger people don’t have yet.

These stories can unveil scenes of yesterday’s world unknown to younger generations.

These stories reveal how life was in “the old days” and how the elders made great sacrifices to put bread on tables, worked hard in difficult situations to educate their children and washed clothes without the help of machines.

They lived in a world that was often inhuman and harsh. The narratives of seniors, both men and women, can motivate younger people to appreciate the good things they have now and to enjoy life with a sense of gratitude.

Preserve knowledge

Character formation is enhanced and developed by learning from the experiences of those who were here before us. We need to preserve the knowledge and heritage of the human family.

John Dewey, the renowned educator, called this knowledge “the funded capital of civilisation”.

An important task of character formation is to ensure that our “funded capital” is conserved and made available to younger generations.

However, character formation based solely on what is already known is inadequate.

According to Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator, there should be a dialectic between past knowledge and new knowledge, which together bring valuable insights.

One source of knowledge should form, inform and transform the other.

Men and women have narratives that should be told to younger generations. The young deserve to hear tales of ordinary goodness, heroism and care.

Unfortunately in contemporary Irish society both men and women are regularly disrespected by negative representations.


They are downgraded, ridiculed and put down.

The sticker, “when God made man he made a big mistake”, seen on the rear windows of cars, is but one example, as is the comment “typical men”.

Some TV soaps portray men as less than intelligent and lacking in common sense, while representations of women may also diminish and misrepresent them.

Character formation is one of the priorities in contemporary Ireland.

There is a fear expressed by some people that Ireland is developing into a valueless society, where life is cheap, with almost daily reporting of murders, rapes, armed robberies, child and elder abuse.

But there are also positive stories to be told to young people and about them. It is most impressive to find a deeply rooted concern by many young people for those in need: the aged, the homeless and the victims of Third World tragedies.

One has to be deeply impressed by those wonderful young people sleeping rough during night vigils to experience what it is like to be homeless.


Their fundraising activities and fasting periods for the hungry and victims of Third World emergencies make us all proud of these young people, who are products of meaningful character formation.

Narratives that are positive, supportive and inspirational form an essential part of this formation and there is a critical need for such narratives to counteract the misrepresentation of what is of real value in life.

Rev Dr Tony Byrne, CSSP, is director of the Awareness Education Service. Email: info

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