My mother was weak and unwell as she struggled up St Michael’s Hill to be ‘churched’

Family Fortunes: For years women were made to feel ‘unclean’ after childbirth

Images of St Michael’s Hill, at the top of Winetavern Street, in Dublin, are depicted in old photos on the internet. While browsing recently I remembered a particularly difficult climb up that hill in 1952.

A younger sister was born prematurely and my mother was weak and unwell following the delivery. The Catholic Church’s official guideline, then, was that women should be “churched” four to six weeks after a birth.

My mother was home only a few days from the Coombe hospital when she went to be churched. While the church might argue otherwise, women were made to feel “unclean” following childbirth and, having carried out some research, I can only surmise that as my mother handled foodstuffs in our bakery it meant that she felt obliged to be churched sooner.

My father objected strongly as he felt she was not yet well enough to leave the house. My aunt Delia, a good strong woman, was recruited to help in getting her to the church in High Street, which would normally have been within comfortable walking distance. I was also sent along.


My mother, ashen faced, struggled up St Michael’s Hill leaning heavily on my aunt’s arm. I wasn’t tall enough to be of much assistance but my mother’s hand on my shoulder helped to steady her a little more.

At the church we blessed ourselves with holy water from a shell-shaped font at the entrance. However, we found the large wooden doors tightly closed with no other apparent means of entry. My aunt knocked loudly until a priest arrived. He took one sharp look and said, “only the mother allowed”. My aunt protested that my mother was weak, barely able to stand, and after a heated conversation he reluctantly permitted both to enter.

“Well, there are definitely no children allowed. She will have to stay outside,” he grumbled, glaring at me furiously before firmly closing the door in my face.

There were three stone entrance steps and four huge pillars at the front of that church where I sat afraid and lonely waiting for my mother to emerge again.