Fintan O’Toole: Spiritual terrorism created world of mother and baby homes

There was no ‘society’ separate from the church’s power to inflict damnation

The church had the monopoly on damnation and salvation. The  mother and baby homes  were the outward sign of this inward terror. Photograph: iStock

The church had the monopoly on damnation and salvation. The mother and baby homes were the outward sign of this inward terror. Photograph: iStock

Mary Lavin’s story Sarah, written in 1943, begins: “Sarah had a bit of a bad name.” It ends, a few laconic pages later, with Sarah in a ditch “dead as a rat” and “the child dead beside her!” It is, as one of the principal characters concludes, where “the likes of her belong”.

In 1966, Edna O’Brien said: “I don’t think I have any pleasure in any part of my body, because my first and initial body thoughts were blackened by the fear of sin: and therefore I think of my body as a sort of vehicle for sin.”

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