independent

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Respectability facade comes crashing down with Tuam scandal

By david looby

Catherine Corless
Catherine Corless

HOW much of what you do is to save face? How much of you is about putting up a front for respectability sake?

These are questions staring Irish people in the face following the revelations unearthed by Catherine Corless about the 796 children who died at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. The nation has been rocked by the story, having previously been shocked by the revelations about priests abusing children in parishes across the country.

At the time newspapers, like the one you were reading, came under fire for publishing details about cases involving certain priests because of their high standing in some communities they 'served'. For some the Tuam story unearthed deep seated emotions of antipathy towards the Catholic Church. They used it as a stick to beat the religion, shouting out from social media about the evil nuns in Tuam.

The truth lies somehwere in between, in a grey area, which does not fit in seamlessly in the black and white world where most of us like to exist. Irish society has harboured all kinds of monsters down through the years behind a thin veil of respectability.

The state and church were to the fore of this and there was a tacit acceptance of wrongdoing which was too often overlooked. As the great parliamentarian Edmund Burke once said: 'All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing.'

For too long people considered respectable in society have been getting away with sexism, snobbery, hatred, schadenfreude and duplicity. In the little world they inhabit they are perfectly at ease. The problem is the doors shielding Irish eyes from Ireland's dirty little secrets have been flung open by Corless and now our moral skeletons are laid bare.

Like the portait in Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Grey we're not looking so good all of a sudden.

I interviewed a woman who spent her formative years in a nun run industrial school last week. To this day she cannot sleep without the light on in the hallway. She endured post traumatic stress symptoms having been force fed. She has suffered from depression, panic attacks and nightmares. But this lady is only one of many in our communities. The horrors endured at industrial schools and Magdalene laundries have been swept under the rug, deemed not fitting for discussion in countless Irish family kitchens, while the victim is left to suffer in silence. This uncomfortable feeling in the pit of people's stomachs has come to the surface and more and more victims are speaking out. Great!

Watching the Oscar winning film Moonlight at the weekend about a gay black youth who is bullied and beaten by his peers, it struck me how important addressing uncomfortable issues in our society is.

For many people are so busy looking at what their neighbours and peers are doing, trying to better them and to impress them, that they become blinded by their narcissism.

Following Tuam we should be more empathetic towards each other but I have my doubts. The Celtic Tiger showed us how mean and small minded we can be. One of the characters in Moonlight asks the question 'Who is you man?' to the lead character Chiron during a key scene and it is something we should all be asking ourselves. Men and women. As the church loses its hold on society, and as our idea of repectability changes, maybe it's important to just be ourselves, be human, more than ever.

Wexford People

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