Here I Am Lord.

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St Michael’s Church, Limerick 

Recently I was called a “Catholic apologist” online. By somebody in the legal profession too so I was kind of rattled. Kind of. But it got me thinking about how I see the Church and what I believe in. And Elvis. I think about him too a lot. But that’s another days work.
I decided I was an atheist in 6th class just before I made my Confirmation. I’d read Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham,  life was shit and where the fuck was God? And that was that or so I thought. Who in their right mind would believe in an all-powerful being they can’t see and will never see? Not me that’s who.
And then the Church imploded and I was right! The Church is dead. Priests are bastards. Nuns are evil. Etc and etc. As a nation, Ireland came out from under the shadow of the Catholic Church.  We got divorced. We got all sorts of contraception. We got married in registry offices and hotels. We acknowledged how we treated women forced to give their babies away because they hadn’t entered Holy Matrimony. We voted overwhelmingly for marriage equality. We ARE a new people. We have Ann Summers and nobody cares anymore that you can buy crotchless knickers on the same street as Mothercare. Obviously we have more to do. Twelve women a day are leaving this great nation to access abortion abroad so #repealthe8th but again another day’s work.

So there I was, a happy atheist ( when I say happy I mean suicidally depressed but you know what I mean) and then something happened. I got married. In a registry office. My mother in law never recovered. And I had children. To baptise or not to baptise. GODDAMN YOU ALL I’M AN ATHEIST. But it wasn’t that simple. I went to a Catholic school where the nuns were lovely and loved us all.  We were taught tolerance and that Jesus loves us all. We had a Joy Club and it was actually joyful. I told the priest at school that I was an atheist and we had a perfectly reasonable chat about it. He was a lovely man. Who was I to deny my children the benefit of a happy education. If they choose to embrace faith as part of their lives that’s their choice and if not and they reject it then that’s perfectly fine too. But I wanted to give them the option. So I did. So far so Irish.

But lately I’ve noticed that you can’t just be an atheist. You have to be an Atheist. Capital A. The Great Church of the UnGod. Atheism is a religion and a fundamentalist one at that. It’s become perfectly acceptable to sneer at people who have faith and pray or go to Mass. I’m still an atheist but I’m not at all happy with this creeping trend. Peak Atheism for me happened when the internet nearly blew up congratulating Stephen Fry for railing against an unjust god he doesn’t believe in on The Meaning of Life with our own Gay Byrne. Was there one dissenting voice? I certainly wasn’t brave enough to say: “You know what Fry? Fuck off you’re an ATHEIST”. Yesterday I witnessed a good, decent man who is also a priest being called a “sky pilot” on social media while he discussed an epidemic of suicide in his parish on the radio. He was angry and he was sad. 8 suicides in 3 weeks. Think about that. In one county. BUT HE’S A SKY PILOT. DON’T LISTEN TO HIM. Have we forgotten that priests are on the frontline when it comes to grief. They’re at deathbeds every day. They are at the homes of bereaved parents and wives and husbands after the most tragic events. They offer the only comfort they can, which is their faith. Have we really come to a point where we think it’s acceptable to pour scorn on every man of the cloth simply because he is one. That’s not the New Ireland is it?  I’m not ready to reject what was part of my cultural upbringing. I went to Mass everyday with my Granny. I loved it. It was an important part of her day. She had friends. She was part of the Church. I’ve had friends and relations  who have endured great personal tragedy and they took enormous comfort from prayer. They had to believe there was a reason, a better place. Maybe nothing changed but they felt in some small way better.  I’ve been to the pit of despair more than once in my life and I’ve cried out desperate prayers to the Blessed Virgin or whoever would listen to me to help. And I felt helped. I felt better. I sang hymns on that boat back from England.  I can’t say I believe in God but I won’t laugh at anyone who does. I won’t demonise good priests or the lovely nuns who teach my children. I’m Irish. I collect rocks to keep me safe. I’m a Catholic atheist. And proud to be one.

Who Runs the World …….Girls?

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Who Runs the World…………..Girls? #IWD2016

It’s 2016 and some people are wondering why we need an #InternationalWomensDay at all.  Maybe someday we won’t need a day to make people aware of women-centric issues. That day has not come yet.

I realised I was a Feminist (capital F) when I was 8 years old. My mother, who had her own income from work, took me with her to a local department store to apply for a store card. All went swimmingly well until the very nice woman behind the desk said: “And your husband needs to sign here”. Suitably chastened by her gender, my mother took the form and went home. Now my mother does have a husband, known to me as my father, but he was not likely to sign that form. So my mother did what any slightly rebellious woman might have done…… if you catch my drift.

But so what right? Times have moved on. Women, even married ones, can have jobs and overdrafts and credit cards no matter what name they use. And what name do you choose? When I got married I kept the name I was born with because I’M A FEMINIST. It still confuses people. They assume either I am not married to my husband or that indeed my surname has already been changed and he is in fact Mr. Niamh. He doesn’t mind too much cos ya know #NotAllMen!! Again, so what. I’ll take the cheque made out to either name but isn’t it the extremely thin end of a massive wedge?

When my middle daughter was a baby she had very little hair. Just a brown tuft in the middle of her head. Her favourite coat was a dark grey wool jacket with cat ears on the hood. She also had an extremely funny and smiley face so when we were out and about strangers would stop me to speak to her. She was invariably mistaken for a boy child. The friendly strangers were in no way trying to insult me by telling me what a lovely little boy I had; my point is that her little grey coat was such a signifier to them of maleness that it never occurred to them the funny little boy could be a girl. If the coat had been pink, they would have instantly known.

I like to run and so does my husband, but he has never once come home from a run crying or phoned me half way through a run because he was afraid. I gave up running in the dark early evenings of winter because I was sick of being scared. I’ve had “c**t” shouted at me. I had a bottle thrown at me out of a car. I’ve been followed. A very well dressed man once barked at me as I ran past him near my house. I’ve had a car full of young men drive along side me jeering and hooting the car horn. People tell me to join a running group. “Don’t run alone. That’s asking for trouble.” But I like running by myself. It’s my THING. I think. I talk to myself. I pretend I’m being interviewed by Oprah. But it’s not worth the pain. I am over 40 and I won’t run alone in the dark.

Let’s not forget that I’m an Irish woman so even God can’t help me if I’m pregnant and don’t want to be. The Queen might though.  Read this piece by Kitty Holland about the horrific treatment meted out to Ms Y, if you haven’t already, and tell me we don’t need #InternationalWomensDay.

I have a list of things much less important than #repealthe8th but no less representative of how women are perceived.  I challenge you to watch the genuinely funny buddy movie The Hangover and follow it up by the “female friendly” companion piece that was Bridesmaids. One was a hilarious tale of friends getting into trouble and looking out for each other til the very end; the other was a tale of jealousy, vulgarity and backstabbing best friends. Hollywood really loves women. Star Wars and Superhero fans I challenge you to find a Princess Leia or Wonder Woman  doll in a high street toy store. They just don’t have a place in the Boys Aisle and don’t start me on Lego Friends in the pink aisle. Parents, are your female children allowed to wear trousers to school the same as the boys?

These are just a few concerns of a white, Irish, middle class (ish) cis woman with an honours degree in English. I’m lucky. My children have access to education and medical treatment. We have warm beds, food and clean water. I am free to travel.  I’ll leave you with this article from the Huffington Post on access to female sanitary products in the Third World. I might not feel compelled to go horse riding, swimming or play tennis once a month but in relative terms I’m a very lucky girl. Periods matter. But that’s a blog for another day. November 19th maybe, #InternationalMensDay!

#IWD2016 💋