Cara Delay

The First Communion Dress: Fashion, Faith, and the Feminization of Catholic Ireland

In late 2012 the Irish Times and National Museum of Ireland selected the Roman Catholic First Communion dress as one of the most important 100 objects in Ireland’s history. A girl’s dress thus took its place alongside bronze age funerary pots and the Book of Kells as items essential to Ireland’s history and culture. Articles… Read more →

The Girl and the Grotto: Remembering and Forgetting in Irish History

Walking home from school on a frigid day in January 1984, two Irish boys came across a shocking scene: in a grotto at the local Catholic Church, alongside a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, lay the still bodies of a teenage girl and a newborn infant. The girl, fifteen-year-old Ann Lovett from Granard, County… Read more →

Back to the Back Alley? Abortion Rights and Realities in the Trump Era

On the first day of his presidency, Donald Trump reinstated the global gag rule on abortion. This is no great surprise; Trump is certainly not the first Republican president to restrict access to abortion when assuming office. Still, there is something different about the Trump election and administration: already, of course, when it comes to… Read more →

At the Mercy of the Sea: Women, Reproduction, and Europe’s Migrant Crisis

In 2015 over a million women, children, and men from conflict-ridden parts of Africa and the Middle East made their way across the Mediterranean Sea, seeking a better life in Europe. Thousands, as we now know, died in the process. In 2016 the tide of migrants, as well as casualties, only increased, and it shows… Read more →

Sex, Death, and Three Irish Women

In November 1984 the Catholic parish of Tynagh, County Galway, Ireland, gathered to bury a woman who had been dead for 150 years.1 Local tradition asserted that the woman, Áine, gave birth to three illegitimate children in the 1830s or 1840s and then became gravely ill. Citing her sexual transgressions, Áine’s parish priest would not… Read more →

Venus Revisited

“Creepy.” “Weird.” “Messed. Up.” Such are the visceral responses of my women’s history students to an admittedly bizarre and complex historical phenomenon: the Anatomical Venus. Designed to be realistic and anatomically correct wax models of the female body, Anatomical Venuses emerged in eighteenth-century Europe (primarily Spain, Italy, and Austria) to help train medical students who… Read more →

The Brexit and Women’s Rights in the UK

Although women comprise the majority of voters in the UK, they were noticeably absent in the debates and discussions surrounding the potential “Brexit” — Britain’s proposal to leave the European Union. For the duration of the Brexit battle, middle-aged white men — surprise — remained the public faces of both the “Leave” and the “Remain”… Read more →

“The Torture Began”: Symphysiotomy and Obstetric Violence in Modern Ireland

“They just took me into the ward and put me on the bed and told me they were going to do some little job … ‘you’ll be very sore, and your legs will be tied together,’ [said the doctor]. And by God, it’s a thing you’ll never forget the rest of your life.”1 Twenty-one-year old… Read more →

“For Poor or Rich”: Handywomen and Traditional Birth in Ireland

On Achill Island, Ireland, an untrained woman was prosecuted for acting as a midwife in 1932. In her defense, she argued that she intervened only in an emergency “to save the mother and child.” Here, local authorities decided “not to press the case hard and to ask for a light penalty.”1 Controversies like this were… Read more →

Tea Kettles and Turpitudes: Abortion and Material Culture in Irish History

In 1932, a Donegal woman was brought up on criminal charges after she attempted miscarriage by consuming both pills as well as a ubiquitous item in early twentieth-century households: a bottle of castor oil.1 Just a few years earlier a Belfast midwife, Isabel, defended herself in court after being charged with giving another woman an… Read more →