Emer Gillespie

Artist + Photographer
   
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Location: Brighton
Nationality: Irish
Biography: Emer Gillespie (b. 1980, Cork) is an Irish artist, currently living in Brighton in the UK. Graduating with an MA in Photography from the London College in Communication in 2009, her work is personal in nature, examining issues around motherhood,... read on
Public Story
Fallen Women
Credits: emer gillespie
Updated: 03/02/16

“Single mothers are fallen women and grave sinners, whose children are the product of wickedness”

– Father Cecil Beaton, Head of the Catholic Social Welfare Bureau, 1952

Project summary: 

The severe and judgemental attitudes towards women who became pregnant outside of marriage permeated the ethos of virtually all Church and State agencies in 20th Century Ireland. My mother, age 20 in 1975 Ireland, had to give her son up for adoption shortly after his birth. A similar story can be told of two more of my aunts. Stirred by the secrecy and concealment of these events within my family, and inspired by an emerging familial and societal consciousness of the experiences of unmarried mothers and their children in Ireland in the last century, this project seeks to recognise, respect, listen to and hear from those women our society so entirely failed.

Full text:

The severe and judgmental attitudes towards women who became pregnant outside of marriage permeated the ethos of virtually all Church and State agencies in 20th century Ireland. Soon after the establishment of an Irish Free State in 1922, “Mother and Baby Homes” began appearing to house and hide unwed pregnant women and facilitate the adoption of their children into ‘proper’, Catholic marital homes. Church and State were bound in their conceptualisation of unmarried motherhood as degenerate and sinful. The tragic outcome of this is that generations of mothers and babies were forced apart.

As an unmarried mother at the age of 21 in the Ireland of 2002, I had the choice to keep my daughter. But in 1975, for my mother, then aged 20, there was no choice and she was forced to give her son up for adoption shortly after his birth. A similar story can be told of two more of my aunts, one as recently as 1985. Stirred by the secrecy and concealment of these events within my family, and inspired by an emerging familial and societal consciousness of the experiences of unmarried mothers and their children, this project seeks to recognise, respect, listen to and hear from those women our society so entirely failed.

My ambition for the project is to highlight the position and experiences of birth mothers within this emerging social dialogue. The primary engagement with the women is through recorded interviews, supplemented with portrait photographs of the birth mother and documentation of any photos/materials they bring with them. This project facilitates birth mothers in reclaiming their memories and dealing with past events by means of modern photographic documentation and archival practices.

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