"To Question Ever Deeper Who We Were and Who We Are as a People and as a Nation"
A Discourse Analysis of Public Meaning-Making about the Tuam Babies in Letters to the Editors of The Irish Times
Keywords:Mother and Baby Homes; Discourse Analysis; National Identity: Affect
The Republic of Ireland had the highest rates of institutionalisation per capita outside of the Soviet Union in the twentieth century. Institutions such as Mother and Baby Homes, Magdalene Laundries, Residential Schools acted as a form of identity management, in which those with a ‘spoiled identity’ were concealed from the front stage of Irish life. This included unmarried women and illegitimate children. Smith (2007) and others illustrate that institutionalisation was part of a collective identity project, in which the identity of the collective became more important than the fate of the individual who had deviated from the idealised version of morally Catholic citizenship. While approximately 23,000 babies were born in Mother and Baby Homes and tens of thousands of women resided within them to conceal pregnancies, the enduring legacy of concealment remains with few publicly speaking about their experiences. In 2014, this silence, which had long been relegated as taboo, was publicly highlighted by the reporting of 796 babies buried in a septic tank at a former mother and baby home. This paper explores through discourse analysis of data from Letters to the Editor of the Irish Times how public meaning-making about this past negotiates collective identity dilemmas, through the rhetorical strategies of interpretative repertoire of collective responsibility or togetherness, used in conjunction with affective rhetorical strategies. We discuss implications for the narrative identity of the Irish collective.
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