Nostalgia and Minnie Skirts

Two articles in the Irish Independent by Damian Corless today “look back in humour”. Ghosts of Christmas past compares 1944, 1964 and 1984, whereas in The secret’s out… it seems we’re all a little bit bonkers he ruminates on the annual treat that is the opening of the National Archives.1964 – The poet Philip Larkin famously wrote: “Sexual intercourse began/In 1963(which was rather late for me)/Between the end of the Chatterley ban/And the Beatles’ first LP.” Just as famously, the late Oliver J Flanagan TD claimed: “There was no sex in Ireland before television.” Bonkers or not, it’s possible to see where he was coming from.

Some favourites from the Archives :

Files containing thousands of letters to different Taoisigh over the decades throw up heavyweight affairs of state side-by-side with lightheaded states of mind. While most of the correspondents from the pre-computer era had some command (often a very rudimentary one) of joined-up writing, joined-up thinking is at a premium in the files. For instance, in 1965 the Bishops of Dromore and Achonry wrote to Taoiseach Sean Lemass warning him that the thousands of under-18s emigrating each year were “entirely unprepared for live (sic) in a pagan and amoral environment. Emigration in their case could almost be called a proximate occasion of mortal sin”.

The bishops proposed that the government should ban all under-18s from leaving the country. Rather than explain to their Lordships that their scheme was bonkers, Lemass responded tactfully that he feared fencing young people onto this island would be unconstitutional. He added that criminalising individuals for the “mortal sin” of emigrating to pagan territories might simply ensure that they’d never return to Holy Ireland.

In 1973 another religious lobbyist, the Reverend Richard Mulcahy, wrote to Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave urging vigilance against the rising tide of contraception. Arguing that Ireland needed a population explosion, Mulcahy reasoned: “Dear Liam. Contraception is an evil which has beset mankind for as far back as history records… Those who try to frighten people with demographic arguments should take into account that the whole population of the world could fit into the smallest county in Ireland, the wee county of Louth.”

As a piece of rational argument, this was well on a par with the letter to Lemass eight years earlier from Maud Sullivan of Los Angeles who’d spotted a causal link between mini-skirts and natural disasters. Taken aback at the amount of leg shown by some Aer Lingus hostesses marching in LA’s St Patrick’s Day parade, Maud wrote: “What I want to ask you, dear Premier, if the women and girls in Catholic Ireland are wearing minnie dresses and tight pants and minnie skirts? Ireland will not be Holy Ireland anymore unless they get back to decent dress at once and ask God for forgiveness. I myself have never wore a minnie dress and never intend to, not if you were to give me all the money in the world. Here in the USA our women and girls in their minnie dresses has brought God’s displeasure down on us. We have had storms. Earthquakes.”