A UALR professor whose research provided historic perspective on the treatment of wards of the Irish state in the 1920s to the 1960s said the media missed the point of the study, nine years in the making, that was released last week.
“The real message of the Ryan Report (Ireland’s Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse) is that Irish society as a whole failed poor and marginalized children,” said Dr. Moira Maguire, associate professor of history. She was in Ireland for the release of the five-volume investigation of rapes, humiliation, and beatings of children in Catholic Church-run reform schools.
The report said rape and sexual molestation were “endemic” in Irish Catholic church-run industrial schools and orphanages. The investigation found that Catholic priests and nuns for decades terrorized thousands of boys and girls in the Irish Republic, while government inspectors failed to stop the chronic beatings, rape and humiliation.
The 2,600 page report, Ireland’s Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse, chaired by high court Judge Sean Ryan, relied heavily on historical research done by Maguire and her Irish colleague Professor Seamus O’Cinneide of the National University of Ireland at Maynooth on governmental social policy, and the Irish social historical background since the 1920s. Little or no research on this extensive field during the time period had been done before.
Maguire’s research opened for the first time adoption records of Irish children given up for adoption – sometimes without the knowledge of the mother, who may have been under age and unmarried.
“In focusing exclusively on the most salacious elements of the Ryan report, like sexual abuse, media coverage was missing the main points of the report,” she said. “The (Irish) Departments of Health and Education, who had legal custody of the children involved, failed in their duty to provide for and protect them. District court justices willingly committed children whose parents were guilty of nothing more than poverty.
“And inspectors from the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children appear to have made it their mission to take children away from parents who could not provide for their children according to middle class standards of respectability.”
The Ryan Report uncovered previously secret Vatican records that demonstrated church knowledge of pedophiles in their ranks back to the 1930s. Maguire predicted another upcoming report on sexual abuse of children in the Diocese of Dublin will cause the Irish church more woe.
Maguire said court records, as well as the records of the Department of Education, show that physical and sexual violence against children was widespread in the Ireland of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.
She said the research unveiled a widespread class warfare in which children were caught in the crossfire.
“The industrial schools were a microcosm of the disregard shown to, and the violence inflicted on, poor Irish children right into the 1960s. That really summarizes my big issue with media coverage of the Ryan Report,” the professor said. “The story has had not been told was the class war the middle class waged against the poor. Poverty was criminalized. The middle class viewed poverty as a crime and this was the result.”
Maguire, a native of Boston, graduated high school at Little Rock’s Mount St. Mary Academy. She earned a B.A. in political science and history from George Washington University in Washington and an M.A. in history from Northeastern University in Boston.
After receiving her Ph.D. from American University in Washington, D.C., she spent six years engaged in teaching and research at the National University of Ireland at Maynooth. She will be the interim chair of the UALR Department of History in the fall.
She has helped numerous adopted children and birth parents learn their true heritage and heal wounds through her embrace of a country’s painful legacy. Maguire’s work in what has been termed a sensationalist topic – the treatment of unmarried mothers and their babies in Ireland – brought the topic into the realm of academic discourse.
In focusing on the plight of Irish children given up for adoption in the 20th century, she contributed much needed light and careful scrutiny in an aspect of Irish history that until recently and only with the notable addition of her own work has been unexamined. Her research opened up primary sources such as adoption court records, some of which had not previously been used by any researchers. She is given a voice to marginalized children who have suffered at the hands of church and state institutions in Ireland in the 20th century.
Her upcoming book, Precarious Childhood in Post-Independence Ireland, gives voice to ordinary people who have long been ignored in the historical record and offers a glimpse into the past that she said is long overdue.