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University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Prof’s Book on Plight of Irish Children Released in Paperback

A UALR history professor’s book on the plight of Irish children after the country gained its independence from England in the 1920s is being released in paperback.

The book – “Precarious Childhood in Post-independence Ireland” by Dr. Moira Maguire – examines how Irish society failed poor and marginalized children. It is expected to become an important contribution to 20th century Irish social history.

Maguire began “Precarious Childhood” more than 10 years ago while researching a dissertation on infanticide in Ireland.

“I am excited that it is now coming out in paperback,” she said. It will be published by Manchester University Press this summer.

Her research has a strong connection to the Ryan Report, a 10-year investigation by the Irish government into allegations of abuse and neglect of children in state-funded institutions from the 1930s to the 1960s. Maguire, associate professor of history in UALR’s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, provided written testimony to the Ryan Commission. Some of that testimony is included in this book.

When the Ryan Commission released its final reports in May 2009, the evidence of rampant neglect and physical and sexual abuse received worldwide media attention and led to troubling questions about how such a state of affairs could have existed in a democratic Western society.

The majority of allegations centered on the system of 60 residential reformatory and industrial schools operated by Catholic religious orders and funded and supervised by the Irish Departments of Health and Education.

The Catholic Church received the brunt of worldwide criticism. Many people called for investigations into church activities, legal action against Catholic clergy and prominent Catholic leaders, and demands for compensation and restitution for victims of alleged abuse and neglect.

Maguire concludes the government also is to blame.

“The media, as well as the Ryan Report, missed the real message of this dark period in Irish history,” Maguire said at the time her book was published. “The media chose to focus on the most salacious elements of the Ryan Report, such as the sexual abuse that occurred in many of the boys’ schools. The report overlooked the historical context of the industrial school system.”

“The Departments of Health and Education, who had legal responsibility for the children involved, failed in their duties to provide for and protect them,” she said. “District court justices willingly committed children, whose parents were guilty of nothing more than poverty, to industrial schools, and inspectors from the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children seem to have made it their mission to take children away from parents who did not conform to middle-class standards of respectability.”