“Memories are strange entities. They are the thickened skin we build our lives around, the hidden vertebrae of our outward existence, until one day a familiar smell, a chance word or a sidelong glance and boom!”
What would you do if you found yourself pregnant, at fifteen years of age, in the early 1970s – in Ireland? It is almost impossible for us to imagine what life was like for young women who found themselves in this position back then. Girls Like You tells the story of ‘Margaret’, the name assigned to the author while in Bessborough House Mother and Baby Home. After spending seven months in the home ‘Margaret’ gave birth to a baby girl in September 1973. The following year, finding herself pregnant again, she made her way to England where her son was born in Guy’s Hospital, London. Against all the odds she brought her daughter home from Cork. Her son was given up for adoption in London.
Her story, written in memoir form, shines a light on family and society in twentieth-century Ireland. It highlights the powerlessness and silencing of women in a time when Church and State wielded ultimate power over their personal lives, a time where, in the name of keeping the family unit shame-free, women were separated from their children and siblings grew up without any knowledge of each other.
Written with pathos and humour, Girls Like You is a reflection on growing up in the early 1970s in the Irish Midlands. It is a story of love and loss, secrecy and abandonment, forgiveness and integration. It deals with the fallout of this period of Irish history on one individual and her immediate family while exposing the cost of an Irish solution to an Irish problem, a cost which still reverberates in society today as the truth slowly trickles out.
Jacinta O’Connell was born and lives in Athlone, Co. Westmeath. She spent a number of years working in Drugs, Alcohol and Homeless Services before returning to education as a mature student. She holds a degree in English Literature and Theology and an MA in Gender and Sexuality in Literature and Culture. She is a member of the Athlone Writers Group and this is her first publication.