Authors Name: 
Ciarán Quinn
University: 
Queen's University Belfast
Category: 
History
Award winner

How did the Irish Free State’s efforts to regulate sexuality (and its motivations for doing so) compare with trends elsewhere in interwar Europe?

When viewed in isolation, the strict regulation of sexuality in the Irish Free State (IFS) is commonly concluded to be a uniquely Irish Catholic phenomenon. In this assessment, the puritanical emphasis on sexual purity in the IFS is seen as an attempt to define the IFS as a pious, chaste, and Catholic nation. Due to these credentials, the IFS could legitimately claim its right to self-governance as in contrast, Britain was a materialistic, sexually immoral, and Protestant nation. In the wake of a civil war which had thrown doubt on the pious credentials of Ireland’s Catholics, the continual reassertion and maintenance of a strict moral code became all the more important. However, religious and secular elites in the IFS did not regulate sexuality with sole reference to this nation-building discourse, rather politicians and clergy in the IFS were not immune to influences from the rest of interwar Europe. In continental Europe especially, the regulation of sexuality was a key aspect of healing the demographic wounds inflicted on populations during WWI. Remedying the effects of this war through pro-natalist measures aimed at increasing population size was thus crucial as the possibility of another war became all the more apparent. European governments, therefore, shared some key objectives in the regulation of sexuality with the IFS, such as; the criminalisation of divorce and contraception. However, evidently, the IFS did not share the same motivations for the regulation of sexuality as these other European governments. Therefore, the regulation of sexuality in the IFS should be assessed in relation to other European movements for the regulation of sexuality such as; Catholic corporatism. By accounting for the various European influences on the regulation of sexuality in the IFS, this essay shall reveal a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of attitudes to sexuality in the IFS.