Portlaoise College

The first of my Everyday Life and 1960s Irishwomen road shows took place earlier this week. Kindly hosted by Sinead Boland at Portlaoise College, it was an evening of entertaining discussion. I opened the event by giving a brief introduction to the aspirational lifestyle for 1960s housewives as laid out in the pages of women’s magazines, and I also brought along a few of the items that will be on display at the Modern Wife, Modern Life exhibition that opens at the National Print Museum in July.

Advertisements for an electric cooker and a dishwasher. It's worth bearing in mind that many homes, particularly in rural Ireland, did not have piped water or even electricity in the early 1960s.
Advertisements for an electric cooker and a dishwasher. It’s worth bearing in mind that many homes, particularly in rural Ireland, did not have piped water or even electricity in the early 1960s.

But as much as I enjoyed sharing these representations of the ‘modern wife’ with the audience, it was their stories that really made the evening. There was a lively discussion of what it was like to grow up on a farm in 1960s Ireland, and the stories were peppered with recollections of what life was like for mothers and grandmothers. One particularly reminiscence that stood out for me  was the story of a mother who cut the toes out of her children’s winter shoes to create sandals for the summer. These types of stories capture an age of making do, home sewing, etc.

Two of the audience members inspect some of the items I brought along.
Two of the audience members inspect some of the items I brought along.

Moreover, it is because of stories like this that I have organised the road shows. Except for the few people who write memoirs about growing up, the experience of everyday life is generally not something that is captured — a problem compounded by the absence of an Irish equivalent of Britain’s Mass Observation Archive (a repository of everyday life).

In addition to the wonderful stories shared, some people also brought along items, including a medal, a tea pot and a photo album. All of these have been scanned and digitised images will be eventually be made available from the People’s Archive of 1960s Ireland that I’m creating out of the road shows.

A big thank you to Sinead for hosting, and to everyone who came and shared their memories.

Next up is Swords library in North County Dublin on 19 May. You can find the full listing of the road shows here.