My travels around Ireland took me to Limerick City today. Locals gathered in the beautiful surrounds of Culture House in Pery Square to share their memories of 1960s Ireland, and it was great to have some male perspectives in the room too.
It was wonderful to hear one older member of the audience remark that she planned on writing her memoirs for her grandchildren. She lamented how, when she was growing up, children were discouraged from asking questions. And while her grandchildren might not necessarily be interested in her life story now, they probably will wonder about elements in years to come. Writing and leaving her memoirs would be an important of ensuring that a record of her life exists for generations –– this is essentially the thinking behind the People’s Archive I am creating.
We covered many of the themes raised at earlier road shows, but interestingly Churching was mentioned for the first time at this afternoon’s event. For those unfamiliar, Churching was the practice of blessing a woman after giving birth. Originally believed to be about cleansing the woman, one member of the audience pointed out that the translation of mass from Latin to English revealed that Churching was actually more of a blessing for the mother and child. Nonetheless, the women in the room were generally outraged at the idea, and it was suggested that the practice was largely about raising money for the church.
The Housewife of the Year competition was inaugurated in 1967. Sponsored by Woman’s Way, McDonnell’s and the ESB, this national contest ran annually until the 1990s. The first winner was Mrs Kay Johnson of Limerick, and I was delighted that members of her family were able to join us today.
After the road show ended, I had the opportunity to sit down with the Johnson family to discuss Kay, who sadly passed away in the 1970s. Listening to their recollections, Kay was clearly a remarkable woman. Having worked in Kenya, she developed a very international repertoire of cooking – something that set her apart from her competitors during the cooking portion of the Housewife competition. She was also skilled at arts and craft, was very sporty, and was a very elegant woman. Her family brought along her engagement ring, the bracelet that she was wearing in the picture that appeared on the front cover of Woman’s Way and a scrap book of the coverage her win received.
I am extremely grateful to Culture House for providing today’s venue, and to Emma Gilleece who did so much to promote the road show and to co-ordinate from Limerick. Next step: Waterford.