Eileen Flynn has died

by Henry on September 11, 2008

Her story will almost certainly be unfamiliar to non-Irish readers, but “it’s an important one”:http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2008/0911/1221039067831.html?via=mr.

The death has taken place of Wexford school teacher Eileen Flynn, who became an important figure in the history of the separation between the Catholic Church and the State. In August 1982 Ms Flynn was dismissed from her job as an English and history teacher at the Holy Faith Convent in New Ross, Co Wexford. At the time she was sacked, Ms Flynn was unmarried with a baby son and was living with the baby’s father, a separated man, Richie Roche. Two months after Ms Flynn gave birth she received a letter from the school manager informing her that following her decision not to resign from the school her position was being terminated. The letter referred to complaints from parents about her lifestyle and of her open rejection of the “norms of behaviour” and the ideals the school existed to promote. It also reminded her of the “scandal” already caused. Ms Flynn sought to be reinstated in her post but lost her unfair dismissal case at the Employment Appeals Tribunal and at the Circuit Court. She finally lost her appeal to the High Court on March 8th, 1985.

A key piece of background information here is that she was sacked from what was, effectively, a state school. The Irish state had farmed out the larger part of the education system to the Catholic Church (albeit with separate schools for the Protestant minority), so that while the state paid teachers, the parish priest was typically the local school manager. This wasn’t all bad, but stories like Eileen Flynn’s remind me why I don’t particularly like efforts by some US religious groups to push the boundaries between church and state. The ability to deprive people who don’t conform to local mores of their livelihood is likely to become a dangerous and pernicious form of social control, as it did in Ireland for most of the last century.

{ 26 comments }

1

MH 09.11.08 at 3:57 pm

And, if our local school district wasn’t spending $18k per pupil per year to get a 33% drop-out rate and a re-occurring spot on the state watch list, I’d have zero sympathy for the voucher argument.

2

spencer 09.11.08 at 4:55 pm

This is the kind of story I would have expected to be set in Louisiana or Oklahoma. Is this still the order of things in Ireland?

3

Bloix 09.11.08 at 6:18 pm

It’s worth pointing out that the reason she was living, unmarried, with a man who was “separated” from his wife is that divorce was illegal in Ireland – banned in the Constitution — until 1997.
The Irish Times obit says she married Roche “over a decade ago.” Obviously they married as soon as they could. What a joyful day that must have been for them and their children.
What we Americans don’t often realize is what a priest-ridden, reactionary, oppressive and hard-hearted place modern Ireland was for most of the twentieth century.

4

Jim 09.11.08 at 6:30 pm

“Her story will almost certainly be unfamiliar to non-Irish readers,..”

??????????????
The whole thing is in English.

5

fjm 09.11.08 at 6:40 pm

Spencer: I heard a story on an education programme recently that the Irish goverment is currently having to cope with a baby boom among migrants. As most are not Catholic, the schools (already full) feel no obligation to take them, and there aren’t many Protestant schools. The result has been that the state has had to establish new schools, with the added twist that it is creating de-facto colour based segregation.

I have no update on this however. I can’t imagine the European courts being amused.

6

annette 09.11.08 at 7:15 pm

I was really saddened to read this story in the Irish Times this morning. I remember the awful vilification of Eileen Flynn in between abortion referenda and a struggle for a coherent discourse on divorce. It seems like such a long time ago but the story this morning brought such a lot of memories back. I hope Eileen Flynn’s family embraced her bravery in the midst of such vicious attacks. Eileen Flynn and women like her are the real heroines of Ireland’s emergence into modernity.

7

Dave 09.11.08 at 7:15 pm

@4: OK, we give up, are you trying to be funny, or are you really that stupid?

8

Jason B 09.11.08 at 7:25 pm

The whole thing is in English.

He said “unfamiliar”–not “incomprehensible.”

9

mollymooly 09.11.08 at 8:12 pm

The Catholic Church’s argument for retaining patronage over most Irish schools has long been that that’s what most parents want, and that non-Catholics will be accommodated in Catholic-patron schools to the greatest extent possible. From recent statements, Archbishop Martin of Dublin seems to have recognised that more parents are either indifferent or opposed to Catholic patronage, so that some schools are likely to shift from Catholic patronage under the parish priest to a multi-faith (or, less likely, a secular) patron body; and that schools remaining under Catholic patronage will have to work harder to accommodate more non-Catholics. He has also criticised parents “voting with their four-wheel drives [=SUVs]” to send kids to less diverse schools; recognising that satisfying parental demands isn’t an unqualified good.

This is nowadays more of an issue at primary school level. Many religious-run secondary schools have been shut down in the last 30 years and merged into larger community schools where church influence is less (though not zero). Though Holy Faith Convent is still open, apparently.

10

P O'Neill 09.11.08 at 9:13 pm

We’ve forgotten how much that relatively recent period sucked. Ann Lovett?

11

SamChevre 09.11.08 at 9:19 pm

The ability to deprive people who don’t conform to local mores of their livelihood is likely to become a dangerous and pernicious form of social control

I think that captures a “liberal” vs “conservative” difference very well.

To me, the ability to refuse to associate with (including to buy from) people who act in wrong ways is one of the key ways of non-violently enforcing norms. (I’d much prefer more boycotts and less regulations.)

12

Watson Aname 09.11.08 at 9:24 pm

The ability to deprive people who don’t conform to local mores of their livelihood is likely to become a dangerous and pernicious form of social control

`likely to’ or `almost certain to’? The latter seems more likely to me.

13

PersonFromPorlock 09.12.08 at 12:16 am

The ability to deprive people who don’t conform to local mores of their livelihood is likely to become a dangerous and pernicious form of social control, as it did in Ireland for most of the last century.

IIRC, that was pretty much how it worked in the Soviet Union. So, not necessarily a new or a rightwing phenomenon.

14

Lex 09.12.08 at 7:33 am

A boycott [good old Irish term] is a boycott, even when it’s done by people you disagree with. The difference between that and being dismissed by your employer for doing things that are neither illegal nor dangerous is evident, I would have thought.

15

SamChevre 09.12.08 at 1:17 pm

Lex,

I’m genuinely baffled (this isn’t a rhetorical question). What’s the difference between a boycott generally (refusing to buy anything from someone) and refusal to buy work from someone?

16

rossonian 09.12.08 at 1:46 pm

I’ve just come from Eileen Flynns funeral where ironically she’s been buried beside the Holy Faith School. We’d been friends for many years. Such an articulate and intelligent woman – the kind of company you’d relish over a pint of the black stuff. Her fondness for Leonard Cohen, who she saw recently in Kilmainham will never be forgotten and Bird on a Wire ushered her down the aisle to her final resting place carried on the shoulders of her beloved sons and husband Richie. She often boasted that in a concert in the seventies Leonard kissed her hand!
Simon Kennedy her legal representative in the 80’s spoke very highly of her and rightly so on the pulpit at the end of her funeral mass. The hymns were sang by the CBS boys choir from the school where she was teaching for the last seven years.
Her fondness for darts was legendary and she was buried with her arrows in her pocket. You could always find her at the oche in Roches on the quay any night ready for a challenge.
The town of New Ross is still in shock and Roches on the quay will never be the same again. I loved her and will miss her very much.

17

Mrs Tilton 09.12.08 at 2:46 pm

SamChevre @11 & 15,

the ability to refuse to associate with … people who act in wrong ways

I’ll be charitable here, assuming that you meant “people who one believes act in wrong ways” and do not really believe that the villain of this piece was Eileen Flynn.

What’s the difference between a boycott generally (refusing to buy anything from someone) and refusal to buy work from someone?

Maybe your bafflement would be helped by considering the nature of the employer in this case. A hypo for you: you’re a surgeon at a hospital that is funded by the state. For whatever reason the state has entrusted the governance of the hospital (and most other hospitals) to a body of Muslim scholars. When it becomes apparent to them that you eat pork, they fire you. Do you find that acceptable? If you don’t, how do you distinguish your case from Flynn’s?

18

Lex 09.12.08 at 3:00 pm

Re. boycott/employment – not least of the differences is that the latter involves a pre-existent contractual relationship, which in MOST developed countries includes by statute protections against dismissal for arbitrary/non-work-related “reasons”/excuses for petty vindictiveness…

This is because in MOST developed countries it has come to be recognised that individuals are dependent on employment in a way that employers are not dependent on any individual worker, and that therefore justice requires a certain rebalancing. I am aware that this is not a view universally shared; however, I do not care.

I further note that even in SOME developed countries that do not share these views, it remains illegal to “boycott” customers, for example, on the grounds of the colour of their skin, so the underlying principle – that not every aspect of an economic transaction is purely a matter of private, unchallengeable, choice – is not unknown.

19

SamChevre 09.12.08 at 3:13 pm

A hypo for you: you’re a surgeon at a hospital that is funded by the state. For whatever reason the state has entrusted the governance of the hospital (and most other hospitals) to a body of Muslim scholars. When it becomes apparent to them that you eat pork, they fire you. Do you find that acceptable?

Adding three facts to make the cases more comparable, yes, certainly.

Those facts are “almost entirely funded by the state”, “the state is majority-Muslim”, and “these rules were in place when I started.”

Without the three facts, I’d say, yes, probably.

20

Martin Wisse 09.12.08 at 4:19 pm

Suuure you are.

Obnoxious little turd.

21

franck 09.12.08 at 4:49 pm

How are gaelscoileanna changing the religious basis of most schooling in Ireland? My understanding is that most of them are not sectarian. Is that true?

22

franck 09.12.08 at 4:53 pm

SamChevre’s response suggests he is fine with the current government of Saudi Arabia and the former government of Afghanistan – i.e. the Taliban, absent their foreign policy.

23

SamChevre 09.12.08 at 5:39 pm

SamChevre’s response suggests he is fine with the current government of Saudi Arabia and the former government of Afghanistan – i.e. the Taliban, absent their foreign policy.

Say WHAT?

I’m fine with them refusing to hire Christians. I’m not certain how that translates to, I’m fine with them denying Christians freedom of worship.

24

Dave 09.12.08 at 5:44 pm

I see: going to church = inalienable right! Earning a living = not so fast, bucko!

25

Big Jim 09.12.08 at 9:27 pm

Eileen taught our son last year and a happier year at school he hadn’t had before. When we met Eileen at the parent/teacher meeting we found her sociable,chatty and down to earth.

We live in New Ross and I well remember the set to with the nuns. At the time I thought where is the ethos of christianity in the church. “Let he/she who is without sin cast the first stone” Boy did time show us: The Ferns Report!!! Rest in peace Eileen.

26

John Smyth 09.15.08 at 11:56 am

Fintan O’Toole made the point on Irish radio yesterday that the law that allowed Eileen to be fired are still in force today [Equality Law don’t apply to religious schools].

Comments on this entry are closed.