by Maria on January 24, 2022

My first ever short story has been published, hurray! It comes out of an odd ritual called ‘being churched’, that used to happen in Ireland well into the 1970s (schoolmates in Tipperary in the 1980s told stories of it happening to their mothers after the birth of older siblings). What may have begun as a blessing and thanks after a baby is born was often practiced as a required cleansing ritual before a woman would be let back into the church building. There were always stories of women who’d chosen a name for their baby but found when it was brought home from church the child had been baptised something else – as typically the churching took place some weeks after baptism, so mothers often missed the christening. The idea of a post-birth woman as unclean is pretty repellent, especially in an essentially theocratic state that kept women pregnant through many of their fertile years. It stuck in the craw of many at the time.

The other thing the story is about are the marooned generations of Irish in London – people who came over from the 1950s onward, pushed out by economic and social stagnation, and who rarely got home again. The pre-Ryanair generations’ ties with home were more or less cut, and they often felt they hadn’t done well enough financially to return. The Irish Embassy in London has a lot to do with the Irish Centre in Kilburn, which is a social hub for many left behind by the Celtic tiger. I always feel there is a quiet care and respect from them for so many of our people who have aged past any chance of return and wouldn’t feel at home in Ireland now anyway. Walking around my south London neighbourhood with my dog Milo, I’ve made friends with several erstwhile Kerry and Connemara men who often talk of going home for a visit, but never actually do. Failing health is one reason, and the death of siblings who they might have stayed with – the parents of course long since gone.

They speak in idioms that sound anachronistic to most Irish people today, but are how people talked when they were young. I’ve tried to capture that in the story, though it probably makes it sound a bit Oirish to the modern ear. The guys I chat to are also pretty racist. A couple of weeks ago, one of them was giving out about “immigrants”, and I said “But sure we’re immigrants.” He went uncharacteristically quiet for a moment, and then roared laughing, agreeing that indeed we are.

Here is the opening. The rest of “Churched” is at Lunate.

“I don’t know how it is in Ireland now, but here if you want to see old people and babies, go to Mass. Mass is full of people you don’t see most places except the dole queue or A&E which is full of drunks with a bang on their head that might be a brain bleed and babies with runny noses that might be meningitis. We see the babies first. A sick child goes downhill fast but a drunk with a sore head will always be looking for company.”



siobhan millen 01.24.22 at 7:17 pm

Great story. Very hard-boiled, as these people, my people, are.


Niall 01.24.22 at 8:17 pm

Congratulations on the story!

Churching carried on in Ireland and some other places into the 80s. The 1984 revision of the post-Vatican II Book of Blessings still has a blessing for new mothers in it. One of my aunts, who gave birth in Galway in 1983, was churched.

My own mother was churched in Dublin after her first two pregnancies in the late 60s, though not for me a decade later. She does remember, though, that the nuns at the National Maternity Hospital would collect new babies from the wards and have them baptised en masse in the nearby church at Westland Row. The nuns would expect to be paid for this, and would hand the babies back with the words, ‘So who owns the half-crown baby? Who owns the shilling baby? Who owns the penny baby?’ Such was the cruel normality of Ireland at the time.


Dave 01.24.22 at 9:15 pm

Loved reading this! And congrats on your first publication 👊


John Quiggin 01.24.22 at 10:50 pm

Lovely! I remember “why didn’t they wait until all the old people were dead” from when we converted to decimal currency and metric measures,


Maria 01.25.22 at 9:27 am


Niall, wow… I sort of suspected it went into the 80s but didn’t remember anything specific. My siblings and I were all born in the NMH but AFAIK we were baptised elsewhere, later on. I know part of the impetus to cart babies en masse to Westland Row (a while since I’ve heard that name!) was high-ish infant mortality and the fear of Limbo, but, my God, the infinite ways found to commoditise babies and enforce the class system.

JQ – yes! I first heard it in 2002, with the introduction of the Euro into circulation.


daveheasman 01.26.22 at 12:20 am

There’s an order of “Churching of Women” in the C of E Common Prayer book, too.


Sumana Harihareswara 01.26.22 at 11:05 am

Really appreciated this story – the glimpse of a set of people I didn’t previously know, the just-enough-exposition to help me understand Bridget’s observations and actions, the heist, the disorientation of a story that felt like it could have happened two hundred years ago except for the mobile phones.


oldster 01.27.22 at 9:16 am

“Tagalong and what have you” — such a laugh!
The whole thing was glorious.


Maria 01.27.22 at 11:42 am

daveheasman – huh, I had no idea. the basic idea of a blessing isn’t a bad one. I think just getting it wrapped up in all the reproductive coercion was the real problem, and coloured everything, including the ideas and feelings of those who used it as a barrier.

thanks, sumana! yes, it’s sort of a play on the New Testament story of the woman taken in adultery, but with phones instead of stones.

:-) oldster. many thanks.

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