Important archive reveals experience of single parent families previously shunned in Ireland
Life & Style

Important archive reveals experience of single parent families previously shunned in Ireland

AN archive documenting the historical experience of single parent families in Ireland “gives voice to those shunned by the State”.

The National Library of Ireland (NLI) has acquired the collection of Cherish, Ireland’s national organisation for one-parent families, which is now known as One Family.

Founded by Maura O’Dea Richards in 1972, the organisation originally offered advice and support for unmarried women in Ireland who had children.

Ms O’Dea Richards, who was an unmarried mother herself, had placed an advert in an Irish newspaper seeking to reach other women who were in the same position.

After receiving a small number of responses, she set up Cherish, which took its name from the declaration in the 1916 Proclamation stating that Ireland would “cherish all of the children of the nation equally”.

A poster by Cherish in 1981 is one of the many items contained in the historic archive

Cherish changed its name to One Family in 2004, “in recognition of a changing Ireland in which one-parent families existed in many forms” the organisation confirms.

Its records from the 1970s to the early 2000s are now in the hands of the NLI, who said they were “proud” to receive them.

The archive contains case files that record the circumstances of and correspondence with individual women who contacted Cherish for advice and support between 1974 and 1987.

It also contains administrative records of the organisation, including AGM minutes, submissions, correspondence and publications lobbying for legislative reform.

Speaking at an event to mark the acquisition, Director of the NLI, Dr Audrey Whitty said: “The NLI is Ireland’s memory keeper and as such we are committed to collecting Ireland’s many voices and their diverse experience.

“We are increasingly adding the stories of women and under-represented groups to our collections.”

She added: “We are proud to receive these papers from Cherish, which provide a fascinating insight into the lives of one-parent families from the early 1970s, societal attitudes towards them, and how they have changed over the years.”

Pictured at the National Library of Ireland to mark the acquisition of the Cherish/One Family archive are Gráinne Farren, Karen Kiernan, Chief Executive of One Family, Dr Audrey Whitty, Director of the National Library of Ireland and Evelyn Ford, one of the founders of Cherish, Mary Kerrigan, former director of Cherish, and Anna Lee

Karen Kiernan, CEO of One Family, said of the acquisition: “The archival material we have donated to the National Library provides insights into the lives of one parent families in Ireland in the very recent past.

“It gives voice to the stories of women and children who were shunned by the State and by parts of society.”

She added: “When Cherish was established in 1972, there was no lone parents allowance and single pregnant women had an uncertain future – they were often thrown out of their homes, lost their jobs and were rejected by their communities.

“This comes through in some of the letters from service users that are included in the archive – some are heartbreaking, others are full of positivity where family and community support is clear.”

Mary Kerrigan, who ran the Clare/Limerick branch of Cherish for many years, claims their work at the organisation made a “massive difference” to Irish society.

“Despite being an unmarried mother in the 1970s and the stigma I felt from some people, they may now think I am a very important person because the Cherish records are in the archives of the National Library of Ireland,” she said.

“What the women in Cherish did made a massive difference to society in Ireland, working hard for social, financial and legal rights for unmarried mothers and their children which is something One Family continues to this day,” she added.

“We did this with the help of people such as Mary Robinson, who was our President until she became President of Ireland.”