Migration and Belonging in Irish Literature and Film
Philomena and Ireland’s Mother-and-Baby Homes
ABSTRACT This chapter examines the portrayal of Ireland’s mother-and-baby homes in the generally well-received film Philomena and the account on which the film is based, the British journalist Martin Sixsmith’s portrayal of Philomena Lee’s life and search for her son, who had been given up to an American couple for adoption under coercive circumstances. Enforced adoptions have long been a part of Irish life that was silenced within official discourse, just as the women themselves were silenced under a blanket of shame and denial within a form of patriarchal nationalism. Cultural representations such as film and trauma biography will of course tend towards certain structures of storytelling that reveal in dramatic form the deep emotional wounds inflicted on the survivors, yet are often challenged by an official discourse as shallow and untrustworthy. This controversy draws attention to other conflicts and paradoxes that can operate when there are attempts to give a voice to the silenced or marginalized, yet such efforts have begun a process of forcing a re-evaluation of Ireland’s narratives of nationhood through the twentieth century.
In her inaugural address on December 3, 1990, Ireland’s first female president, Mary Robinson, called for an open and pluralistic definition of national identity:
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