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The Essay

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  • A Dying Breed
    Great empty buildings, which only a few decades ago were bustling convents, tower over most towns and villages in Ireland, but they represent a world which is disappearing along with the once all-powerful Irish Roman Catholic Church. In this series of The Essay, Olivia O'Leary, convent-educated and a lapsed Catholic, asks where all the Irish nuns have gone. Olivia's final essay is about the end of the tradition of religious orders. Ireland has fallen out of love with the Catholic Church. Hardly a month goes by without more revelations of harsh treatment of girls in institutions run by nuns and of sexual abuse of boys in institutions run by brothers and priests. Nuns have to deal with being despised in a country that used to see them as saints. ‘Before, we were on a pedestal we didn’t deserve’ one nun said to Olivia. ‘Neither do we deserve the gutter. But we took the pedestal, so now we have to take the gutter.’ Presenter Olivia O'Leary Producer Claire Cunningham A Rockfinch production for BBC Radio 3
    1/6/2023
    13:43
  • The Rebels
    Great empty buildings, which only a few decades ago were bustling convents, tower over most towns and villages in Ireland, but they represent a world which is disappearing along with the once all-powerful Irish Roman Catholic Church. In this series of The Essay, Olivia O'Leary, convent-educated and a lapsed Catholic, asks where all the Irish nuns have gone. In her fourth essay, about nuns and politics, Olivia describes the conservative Roman Catholic state Ireland was in the Sixties. Communism was seen as the greatest enemy and hospitals and schools were run by Catholic nuns as a way of imposing church rule and keeping the state out of people’s lives. However, it was nuns who swung to the left when the second Vatican Council pushed for a more modern, liberal church, and missionaries coming back from South America preached that the church should be siding with the poor. Many nuns left their comfortable convents to live with the poor. They sat down in front of trucks coming to evict Travellers. They protested against President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 visit because of his support for right-wing regimes in Central and South America. They criticised governments and demanded social justice. They abandoned respectability and many of the more conservative priests and bishops thought they were making a show of themselves. They continued to make a show of themselves. Presenter Olivia O'Leary Producer Claire Cunningham A Rockfinch production for BBC Radio 3
    1/5/2023
    13:23
  • Class and the Convent
    Great empty buildings, which only a few decades ago were bustling convents, tower over most towns and villages in Ireland, but they represent a world which is disappearing along with the once all-powerful Irish Roman Catholic Church. In this series of The Essay, Olivia O'Leary, convent-educated and a lapsed Catholic, asks where all the Irish nuns have gone. In her third essay, about class in the Irish Catholic Church, she describes how girls from poor backgrounds, particularly young pregnant girls, suffered harsh mistreatment in the institutions the nuns ran and felt the sharp end of their obsession with purity. How could the nuns who had been so good to Olivia belong to the same orders who punished girls whose only ‘sin’ was that they were poor or illegitimate, or that they got in trouble? Presenter Olivia O'Leary Producer Claire Cunningham A Rockfinch production for BBC Radio 3
    1/4/2023
    13:10
  • Liberated Women
    Great empty buildings, which only a few decades ago were bustling convents, tower over most towns and villages in Ireland, but they represent a world which is disappearing along with the once all-powerful Irish Roman Catholic Church. In this series of The Essay, Olivia O'Leary, convent-educated and a lapsed Catholic, asks where all the Irish nuns have gone. In her second essay, Olivia describes the education which the nuns gave her, which was first class. These were almost the only university-educated professional women she and her classmates knew, and they wielded power. They ran big organisations and took a real interest in Irish women’s education when the state did not. They were often more ambitious for girls than their parents were. Presenter Olivia O'Leary Producer Claire Cunningham A Rockfinch production for BBC Radio 3
    1/3/2023
    13:24
  • Chastity and Lots of Praying
    Great empty buildings, which only a few decades ago were bustling convents, tower over most towns and villages in Ireland, but they represent a world which is disappearing along with the once all-powerful Irish Roman Catholic Church. In this series of The Essay, Olivia O'Leary, convent-educated and a lapsed Catholic, asks where all the Irish nuns have gone. In her first essay, Olivia recalls her 12-year-old view of nuns: their long black clothes, their heads encased in stiff linen, their obsession with prayer and the Virgin Mary and purity - and making sure that girls would never see one another naked. Olivia is one of the last generation who went to a boarding school run by nuns and, like many other Irish families, she had an aunt who was a nun. Presenter Olivia O'Leary Producer Claire Cunningham A Rockfinch production for BBC Radio 3
    1/2/2023
    13:40

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