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The Effects And Influence Of The Catholic Church

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The dominant influence from 1921 to 1950 in Ireland was The Catholic Church. They had a huge say in how the country was run during this time period as they were in partnership with the government, Éamon De Valera was the Taoiseach, the party leader of Fianna Fáil which expressed right-wing ideas. Right-wing politics is characterized by authority and order.

Ideology is a body of ideas and beliefs, including those which form the basis of economic or political theory and policy. ( n.d.) They are held among individuals, groups or countries. Ideology impacts social policy. Once Ireland became a free state the Church made sure its position of authority was known and had influence over many policies including education and women’s rights. Social policy is within a political or government setting to cater for the welfare of individuals (Spicker n.d.). Ideology informs policy and policy impacts peoples lives. Since the church was in partnership with the government they informed choices for the planning of policies and did not take a lot of consideration into the needs of citizens.

Throughout this essay, I will be covering the points that relate to the different influences the church had on Irish society. These include the view of women, social welfare and the control the church had over Irish citizens.


Women were seen as inferior to men. Once they married they had to leave work and tend to their duties as a housewife (Beaumont 1997, P.563 & 573). It is suggested that Catholic right-wing ideology was responsible for this discrimination and the assumption that men and women had different social functions. Irish society followed the teaching of the Catholic church that a woman’s sole purpose was to look after her home and children. Fianna Fáil (FF) were willing to limit women’s employment opportunities while at the same time making more work available to men(Beaumont 1997, p.564 & 574). When Ireland became a republic in 1948 nobody was considered equal. Women were unable to vote as they weren’t equal to men, they were seen as secondary citizens because their duties were in the home. Picking up were Cumann na nGaedheal and William Cosgrave left off, FF discriminated between these rights and needs by introducing legislation which was based on Catholic social teaching and their right-wing ideologies (Beaumont 1997, p.571,576 & 579).

In 1925 divorce was banned by the church for all citizens of Ireland, Cumann na nGaedheal (FG) leader William Cosgrave accepted this (Beaumont 1997, p.565). Contraception was forbidden hence why it was frowned upon to get pregnant out of wedlock as sexual intercourse before marriage was a sin. The Vatican requested De Valera protest against the use of contraceptives. The importation and publication of contraception for sale were prohibited as creating a family was a ‘duty and an honour’ for married couples (Beaumont 1997, p.572).

There was particular emphasis on young girls, teaching them to ‘conform to the Catholic Church’s vision of the ideal Irish woman’ (Beaumont 1997, p.566). It was believed that the abuse of dance halls was causing problems and legislation was needed on the “best catholic practice and teaching” (Keogh 1986, p.205). To protect the young from this they needed high-quality religious education (Beaumont 1997, p.566). The education system was also unsurprisingly controlled by the church. Girls were taught to be obedient and modest and all students were instilled with Catholic moral principles. Women’s behaviour was under constant review, they couldn’t smoke or talk or laugh loudly in public (Beaumont 1997, p.567). This was expected of them because the responsibility of the next generation having good morals ‘lay in their hands’ (Beaumont 1997, p.568).

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In 1931 there was a serious illegitimacy problem and the reason for this was thought to be the improper supervision and running of dance halls. It was then proposed that they be run by the clergy.(Keogh 1986, p.206 & 207). These young women who were mothers to illegitimate children were sent to institutions including mother and baby homes and county homes where they were treated very poorly. An example of these is the Magdalen Laundries. One example which was shown in Peter Mullan’s film The Magdalene Sisters (2002), is how a woman was sexually assaulted in a dance hall but in her family’s eyes, it was seen as her fault for being promiscuous. This type of occurrence brought shame to the family so the girl was sent to this institution.

Mother and baby homes were operated privately and funded by local authorities and ran by religious orders (Maguire 2009, p.87). Unmarried women who had given birth and could afford to pay to send their children overseas for adoption, or decided to keep their children and had a plan, could leave in a few months whereas those who couldn’t afford it had to stay for two years to pay off the debts. However, once the two years was up these women had no contact with their children (Maguire 2009, p.88).

County homes were designed for illegitimate children and their families also if they were in need. Sometimes children were sent here before they were boarded overseas or to industrial schools. Some children ended up staying a lot longer because their mothers escaped and abandoned them. They didn’t provide for the “long-term needs of children, because they were never intended to house them long-term”(Maguire 2009, p.90).

Many of these children eventually ended up in industrial schools. The schools were run by members of Catholic religious orders and funded by the Departments of Education and Health (Maguire 2009, p.95). It was cheaper to board them out than to keep them in the schools which is why the Department of Health preferred the former option (Maguire 2009, p.92 & p.93). No procedures were in place outlining the responsibilities to children in their care which could have been due to their lack of knowledge and concern for their welfare (Maguire 2009, p.93).

The Catholic position, which evolved during the 1930s, was the main principle that led to church-controlled institutions. In Ireland, childcare and protection policies were developed on the best practices from other countries to prevent compromising its Catholic principles (Ruane 2000, p.4). Some Irish members of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) wanted the British adoption act introduced in Ireland as Ireland had no adoption laws leaving vulnerable children at the hands of those who were not accountable (Ruane 2000, p.3). Managers and local authorities of schools were more concerned about finances than the interests of the children (Maguire 2009, p.97).

In 1933 unemployment assistance was introduced for widow’s orphans and pensioners. In 1947 Departments of Social Welfare and Wealth was formed and it was the first relating to social welfare policies (Kelly 1999, p.108). ‘Catholic action’ was the major point of debate on Irish social policy in the early 1930s occurring alongside developments on social welfare. Their right-wing theories were based on the papal encyclicals, Rerum Novarum, which rejected the idea of support from the state outlining that it should only be done so if necessary. It stressed the importance that Christian charity should not be replaced by ‘state-centralised relief’ (Kelly 1999, p.109). In other words, the Rerum Novarum favoured private charity over state support. Fianna Fáil used statements by the hierarchy and Rerum Novarum to justify their reluctance to introduce children’s allowances stating it could contribute to the ‘socialisation of children’ (Kelly 2009, p.115).


It is evident from the information discussed in this essay that the Catholic Church and the governments of Ireland throughout the 1920s to 1950s were in partnership. They accepted any suggestions the hierarchy had to be included in policies and legislations which the majority of were unjust. Their views on women in society were nonsensical, instructing that they must fulfil this image of the ideal woman and be the perfect housewife because challenging this jeopardised men. They were selfish in that they didn’t want to give out allowances as it would be interfering with family life when really they just wanted more finances for themselves. There is no doubt that they had immense power over the country as there are endless resources as proof of evidence which only a fraction of which was used in this essay.

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The Effects And Influence Of The Catholic Church. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from
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