Modern Wife, Modern Life – My Experience

logo The minute I read about Dr. Ciara Meehan’s Modern Wife, Modern Life exhibition currently running in the National Print Museum, I couldn’t wait to visit.

Meehan describes her exhibition as exploring “the ‘ideal wife’ turned ‘modern wife’ in 1960s Ireland.”

Born in 1965, I was curious.

While Meehan largely focuses on “the representation of Irish housewives in the pages of Woman’s Way, Woman’s View and Woman’s Choice magazines,” many objects from 1960s Irish homes, loaned to Meehan from members of the public, are also on display.

One of these items, a copy of Maura Laverty’s Full and Plenty cookbook, pictured on the National Print Museum’s Facebook  page, is actually what caught my eye and alerted me to the exhibition.

My mother-in-law Kitty Heffernan has a well- thumbed and well-stained copy sitting on her kitchen shelf in Tramore.  Kitty is 81 years of age and a fantastic cook, still running around after her family in an ‘Irish mammy’ sort of way.  Her infamous quiche lorraine, comes from page 460 of Laverty’s iconic cook book.

My nephew John reading his grandmother's Full and Plenty
My nephew John reading his grandmother Kitty’s ‘Full and Plenty’

As I thought a bit more about Kitty, I realised that in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, she wasn’t what would have been perceived as a traditional Irish housewife. When her youngest son, my husband Colm turned 8, she returned to work outside the home.  She became secretary for Lord Waterford of Curraghmore, where she happily remained for thirty years.  Her late husband Bill also bucked the trend, frequently preparing dinner for his wife and five sons.

Arriving at the exhibition for a curated tour with Dr. Meehan, I had no idea how close it would make me feel to my own late mother.

The hairstyle of the woman on the 1968 cover of Woman’s Way reminded me of her hairstyle.  The photograph of a ‘typical’ 1960s kitchen brought memories flooding back.  The formica topped kitchen table in Glenbrook Park, Rathfarnham and the silver pressure cooker saucepan with the red lid.


My mother Mary Quinn, died on 24th April 1971, twenty days after my sixth birthday but I’m lucky to have very clear memories of her.

Meehan’s exhibit of a china tea set, a wedding gift from the 1960s, reminded me that I still have my parents’ set sitting in my attic.  I think now it’s time to take it down, and savour the memories, instead of leaving it there gathering dust.

The 1968 copy of Woman’s Way, also reminded me of how my step-mother used swap magazines with our next door neighbour Ann. Woman’s Way was my favourite and I always read it.  As a teenager I dreamed of having a short story published in it…not that I ever wrote one!

Another intriguing item that I was drawn to, was a 1967 letter to a Miss Cunniffe, signed by Assistant Manager Mr. John Durrant, explaining to her that her position in Guardian Assurance Company would ‘be terminated automatically by [her] marriage.’

I attended Modern Wife, Modern Life with my friend Gemma, and the same Mr. Durrant had employed both of us in Guardian Royal Exchange Insurance Company in 1982, this is where we met and became friends.  Thankfully life for a woman in Ireland had changed by this time, and there was no threat of our employment being terminated if we married.

Mr. Durrant letter

I’d really recommend Modern Wife, Modern Life: an Exhibition of Women’s Magazines from 1960s Ireland.  It runs in the National Print Museum until 30 August 2015, and a curated tour with Dr. Ciara Meehan enhances the experience.

(Thank you to Dr. Ciara Meehan for permission to re-print images from her exhibition.)

My mother Mary Quinn (nee Hanby) on her wedding day 10 June 1964
My mother Mary Quinn (nee Hanby) on her wedding day 10 June 1964


 Image courtesy of the Wellcome Trust - (PALS' Programme)

Image courtesy of the Wellcome Trust – (PALS’ Programme)

Ten days ago I brought my 73 year old dad to the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks to experience PALS and since then I have been trying to write of my experience…but I’m struggling…I can’t seem to do it justice and capture the intensity of the performance.

At the heart of PALS are four young Irish middle class ‘pals’ who play rugby together.  They enlist in the British Army in 1915, believing this will lead to adventure.

But…as stated by Lar Joyce, Curator of Military History at Collins Barracks…220 soldiers sailed from Dublin in April 1915…and ‘within a week of arriving at Gallipoli, 131 were dead or wounded.’

What better person to present the heartbreak and devastation suffered by these young men and their loved ones left behind, than Louise Lowe of ANU Productions.

Lowe’s productions are bold and brave. She pushes the boundaries of theatre and refuses to allow audience passivity.

I knew the performance would be uncomfortable and unsettling…which I thrive on …but I wasn’t sure about my dad.

I warned him PALS would be intense. I warned him it would be loud…sudden noise unnerves him.

But I didn’t warn him…as I didn’t know…that we would climb several flights of steep steps to the bunk room where the action would take place.

My dad suffers with vertigo…his face got more panicky, his breathing more laboured and his language more colourful as he struggled up each step.

I struggled too for a second…worried that we’d have to go back down and miss the performance…but eventually my dad made it to the landing.

Perhaps it was the encouraging pat on his arm from Taoiseach Enda Kenny reassuring him that he was ‘nearly there.’

The performance was everything you would expect from ANU.  It was energetic, unnerving and haunting.  It captured the horror of life in the trenches of World War I more intently than any novel or history book I have ever read.

I cannot erase from my mind the vision of the young soldier, having returned from Gallipoli, lying beside me on a camp bed, pulling an imaginary trigger time and time again.

I was disappointed not to have had the opportunity to applaud actors John Cronin, Liam Heslin, Laura Murray, Kevin Olohan, and Thomas Reilly when the performance ended…they disappeared abruptly.

This of course fits with Louise Lowe’s instinct…it heightened the impact of what we had experienced.

The magic was never broken.

PALS only runs until this Thursday and has been sold out for quite a while.  But with five or six performances a day, it may be worth going along to Collins Barracks in the hope of a cancellation.

ANU Productions performances are ‘of the moment’ and are unlikely to be repeated.

But if you ever see one advertised…GO!

Collins Barracks Dublin (Image courtesy of
Collins Barracks Dublin (Image courtesy of


Welcome to my blog…Out of the Blue

Celebrating my 50th birthday in Kerry.
Ladies Lake Killarney.

In August 2012, following Maeve Binchy’s death, I began blogging having thought about it often.

I signed up to Blogspot and could never really work it out. Following prompting from beleaguered friends and family, I’ve decided to move to WordPress…apparently easier for luddites to navigate. The WordPress manual urges users not to worry ‘if HTML and “shortcodes” make you lightheaded’. They’re speaking directly to me.

I suppose I should introduce myself first.

My name is Caroline, and I’ve lived in Dublin all my life. I turned 50, on Easter Saturday, 4th April.

I celebrated my birthday with husband Colm in Kenmare, Co. Kerry. We’d a fantastic time. Lots of walking, talking, nice meals and nicer pints…and the sun shone.

It was hard to come home.

Our house was suspiciously clean. Our three adult children aged 23, 19 and 17 had been busy.

My 19 year old son greeted me warmly ‘Mam, it’s nice to have you home. I had never thought about what happened my dirty clothes after I put them in THE WASH!’

I’m not a domestic goddess but I love loading and unloading the washing machine, hanging clothes on the line, and folding them afterwards…I find the repetition and smell of fresh clean clothes therapeutic. On the other hand I find cooking dinner every evening totally tedious.

I love to read and I love to write. Most of the time I wish I read more and wrote more. I’ve been a member of the same book club since we set up twelve years ago.

I write because I enjoy it.  It de-clutters my head when I share random thoughts that come ‘Out of the Blue.’

(If you’d like to read my previous blogs…they can be found at

I really only want to say hello today. I plan on blogging once a week and will begin tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.