Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Land of Sex and Sinners

“The female orgasm was unknown and after ejaculation the man fell asleep. Men felt that intercourse was debilitating and male sexual strivings were thought to be a result of eating massive amounts of potatoes.” Midway through the 20th century the American anthropologist responsible for this quote regarded certain regions of Ireland as harbouring some of the most sexually repressed communities in the world. But the puritanical Irish society of the time was riddled with institutionalised sexual abuse. The true heritage whoredom of this grim period is only now being fully exposed. However this era of 20th century repression forms only one atypical chapter of the island’s often lurid sexual story. For most of its past Ireland was notorious for possessing the most carefree moral outlook in Christendom. While current permissiveness is viewed as a completely modern phenomena in fact several millennia of unique and often shockingly broadminded attitudes form the core of Irish sexual history. The Land of`Sex and Sinners traces the complete timeline of Irish
sexual and gender development from the mysterious sexio-religious rites of pre-history to the all too blatant teenage coming-of-age rituals of contemporary life.

Dramatic reconstructions reveal such unexpected aspects of Irish history as the bisexual orientation of the macho Celtic warrior elite. Interviewees tell of an island which once had the right of a woman to experience orgasm enshrined in its legal framework. Documentary footage explores the visual heritage of the erotic from the Neolithic landscape of “detached sexual objects”. The Land of Sex and Sinners pauses in its timeline to subject particularly interesting shifts in sexual paradigms to the scrutiny of historical analysis...and some dryly humorous comment.

Following the screening of The Land of Sex & Sinners on Saturday, October 2nd, there was a public discussion on “History, Sex and Small Screen Prejudice”, with director Jimmy Duggan, Míchéal Ó Meallaigh, Senior Commissioning Editor of TG4, Professor Kevin Whelan, Notre Dame University and Mary Condron, lecturer at Trinity College Dublin. The discussion was chaired by Ruth Barton.
2004, Colour, 104 mins, Ireland
Director: Jimmy Duggan

Gerald was not atypical, and similar views may be found in the writings of William of Malmesbury and William of Newburgh. When it comes to Irish marital and sexual customs Gerald is even more biting, "This is a filthy people, wallowing in vice. They indulge in incest, for example in marrying - or rather debauching - the wives of their dead brothers." Even earlier than this Archbishop Anselm accused the Irish of wife swapping, "...exchanging their wives as freely as other men exchange their horses."

One will find these views echoed centuries later in the words of Sir Henry Sidney, twice Lord Deputy during the reign of Elizabeth I, and in those of Edmund Tremayne, his secretary. In Tremayne's view the Irish "commit whoredom, hold no wedlock, ravish, steal and commit all abomination without scruple of conscience."[2] In A View of the Present State of Ireland, published in 1596, Edmund Spencer wrote "They are all papists by profession but in the same so blindingly and brutishly informed that you would rather think them atheists or infidels."

This vision of the barbarous Irish, largely born out of a form of imperialist condescension, made its way into Laudabiliter, one of the most infamous documents in all of Irish History, by which Adrian IV, the only English Pope, granted Ireland to Henry II, " the end that the foul customs of that country may be abolished and the barbarous nation, Christian in name only, may through your care assume the beauty of good morals."

All and every method was to be used in this 'civilizing mission' over time. In 1305 when Piers Bermingham cut off the heads of thirty members of the O'Connor clan and sent them to Dublin he was awarded with a financial bonus. His action was also celebrated in verse. In 1317 one Irish chronicler was of the view that it was just as easy for an Englishman to kill an Irishman as he would a dog. Later when the English control of Ireland shrunk back for a time to The Pale around Dublin, hence the expression 'Beyond the Pale'.\

OLD IRISH PRACTICES -- Irish women are especially fond of capturing leprechauns and forcing them to become sex slaves while the women's husbands are working the mines. "Those leprechauns are really small, but not all over, if you catch my drift," blushes Mary McCallister, 27, of Dublin. "I like to get undressed, crawl under my rainbow- design quilt, and then order my leprechaun to climb inside and try to locate the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."

The Irish Precedent:
The Perfecting of the System and Enslaving the Alien

To the English, Irish customs of marriage and mating proved as irksome as the importance of cattle. The Irish practiced several forms of union which either party could dissolve under none too rigid conditions. The English often charged the Irish with incest for marrying along lines prohibited by English tribal law. The English took exception to polygamy, concubinage, and probationary marriage which an Irish man or woman for the price of a few cows or less could dissolve. This practice under feudal law interfered with legal heirs and totally disrupted primogeniture (Liggio 23-25; Quinn [1966] 8).

The rigidity of the English outlook perceived any variations of lifestyle as hostile and threatening. The Irish lifestyle offered much pleasanter rewards to the masses than Anglo-Norman feudalism. Consequently, English settlers sent to Ireland often became absorbed in Irish ways; and the English enacted legal restrictions banning Irish dress, language, trade, or marriage with Irish, or keeping Irish law sayers of poets. The Statutes of Kilkenny in 1366cover all these restrictions and more (Lyden 289).

The English confiscated Irish land, granting it to English gentry who parcel edit out among English colonists as they later did in America and in Africa. The November 6, 1571 letter patent to Sir Thomas Smith, an entrepreneur involved in many commercial ventures in the Virginia Colony, East India Company, Somers Island, and Ireland, included rules denying privileges to Irish similar to later Slave Codes. It read as follows:

Every Irishman shall be forbidden to wear English apparel or weapon upon pain of death. That no Irishman, born of Irish race and brought up Irish, shall purchase land, bear office, be chosen of any jury, or admitted witness on anyreal or personal action, nor be bound apprentice to any science or art. ... All Irishmen especially native in that country, which commonly be called Churl that will plow the ground and bear no kind of weapon nor armor shall be gently entertained and for their plowing and labor shall be well regarded with great provision (Quinn [1945] 548-551).

These restrictive legislations proved so ineffective against the Irish thatEnglish officials repeatedly reenacted them in an attempt to defend the last sectors of English culture. The English attempt to destroy the Irish' scultural life by forcing hard work and English landlords on the "wild" rather carefree Irish patterns failed to make significant inroads. Therefore, the English changed from establishing settlements in key local areas to a massive attack on the entire Irish nation. "At its most extreme, it called for the clearing of the Irish out of Ireland and their replacement by Englishmen"(Quinn [1958] 23-25).

The English considered all Irish who resisted their civilizing efforts as"rude, beastly and ignorant." As early as 1552, Thomas More, the humanist and statesman, had defined the Irish as "wild...beast" who had no knowledge of God or etiquette. Later, Sir Henry Didney, the English Lord Deputy of Ireland,described the Irish as prone to Criminality. He wrote:

There never was peoples that lived in more misery than they do nor as it should be seen of worse minds, for matrimony among them is no more regarded than conjunction between reasonable beasts. Perjury, jobbery and murder counted allowable. I cannot find that they make any conscience of sin and I doubt whether they christen their children or no; for neither find I places where it should be done, nor any person able to instruct them in the rule of a Christian (Jones 449-452).

Irish who willingly adapted to English ways moved into the dominant pattern,but those who refused to adapt received many types of punishment. The English simply destroyed many. They imprisoned and/or deported others. Forced to live alien existences, those departed to the colonies (if they survived) eventually adapted to the colonial lifestyle. Pitted against the Native American and African, the Irish import became a portion of all the European immigrants; and as the new American culture developed, their assimilation took hold (Liggio28,30).



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