We do not want contraception, abortion, divorce, homosexuality, secular schools or any of the trappings of an uninspiring secular Ireland.
So summed up the politics of Úna Bean Mhic Mhathúna in a letter to The Irish Times in May 1976.
Una*, along with her friend and fellow campaigner Mena Cribben, is another colourful character in the world of reactionary Irish politics. She has been a dominant figure for over forty years having been a founding member of Mna na hEireann (c. 1972 – late 1970s) and the Irish Housewives Union (c. 1980 – early 1990s) as well as being active with the Council for Family Rights (1980s), Anti-Abortion Campaign (1983), No Divorce Campaign (1996/97), Friends of Youth Defence (1990s) and Coir (2000s).
Una grew up in Gurranabraher in Cork where her brother Larry White, a leading local activist with Saorise Eire (offshoot of Saor Eire), was shot dead by the Official IRA in 1975.
Una’s mother Mary was also a devout Catholic:
She married Seamus, a renowned folk singer from West Clare who has worked with Conradh na Gaeligle and Comhaltas Ceoltori Eireann, in the late 1960s.
Along with Aine Ni Mhurchu, she set up Mna na hEireann in 1972 to help in the fight against “the legalisation of contraception, abortion and divorce.” In an interview with Irish Times journalist Mary Leland the following year, Una proclaimed that:
a handful of women in Dublin … claim to be speaking for the majority of women in Ireland we believe that it’s not a majority opinion at all. The same number of women are always involved, and some of them, the most vociferous are foreigners.
Una also spoke fondly of “when Ireland was truly Ireland when we had our own language, culture and religion (and when) we were a moral nation”.
She told the journalist that “abortion and contraception, as far we’re concerned, are one and the same” and went on to say:
We don’t believe that anyone makes the conscious decision to to use artificial contraception; they do it under the pressure from propaganda. If they were to make a conscious decision they would have to know all the aspects of whatever method they were using and therefore they would be making a conscious decision to kill a child. And that’s murder.
Here’s an example of the kind of letter the group were sending to the papers in this period. Note the term “international vested interests”.
In April 1974, Mna na hEireann distributed leaflets outside Catholic Churches in Cork which proclaimed that “Ireland could easily support 40 million people and that the Billings method of Birth Control was 100% sure and safe”. It transpired that some local parish priests had given the group permission to distribute the leaflets and put up posters.