sociological theory and 'thick' description, UCD
sociologist Tom Inglis investigates the April 1984
scandal of the 'Kerry babies' when two dead newborns
were found, one near Cahirciveen and the other across
the bay, near Slea Head on the Dingle peninsula.
Gardaí blamed unmarried Joanne Hayes, who
had just given birth; she and her family became
targets of media attention, legal and medical debate,
and moral censure. Inglis demonstrates that Hayes
represented a modern woman challenging traditional
Catholic mores of the 'long nineteenth century'.
One of the babies found near the bay was hers, the
second child she had born to a local married man.
Why she chose to continue with a second pregnancy,
to reject contraception, and perhaps to act as she
was accused of and confessed to-the murder of her
just-born child-motivates Inglis' academic research.
His work here follows logically earlier books, Moral
Monopoly: The Rise and Fall of the Catholic Church
in Ireland and Lessons in Irish Sexuality.
the first chapters, Inglis examines the situation
by reviewing witnesses, forensics, and testimony
from the Hayes family and neighbours. Oceanographers,
psychologists, pathologists, and the Murder Squad
all entered their opinions. What had at first seemed
an easily solved murder unravelled when claims of
superfecundation were charged-that Hayes bore twins
by different fathers, since the two babies found
bore different blood types. This extremely rare
occurrence, according to prosecutors, strengthened
Hayes' unnatural sexual degeneracy. Inglis displays
how the Tribunal Report can be read as 'an innovative
piece of ethnographic research' into the conflicts
between the state and the family, rural and urban
Ireland, and Catholic and secular morality in the
analyses these conflicts while never resolving who
was responsible for the deaths of the Kerry babies.
He takes the incident as an example of a witch-hunt,
in which powerful forces shaping perceptions of
honor, shame, and permissible behavior manipulated
this still mysterious incident into a symbol of
the collapse of Church control over Irish women.
The concept of Pierre Bourdieu's habitus'the
automatic predisposed way' in which everyday events
are interpreted as right or wronginforms Inglis'
appraisal of how customary mores of sexuality, farming,
Catholicism, and the repression of individual choice
eroded within the Hayes family. He takes unmarried
Joanne's decision to raise a daughter fathered by
a married man and her predicament after again becoming
pregnant by him as a microcosmic articulation of
the forces beginning to undermine Catholic morality
but, for Joanne in 1984, changes arriving before
the secular model now prevalent could replace an
outmoded model of behaviour with a fully liberalised
one based on individualism and refusal to conform
to traditional expectations.
role of the body assumes importance for Inglis'
interpretation of Joanne Hayes' liminal position.
Inglis claims that within this then twenty-seven-year-old
woman's choice, a clash of two ideologies occurs:
fitness vs. fasting, self-indulgence vs. self-denial.
Joanne worked at a gym in Tralee. His exploration
of her cultural tension provides the most innovative
portion of his thesis. 'She began to express herself
in an urban society in which she was not so well
known. At night she went home to a family and a
traditional way of life in which notions of self,
desire and pleasure had a long history of denial
and repression.' Eschewing jargon, Inglis succeeds
in presenting Hayes as not only a pawn played by
legislative and coercive entities, butalbeit
to a limited extenta young woman increasingly
trusting that rewards invited by her own actions
and promised by a Westernizing hedonism could sustain
her within her chosen, single motherhood.
less innovative in his exploration of the concepts
of shame and pride, Inglis brings in Edward Said
and Michel Foucault to bolster his analysis of the
manipulation of power by the capital city against
a marginalised coastal region. Greater attention
by Inglis to the role of local pride in 'the Kingdom'
and the reaction of cosmopolitan Dublin to the actions
of those from long-stereotyped Co. Kerry would have
strengthened this section of his book. For Blanket
readers, of note should be how Inglis adapts Bourdieu's
competing notions of public and private honor, symbolic
and cultural capital to the struggle between traditional
and modern Ireland, as he examines the impact endured
by the local gardaí when pitted against the
determined anti-subversive agencies developed by
the Dublin government in the 1970s and 1980s against
terrorism. Inglis demonstrates how the 'heavy gang'
within the detective force could build a confession
analogous to the producer or editor of a documentary
film. Reality, as the Hayes family discovered after
their own confessions were manufacturedin
Inglis' viewcould be whatever the stronger
and louder culture desired it to be. For Joanne
Hayes and her family, the results of resisting this
pressure proved disastrous.
closing, Inglis acknowledges the culpability shared
by sociologists. Academic analysis, he cautions,
tends too easily to assume that the educated clerisy
knows better than the untutored masses how the common
folk should act according to sanctioned theory.
Conversations recorded become rarified discourse.
Lecturers speak for the people rather than listen
to those whom they record. Inglis, in Truth,
Power and Lies, seeks an alternative to conventional
academic production. He cautions that scholars must
listen to people's stories and not so quickly or
cleverly interpret narrative from a 'designated,
symbolically legitimated position' by which intellectuals
'actively participate in symbolic domination.' The
mythic appeal of the Kerry babies' demise outlives
the short-lived and still puzzling end for the two
infants. Addressing his Irish audience, Inglis muses
how 'despite attempts to turn the country into a
mature, modern, liberal democracy, we were caught
up in telling stories about death, sacrifice and
mothers, and cleansing society of unruly bodies
and transgressive women.' The death of the babies,
after closing Inglis' pages, endures as mysteriously
as a half-understood legend from family rumor or
faerie lore, in its settings of shore and farm,
implements of hairbrush and kitchen knife, and in
the open-ended, unresolved fate of the scapegoated
from a review for The New Hibernia Review 8.4 forthcoming,