The National Library of Ireland (NLI) has this week announced the acquisition of the archive of Ireland’s national organisation for one-parent families One Family, formerly known as Cherish. Dating from the organisation’s establishment in the early 1970s to the early 2000s, the archive provides an insight into the experiences and challenges of one-parent families at that time.
Cherish was set up in 1972 by Maura O’Dea Richards after she placed an advert in The Evening Herald seeking to reach other women in Ireland who were unmarried and had children. A small number answered the advert and Cherish was born. It took its name from the 1916 Proclamation, which declared that Ireland would “cherish all of the children of the nation equally”. Cherish changed its name to One Family in 2004, in recognition of a changing Ireland in which one-parent families existed in many forms.
The archive comprises two parts: the first contains case files that record the circumstances of individual women who came to Cherish for advice and support, and includes correspondence dating from 1974 to 1987. The second part of the archive contains the administrative records of the organisation, and includes AGM minutes, submissions, correspondence and publications lobbying for legislative reform.
Speaking at an event to mark the acquisition, Director of the NLI, Dr Audrey Whitty said: “The NLI is Ireland’s memory keeper and as such we are committed to collecting Ireland’s many voices and their diverse experience. We are increasingly adding the stories of women and under-represented groups to our collections. We are proud to receive these papers from Cherish, which provide a fascinating insight into the lives of one-parent families from the early 1970s, societal attitudes towards them, and how they have changed over the years.”
CEO of One Family, Karen Kiernan said: “The archival material we have donated to the National Library provides insights into the lives of one-parent families in Ireland in the very recent past. It gives voice to the stories of women and children who were shunned by the State and by parts of society. When Cherish was established in 1972, there was no lone parents allowance and single pregnant women had an uncertain future – they were often thrown out of their homes, lost their jobs and were rejected by their communities. This comes through in some of the letters from service users that are included in the archive – some are heartbreaking, others are full of positivity where family and community support is clear.”
Mary Kerrigan ran the Clare/Limerick branch of Cherish for many years. She said: “Despite being an unmarried mother in the 1970s and the stigma I felt from some people, they may now think I am a very important person because the Cherish records are in the archives of the National Library of Ireland. What the women in Cherish did made a massive difference to society in Ireland, working hard for social, financial and legal rights for unmarried mothers and their children which is something One Family continues to this day. We did this with the help of people such as Mary Robinson, who was our President until she became President of Ireland.”