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Irish Divorce
A History

  • Date Published: February 2020
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108717250


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About the Authors
  • This is the first history of Irish divorce. Spanning the island of Ireland over three centuries, it places the human experience of marriage breakdown centre stage to explore the impact of a highly restrictive and gendered law and its reform. It considers the accessibility of Irish divorce as it moved from a parliamentary process in Westminster, the Irish parliament and the Northern Ireland parliament to a court-based process. This socio-legal approach allows changing definitions of gendered marital roles and marital cruelty to be assessed. In charting the exceptionalism of Ireland's divorce provision in a European and imperial framework, the study uncovers governmental reluctance to reform Irish divorce law which spans jurisdictions and centuries. This was therefore not only a law dictated by religious strictures but also by a long-lived moral conservatism.

    • The first history of Irish divorce to use the human experience of marriage breakdown as its primary focus
    • Explores the impact of highly restrictive and gendered divorce laws and their reform on Irish society
    • Makes divorce law and legal process accessible to non-specialist readers without the need for prior legal knowledge
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Covering the past four hundred years, this is a major contribution to legal, social and gender history. Urquhart's work is highly revealing about the double-standards towards sexual behaviour, Irish exceptionalism, Catholic and Protestant attitudes towards moral questions, and absence of legal uniformity under the Union.' Mary E. Daly, University College Dublin

    'This is a superb book - ambitious in scope, yet securely anchored in a formidable array of sources: it is characterised both by judiciousness and by an unflagging empathy. Diane Urquhart has rescued a centrally important theme from neglect and over-simplification - and has thereby consolidated her position within the front rank of modern Irish historians.' Alvin Jackson, University of Edinburgh

    'Based on extensive archival research, including parliamentary and court evidence, memoirs, letters, and diaries, Irish Divorce provides a nuanced understanding of a practice that concerned itself with both property and gendered propriety. Urquhart makes a significant contribution to understanding the complicated relationship between church, state, and Irish society since 1700.' Karen Steele, Texas Christian University

    'Urquhart's book represents an insightful and compassionate foray into a very new field. The first all-Ireland history of divorce, it demonstrates how marriage breakdown reflected society's need to regulate succession, sexuality, and legitimacy. This exceptional work charts divorce's role in shaping, and reflecting, modern Ireland's attitude to gender and citizenship.' Oonagh Walsh, Glasgow Caledonian University

    '(A) balanced and masterful treatment of complex issues.' Brian Maye, Irish Times

    'As lucid as it is thorough, Irish Divorce: A History contributes a comprehensive look at a fraught social issue through exhaustive research and careful contextualisation. It offers a profoundly humane and empathetic analysis of what, for many, proved an elusive necessity that was cordoned off—for centuries—by ideological, nationalistic, imperial, and/or political boundaries and further inflected by class and gender. As a result, this study has much to teach us not only about divorce, but also about the ways the self-fashionings and political maneuverings of a nation-state can subvert the very citizens they are purportedly meant to serve …' Kate Costello-Sullivan, Estudios Irlandeses

    Irish Divorce: A History contributes a comprehensive look at a fraught social issue through exhaustive research and careful contextualisation.' Kate Costello-Sullivan, Electronic Journal of the Spanish Association for Irish Studies

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2020
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108717250
    • length: 294 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 153 x 17 mm
    • weight: 0.43kg
    • contains: 2 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction. The 'anatomy of a divorce'
    1. Divorce in two legislatures: Irish divorce, 1701–1857
    2. The failings of the law: the cases of Talbot and Westmeath
    3. A non-inclusive reform: Ireland and the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857
    4. Divorce in the post-reform era of 1857–1922: 'Like diamonds, gambling, and picture-fancying, a luxury of the rich'?
    5. The widening definition of marital cruelty
    6. Divorce in court, 1857–1922
    7. 'An exotic in very ungenial soil': divorce in the Northern Ireland parliament, 1921–1939
    8. With as 'little provocative as possible': the Northern Ireland move to court
    9. An 'unhappy affair': divorce in independent Ireland, 1922–1950
    10. Marriage law 'in this country is an absolute shambles': the reform agenda
    11. A 'curiosity [and]…an oddity': referenda in 1986 and 1995
    12. The 'last stretch of a long road': the Family (Divorce) Law Act of 1996

  • Author

    Diane Urquhart, Queen's University Belfast
    Diane Urquhart is Professor of Gender History at Queen's University Belfast. She has written widely on Irish women's history and gender and is the author of The Ladies of Londonderry: Women and Political Patronage, 1800–1959 (2007) as well as Women in Ulster Politics, 1890–1940: A History Not Yet Told (2000), which was selected as an Irish Times Book of the Year. She is the editor of The Papers of the Ulster Women's Unionist Council and Executive Committee, 1911–40 (2001), co-editor of Irish Women at War: The Twentieth Century (2010) and co-author of The Irish Abortion Journey, 1922–2018 (2019) with Lindsey Earner-Byrne.

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