GP asked for letters to show priest contraception was needed on medical grounds

Gp Asked For Letters To Show Priest Contraception Was Needed On Medical Grounds
Dr Mary Randles. Image supplied by Lousie Walsh.
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Louise Walsh

The wife of a Meath GP who stood up against corporal punishment in schools has revealed that when she opened up a family planning clinic, she was asked for letters by women to show they had to take contraception on medical grounds which they wanted to show the Priest at confession.

Doctors Paddy and Mary Randles faced local backlash when they criticised alleged child beatings at schools run by religious orders and urged women to use contraception in Navan in the late 1960s and early 1970s

Paddy felt so strongly against the alleged abuse that he went to the News of the World in England to expose the suffering which was endured by the children in the town who went to a school run by the De La Salles Order.


The newspaper ran the feature 'Children of the Lash' over three weeks, however the newspapers were taken off the shelves before early mass-goers had a chance to leave the Church on the first week and mysteriously disappeared from all newsagents in the town on the last two Sundays.

"Paddy just held the belief that corporal punishment had to stop, that it was damaging children," said Dr Mary Randles of her husband who died in 2017.

Doctors Paddy and Mary Randles. Image supplied by Louise Walsh.

"I remember the viciousness of people who didn't agree. I don't want to bring the church too much into it, but there was a complete upheaval about it that he was anti-church.

"He was to be side-lined and his views weren't of value to anybody.

"His stance came from his own experience firstly in education with the Christian Brothers in Dublin which was a cruel regime at that time, and it was very much alive in his memory.

"He had left school, gone to college, qualified as a Doctor and went to England to work. In the beginning, he was sort of intimidated by the young children in England. He said at that time that he didn't like them, that he thought they were precocious and able to speak for themselves.


"But after a while when he came home he noticed a difference again and realised that the children in England were just normal children. That was the way children were meant to be - to go to the doctors and be able to speak for themselves and tell the doctor what was wrong.

Another mother asked the dispensary doctor for a note for the school to ask them would they please beat the young fella on the left arm because the right arm was too sore.

"In Navan, mothers were coming in with young boys who had been beaten. One boy, I think he was nine years old, had broken his arm in a fall from a tree and a brother at school insisted on hitting him on the same arm repeatedly.

"Another mother asked the dispensary doctor for a note for the school to ask them would they please beat the young fella on the left arm because the right arm was too sore.

"That was the system then. That was the way things were run, and you didn't have any other options. If you spoke out against education, it was assumed that you were anti-clerical and that was the assumption of Paddy. He was anti-clerical and could be sidelined, and you were wasting your time listening to him and what he was saying.


"In those days, people said and led by what they heard off the pulpit and what they were or were not told to believe.

"We were so convinced that children should not be beaten in schools and that this was cruelty, we didn't mind speaking out. We never lost a nights sleep because we were convinced we were right.

"We were thinking in a straight line and if people didn't agree with you, it didn't bother you."

Family planning clinic

Mary, who is now retired was a trailblazer in her own right, opening up the first family planning clinic outside Dublin in the early 70s.

"When I came to Navan, I noticed that women were having families of 14 and 16 and 18 children and this was not happening in Dublin," she told LMFM Radio's Late Lunch programme.

"I came to Navan at the same time as the pill was becoming available. I was young and full of ideas and enthusiasm, and I was going to improve the lot of Irish women.

"One of the things holding women back in Ireland then was the gigantic families that they were having. Women were all the time either pregnant or childminding, and you would want to be mentally deficient not to jump in there and offer alternatives to women to choosing and spacing the length of their families.


"It wasn't a great enlightenment, it was just common sense.

"I didn't get a lot of opposition when I opened. At the time, Paddy was getting the attention for his stance on corporal punishment, so I kind of sneaked in the back door and gradually integrated family planning into my practice.

Some were coming in and asking me for a letter to say they had to take contraceptives for medical reasons.

"There was a quiet enthusiasm from women to the option of contraceptives, but some were coming in and asking me for a letter to say they had to take contraceptives for medical reasons. They wanted to bring the letter into the confession on a Saturday and show the Priest.

"I didn't want to go down that road at all. I wanted women to decide for themselves if they wanted contraception and I encouraged them to get their other half to pay for it.

"I felt really strongly about that, that men should help the woman pay for contraception. It wasn't very expensive, but wages were small back then.

"No man ever had an abortion. At that time, mostly the woman had to go alone to the Credit Union for a loan and go alone to England for an abortion and then suffer the aftermath alone. That was terribly wrong.

"I like the idea that I was part of the movement and I was on the ground floor of moving things along in changes for women - and that's a nice feeling."

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