Asking Angela Macnamara

The idea for this book came from a chapter in my PhD thesis where I used the letters gay men wrote to agony aunt Angela Macnamara in the Sunday Press newspaper between 1963-80. My use of letters was a means to connect a wider biographical story to the personal narratives I had collected of gay men coming of age and how these intersected with the emergence of the gay movement in Ireland in 1974.

The research for the book, funded by the Irish Research Council, built on both the use of letters and personal narratives to explore changes within intimate family life over a seventeen year period. By analysing over 750 letters, the book explores a transformation where Irish men and women saw their bodies less as sources of sin, fasting or penance and more as instruments of pleasure to be enjoyed on the dance floor, in the marital bed and displayed through more revealing fashion available in the 1960s.

While this transformation within intimate life brought pleasure and self-realisation to many, for some readers who turned to Macnamara for help, they remained caught between the familiarity of the rules that governed dating and sexuality in the past and the promise of a new world that demanded from them greater sexual intimacy and emotional disclosure.

Macnamara guides readers through this anxiety with a reliance on traditional Catholic social teaching but also with an encouragement to readers to speak openly of their need for love, sex and emotional disclosure. 

Asking Angela Macnamara (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2013)

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