Celebration of ‘herstory’ of Limerick Family Planning Clinic

Limerick Family Planning Clinic will host a celebration this coming week.

TODAY anyone can walk into a pharmacy and buy pack of condoms or get the morning after pill, but Cathie Chappell remembers a time – and not so long ago – when selling a condom put the seller the wrong side of the law.

“We were breaking the law and paying taxes,” Cathie, who was one of the people operating in the Limerick Family Planning Clinic when it first opened, told the Limerick Post.

On Wednesday June 12, the local branch of Women’s Collective Ireland will host an event honouring the past and present of the Limerick Family Planning Clinic.

The event will feature volunteers from the Women’s Action Group from 1975 who were responsible for the opening of the clinic, as well as some of the first women who worked there.

One of those women, Cathie remembers how the clinic grew from small beginnings and moved into the premises in Mallow Street, before moving to a second address on the same street.

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“It was illegal to sell condoms so we gave them to people and asked for a contribution. We told them what that contribution should be,” she recalled.

On one occasion, when the group had a stall in Shannon, Gardaí confiscated their stocks.

“There was always some concern that we could be raided, so we kept contraceptives in our own homes,” Cathie explained.

Even providing abortion information was also illegal, so some staff opted to speak to women from their own homes or their own private telephone lines.

“Slowly, we developed to a point where we could have doctors in the clinic. GPs were slow to offer services to begin with, but when they saw that, far from damaging a practice, the GPs in our clinics were in demand,” said Cathie.

“It was a time of repression and hardship for Irish women, so it was rewarding to feel you were helping those who came through our door.”

The clinic was always self-financing and has now been taken over by the HSE, with talk of buying the Mallow Street building for the service.

“To see how far we have come now from a time where you couldn’t legally sell a condom, it’s incredible,” said Cathie

Next Wednesday’s event will discuss the background of the Family Planning Clinic, its significance at the time and the opposition these women faced. Attendees will also hear about the current work carried out by the clinic and how to avail of services.

Yvie Murphy, local coordinator for Women’s Collective Ireland, expressed her delighted at organising the commemorative event, which she says will “not only recognise the power of collective community action, but it will also be a space to remember, honour, and acknowledge the many women in Limerick throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s who worked tirelessly, and against opposition, to address a basic need in relation to family planning here”.

The ‘Herstory of the Limerick Family Planning Clinic’ event takes place on June 12 from 11am at Ormston House. This is a free event but places are limited and must be booked in advance on 087 328 3746 or from [email protected].