By the time my great-grandparents hit retirement age, my great-grandmother was living with one daughter. My great-grandfather with another. The two rarely saw each other, or spoke. They had, my mother explained, an “Irish Divorce:” two people living separate lives and in all ways strangers, disconnected from each other, sharing only an unhappy past and a pair of wedding rings.
In their era, as Irish Catholics, divorce was not only a social stigma, but a moral sin. And, like most women at the time, a legal divorce would have left my great-grandmother, who had spent her life raising children and caring for a home, penniless.