It never pays to be totally categorical about pretty much anything because there'll always be exceptions which trot along and bite you. Packing unwed mothers off in disgrace is one...parents did do precisely that of course, it was commonplace enough, but I've found several unmarried mothers who not only lived at home with their parents but also kept their babies. I heave heartfelt sighs of relief when I come across them in the census returns, which is pretty daft when they lived a hundred and fifty years ago and have long turned to dust.
Then there's the unfortunate habit of the local clergy totally ignoring women...as in when a child was baptised or buried and only the father's name was recorded...and that is certainly true of the 1600's and earlier but not in later dates...mothers were then carefully recorded along with their husbands. I don't know why this hasn't dawned on me before now ...partly because not all clergymen followed the rules I suppose and partly because I was making a sucking lemons face everytime I came across the glaring omission and hadn't thought to check when it changed...
I'm always surprised by how well kept and preserved the old parish records are...wouldn't you love to get them out on a winters evening and pour over them while sitting by a fire with a glass of something...I expect they are kept in the vicarage under lock and key nowadays...time was when they were left in the church in a wooden chest and you only had to ask nicely and the vicar would leave you to browse for your people on your own...that was how Cousin Stephen began our family tree years ago. He'd go from parish to parish and spend the day searching through the records which were invariably in an unlocked chest in the vestry...
It's relatively easy to go way back with the help of specialist sites like Ancestry and the wonders of the internet, and more and more people are putting old parish records on-line so they are available for a couple of clicks and a modest enough fee. Not quite the same as actually holding a collection of records written in a careful hand, blotted with a sprinkle of sand and put away safely until the next birth, burial or marriage.
I suppose the actual books were provided by the diocese...I wonder how the clergy let them know they needed a new one...or more ink or a new quill pen. Perhaps someone came round once a year with new supplies in their horses saddlebags...
The photograph will make you heartily thankful for modern day nurses...these ladies were nurses in County Meath in 1872.