New book: Ireland and the Magdalene Laundries: A Campaign for Justice

Sep 09 2021 Posted: 09:04 IST

Today sees the publication of Ireland and the Magdalene Laundries: A Campaign for Justice (Bloomsbury 2021), co-authored by Dr Maeve O’Rourke of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway and Claire McGettrick (IRC postgraduate research scholar, UCD), Assoc. Prof. Katherine O’Donnell (School of Philosophy, UCD), Assoc. Prof. James M Smith (English Department, Boston College) and Mari Steed (co-founder, Justice for Magdalenes Research & Adoption Rights Alliance). The authors are members of the voluntary Justice for Magdalenes Research group. 

The book is accompanied by an online archive of its sources, available at Publication was supported by the NUI Galway Moore Institute Grant-in-Aid of Publication Fund. All royalties will be donated to Empowering People in Care (EPIC). 

The writing of Ireland and the Magdalene Laundries was prompted by survivors’ expression of their desire that the truth of their experiences is told, that the history of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries is taught in schools and colleges, and that what they and the women who are now deceased have suffered is never allowed to happen again. 

The book provides a detailed account of life in the Magdalene institutions through the use of survivor testimony and numerous other sources. It chronicles and analyses the strategies of the voluntary ‘Justice for Magdalenes’ campaign which contributed to achieving the State’s apology and establishment of a ‘redress’ scheme in 2013. Extending to the present-day, the book addresses the deep-seated culture and practices within numerous arms of the State that have led to continuing human rights abuses towards survivors and relatives of the deceased. In particular, the book critiques the State’s methods of investigation, its approaches to providing ‘redress’, and its resistance to truth-telling and to the disclosure of records. The book concludes by considering the need for ‘transformative’ reparations, transitional justice, and a new approach to protecting constitutional and human rights as the Irish State enters its second century of independence. 

Reviews of Ireland and the Magdalene Laundries: A Campaign for Justice include:  

This brave book is an archive of an unfinished movement, a survey of the continuing harms of so-called 'historical abuse', and a set of demands for law reform and political change. In places, it is also a love letter to those who survived Ireland's Magdalene laundries. In devastating detail, it shows how Irish politicians, professionals and members of religious orders have resisted demands that these women be recognised as victims of human rights abuse. More than a description of Justice for Magdalenes' campaigning and research, it is an important challenge to official histories and excuses that stubbornly carry undeserved weight in Irish public discourse.  

Máiréad Enright, University of Birmingham 

The campaign for justice for the girls and women incarcerated in Magdalene laundries is one of the greatest acts of truth-telling in the recent history of Ireland. The walls of institutional denial have had to be demolished slowly and painfully, brick by brick. The experiences of those most involved in this task, so vividly detailed in this vital book, tell us so much, not just about a history that was shamefully obscured, but about the imperative for every society to really know itself. In helping the survivors to reclaim their dignity, this indispensable book also helps the rest of us to reclaim the true meaning of shared citizenship and common humanity. 

Fintan O'Toole, Irish Times Journalist and Orwell Prize winner 

It is impossible to describe the toxic fog of shame, distortion and indifference these writers worked through so the truth of the Magdalen Laundries could be seen in a proper light. No one wanted to know. They are my heroes. 

Anne Enright, Author and winner of the 2007 Booker Prize