New book on Magdalene Laundries addresses ‘fundamental flaws’

Burials, exhumations and cremations of former Magdalene women ‘deeply troubling’

The Irish State "continues to evade its responsibilities not just to survivors of the Magdalene Laundries but also in providing a truthful account of what happened", according to a new book published on Thursday.

It addresses what the five authors describe as “the fundamental flaws in the state’s investigation and how the treatment of the burials, exhumation and cremation of former Magdalene women remains a deeply troubling issue today, emblematic of the system of torture and studious official neglect in which the Magdalene women lived their lives.”

Using the State’s 2013 report from an inter-departmental inquiry into the Laundries, as well as testimonies from survivors and independent witnesses, the book gives a detailed account of life as lived in them from 1922 to 1996 when the last one at Seán McDermott St in Dublin closed.

'Ireland and the Magdalene Laundries: A Campaign for Justice' is by Claire McGettrick, a postgraduate scholar at the School of Sociology UCD; Katherine O'Donnell, Associate Professor at UCD's School of Philosophy; Maeve O'Rourke, lecturer in human-rights law at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway; James M Smith; and Mari Steed, who was born in Cork's Bessborough Mother and Baby Home and used in vaccine trials.


Her mother was in a Magdalene laundry. In 2003 she and Claire McGettrick cofounded Justice for Magdalens/Research (JFMR). The book also deals with the ongoing work of the JFMR group, its researches into the Laundries as well as its campaigns for the women who had been in them.

The launch took place on Thursday at the Magdalene Memorial plaque on a seat in Dublin's St Stephen's Green which was unveiled in 1996 by then president Mary Robinson and erected on a site arranged by then minister for arts and culture, and current President, Michael D Higgins.

The plaque was organised by the Magdalene Memorial Committee, set up by Patricia McDonnell after she read a 1993 report about the exhumation of women buried near the High Park laundry in Drumcondra.

The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity were selling land to a developer and wanted the 133 remains removed to Glasnevin cemetery. During the exhumation process 22 more unidentified remains were found.

Ms McDonnell's sister-in-law "Mary" spent 20 years at the Sisters of Mercy Magdalene laundry in Dún Laoghaire. With great difficulty Ms McDonnell and her husband, Mary's youngest brother, finally located Mary and took her out of the laundry.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times