Ireland and the Magdalene Laundries A Campaign for Justice



A Campaign for Justice 
Claire McGettrick (Author), Katherine O’Donnell (Author), Maeve O'Rourke (Author), James M. Smith (Author), Mari Steed (Author)

Between 1922 and 1996, over 10,000 girls and women were imprisoned in Magdalene Laundries, including those considered 'promiscuous', a burden to their families or the state, those who had been sexually abused or raised in the care of the Church and State, and unmarried mothers. These girls and women were subjected to forced labour as well as psychological and physical maltreatment.

Using the Irish State's own report into the Magdalene institutions, as well as testimonies from survivors and independent witnesses, this book gives a detailed account of life behind the high walls of Ireland's Magdalene institutions. The book offers an overview of the social, cultural and political contexts of institutional survivor activism, the Irish State's response culminating in the McAleese Report, and the formation of the Justice for Magdalenes campaign, a volunteer-run survivor advocacy group.

Ireland and the Magdalene Laundries documents the ongoing work carried out by the Justice for Magdalenes group in advancing public knowledge and research into Magdalene Laundries, and how the Irish State continues to evade its responsibilities not just to survivors of the Magdalenes but also in providing a truthful account of what happened. Drawing from a variety of primary sources, this book reveals 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.

The Authors are donating all royalties in the name of the women who were held in the Magdalenes to EPIC (Empowering People in Care).

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
Chapter 1: Ireland's Magdalene Laundries and the Lives Lived There
Chapter 2: Survivors Begin to Be Heard
Chapter 3: Anatomy of a Campaign: The Strategies
Chapter 4: Anatomy of a Campaign: Developing a Human Rights and Justice Agenda
Chapter 5: Publication of the IDC Report: The Campaign Within the Campaign
Chapter 6: Never Tell, Never Acknowledge (…everyone knew, but no one said)
Chapter 7: Ex Gratia 'Redress'
Chapter 8: Bringing up the Dead: Burials and Land Deals at High Park
Chapter 9: Conclusion: Who Do We Want to Be?


Claire McGettrick is an Irish Research Council postgraduate scholar at the School of Sociology at University College Dublin. Her research interests focus on adoption, so-called historical abuses, and related injustices in twentieth-century Ireland. Her Ph.D. research investigates the bodies of expert knowledge on adoption. She is cofounder of Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR) and Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA). She jointly coordinates the multi-award-winning CLANN project with Dr Maeve O’Rourke, as well as the Magdalene Names Project (MNP), which has recorded the details of nearly1,900 women who lived and died in Ireland’s Magdalen laundries. Her article, ‘“Illegitimate” Knowledge: Traditional Justice and Adopted People,’ appeared recently in the double special issue of Éire-Ireland (Spring/Summer 2020) on Transitional Justice and institutional abuse in Ireland.


Katherine O'Donnell is Associate Professor, UCD School of Philosophy, and has published widely on the history of sexuality and gender and the intellectual history of eighteenth-century Ireland. She has been principal investigator on a number of funded research projects, including gathering an archival and oral history of the Magdalen institutions funded by the Irish Research Council. Her teaching awards include the UCD President’s Gold Medal for Teaching Excellence and the British Universities’ Learning On-Screen Award. She has gained academic honours, including a Fulbright Fellowship and the University of California, Berkeley, Chancellor’s Prize for Prose. As a member of Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR), she has shared in activist honours, including the Irish Labour Party’s Thirst for Justice Award.


Dr Maeve O’Rourke is lecturer in human-rights law at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway, and a graduate of University College Dublin, Harvard Law School, and Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham. She is also a barrister (England and Wales) and attorney-at-law (New York). She recently coedited a double special issue of Éire-Ireland (Spring/Summer 2020) and the essay collection REDRESS: Ireland and Justice in Transition (forthcoming) on Transitional Justice and institutional abuse in Ireland. Since 2009 she has provided pro bono legal assistance to Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR) and is currently co-director of the CLANN project, an evidence-gathering and advocacy collaboration between JFMR, Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA), and Hogan Lovells International, LLP. She was named UK Family Law Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year in 2013.


James M Smith is an associate professor in the English department at Boston College. He has published articles in Signs, The Journal of the History of Sexuality, Éire-Ireland, and ELH. His book, Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment (Notre Dame UP), was published in 2007 and was awarded the Donald Murphy Prize for Distinguished First Book by the American Conference for Irish Studies. With Maria Luddy, he coedited a double special issue of Éire-Ireland (Spring/Summer 2009) and the collection Children, Childhood, and Irish Society: 1500 to the Present (Four Courts Press, 2014). He recently coedited a double special issue of Éire-Ireland (Spring/Summer 2020) and the essay collection REDRESS: Ireland and Justice in Transition (forthcoming) on Transitional Justice and institutional abuse in Ireland. He is a member of the advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR).


Mari Steed was one of more than 2,000 children exported from Ireland to the United States, and was born in the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork, where she also endured being part of the vaccine trials. Mari’s mother spent time in a Magdalen laundry. She serves as U.S. coordinator with the Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA). In 2003 Mari cofounded Justice for Magdalens/Research (JFMR), an

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