The Magdalene Laundries: Phoebe Judge and the Criminal Podcast Team Tell the Story

Episode 216 of Criminal, a podcast hosted by Phoebe Judge tells a story of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries where some 10,000 to 30,000 women and girls were confined, abused and enslaved. The laundries were typically operated by the Roman Catholic church.

As a Canadian humanist publication, well aware of various abuses and human rights violations that the Catholic Church has been connected-to in Canada and around the world, what caught our particular attention was the podcast’s statement that, “The women did the laundry for all kinds of local businesses including the Royal Dublin Hotel, the Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club and the French, Argentinian and Canadian embassies. They washed sheets for hospitals…”

Lest we think that the Magdalene Laundries were a uniquely Irish matter that touches Canada solely via criminally lax supply chain expectations, the Toronto Star reported in 2016 about a Canadian researcher who had been gathering information regarding laundries operated in Canada as well. That research resulted in the book, Shaped By Silence: Stories from Inmates of the Good Shepherd Laundries and Reformatories published in 2019.

There is an valuable interview with Croll published in the National Post in 2019 as well…and we’ll merely quote that article briefly:

“The state was working with the Church, and families were too….“The very system of incarceration that was supposed to reform them, became a significant factor in shaping their lifelong inequality,” Croll said. “Those who the Church and state targeted for saving were simultaneously treated as bad, dirty and unsalvageable.”

The article’s title, by the way reminds us that these institutions operated in Canada as recently as the 1960s. While there seems to be significantly less information available about these operations in Canadian society than in Irish society, there seems to be every reason to assume that the Roman Catholic church is consistent in its methods.

To learn more about the (Irish) Magdalene Laundries, you may wish to visit the Justice for Magdalenes Research website. The organization has recently published, A Dublin Magdalene Laundry: Donnybrook and Church-State Power in Ireland. It is a a new collection of essays co-edited by Mark Coen, Katherine O’Donnell and Maeve O’Rourke, with further contributions by Maolíosa Boyle, Lindsey Earner-Byrne, Chris Hamill, Máiréad Enright, Brid Murphy, Martin Quinn, Lynsey Black, Laura McAtackney, Brenda Malone, Barry Houlihan and Claire McGettrick.

In the name of all of the girls and women held in the Magdalene Laundries the editors are donating all authors’ royalties to the charity Empowering People in Care.

The editors have written to Minister Roderic O’Gorman to request that the Magdalene Restorative Justice Implementation Team provide a copy of the book to every survivor who wishes to receive one.

The book’s front matter is available free of charge here.

This book offers a comprehensive exploration of the Magdalene system through a close study of Donnybrook Magdalene Laundry (DML) in Dublin. The disciplinary perspectives featured include history, philosophy, law, archaeology, criminology, accounting, architecture, archival studies and heritage management.

By focusing on this one institution–on its ethos, development, operation and built environment, and the lives of the girls and women held there–this book reveals the underlying framework of Ireland’s wider system of institutionalisation. The analysis includes a focus on the privatisation and commodification of public welfare, reproductive injustice, institutionalised misogyny, class prejudice, the visibility of supposedly ‘hidden’ institutions and the role of oral testimony in reconstructing history. In undertaking such a close study, the authors uncover truths missing from the state’s own investigations; shed new light on how these brutal institutions came to have such a powerful presence in Irish society, and highlight the significance of their continuing impact on modern Ireland.

Citations, References And Other Reading

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