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Oral History, Restorative Justice and the Magdalene Laundries Dr Mary McAuliffe (UCD Women’s Studies and Justice for Magdalenes) June 2011.

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Presentation on theme: "Oral History, Restorative Justice and the Magdalene Laundries Dr Mary McAuliffe (UCD Women’s Studies and Justice for Magdalenes) June 2011."— Presentation transcript:

1 Oral History, Restorative Justice and the Magdalene Laundries Dr Mary McAuliffe (UCD Women’s Studies and Justice for Magdalenes) June 2011

2 Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries No history of Ireland’s Magdalene laundries can exist until the religious congregations release their records—“Penitent” registers and convent annals The laundries exist in the public mind chiefly at the level of story (cultural representation and survivor testimony) rather than history (archival records and documentation)

3 Book’s Concluding Paragraph “At the root of this study remains a population of Irish women whose fate was almost uniformly dark: some were discarded anonymously in unmarked graves; others, so traumatized by the experience of incarceration, remain dependent on religious orders for their daily existence; still others are unable to escape from the societal stigma attached to their past. It is for their sakes that recent cultural representations of Ireland’s Magdalen laundries should be recognized as contributing to a collective movement forward—toward real action.”

4 Magdalene Laundries Historical Context

5 What was a Magdalene Laundry? Magdalene Laundries were institutions—originally philanthropic but increasingly recarceral— attached to Convents operated by female religious in which women, called "penitents," worked at laundry and other for-profit enterprises The Magdalene Asylums are neither uniquely Irish nor Catholic

6 What were conditions like? These women were: — denied freedom of movement — never paid for their labour — denied their given names The daily routine emphasized prayer, silence, and work Women had to be signed out of the Magdalene Many remained to live, work, and ultimately die, behind convent walls

7 Religious Congregations After 1922, Magdalene Laundries were operated by — The Sisters of Mercy — The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity (of Refuge) — The Sisters of Charity — The Good Shepherd Sisters These orders also managed State residential institutions All four are members of CORI and party to the indemnity deal

8 Where were they located? Galway and Dun Laoghaire (Sisters of Mercy) Waterford, New Ross, Limerick, and Cork (Good Shepherd Sisters) Donnybrook and Cork (Sisters of Charity) Drumcondra and Gloucester/Sean McDermott Streets (Sisters of Our Lady of Charity) * Belfast (Good Shepherd Sisters, Ormeau Rd) The last Magdalene ceased operating as a commercial laundry on 25 October, 1996

9 Magdalene Laundry Survivors: Five Groups Survivors speaking out and demanding justice Survivors living in silence (shame/stigma) Survivors dependent on the religious congregations Victims who have died (inside and outside the convent) Children and families (adoption)

10 How many women are involved? The Nuns will not release records for women entering the laundries after 1900, therefore: No one knows how many women entered the laundries No one knows how many survivors are still alive The figure of “30,000 women” is suspect The figure of 200 living survivors has no basis in fact

11 JFM: Background Founded in 2004 Grew out of the original Magdalene Memorial Committee (MMC), founded in 1993 A survivor advocacy group Not-for-profit, totally volunteer-run, organization

12 JFM: Mission to promote and represent the interests of Ireland’s Magdalene women & their children to respectfully promote equality and seek justice for the women formerly incarcerated in Magdalene laundries to obtain a formal apology from Church and State for abuses in Magdalene laundries seek the establishment of a distinct redress scheme for Magdalene survivors

13 The JFM Campaign The Names Project Political Campaign/ Human Rights The Catholic Church Oral History Project

14 Names Project: Creating an Archive “It is easy to dismiss all of this as a matter of concern only to professional historians. It actually goes to the heart of something much larger – our collective notions of who we are. What is at stake is our ability to define our own reality. We’ve learned in the most painful way, principally from the Ryan report into the industrial school system, that the successful occlusion of some of the darkest aspects of Irish life allows us to lie about ourselves. Those lies are toxic” (Fintan, O’Toole, “Neglect of archives shows contempt for citizens,” Irish Times, 10/4/10)

15 Census of Ireland, 1911 Institution/OrderLocationNo. of Magdalenes Our Lady of Charity of RefugeGloucester Street83 Our Lady of Charity of RefugeHigh Park, Drumcondra214 Sisters of MercyGalway109 Good Shepherd SistersNew Ross53 Good Shepherd SistersLimerick93 Sisters of CharityCork97 Sisters of MercyKingstown/Dun Laoghaire47 Sisters of CharityDonnybrook, Dublin111 Good ShepherdSunday’s Well, Cork164 Good ShepherdWaterford121 Good Shepherd Belfast135 Total Magdalene Women Registered in 1911 1227

16 Good Shepherd Belfast 1911 135 women from all over Ireland also England and Scotland Majority can read & write Age range: average age of the women in the GSC in Belfast 1911 is 31. All are Catholic except 2 women.

17 Jane Brunswick 1911- 44 years 1949- 82 years At least 38 years confined

18 Alice O’Keeffe 1911-29 years 1961-79 years At least 50 years confined

19 Oral History project – rationale. Because of lack of access to these formal records of the Magdalene Institutions the history of these places in the 20th century, told largely through media and cultural representation and through occasional eye-witness testimony.

20 Books, plays, documentaries, TV dramas and films rendered these institutions visible and accessible to Irish society and questioned the silence and distortion of the prior histories of the Magdalene’s. Survivor testimony has also opened up new avenues of information –most of this survivor testimony comes indirectly from TV/Radio interviews, a few inserts in other Reports which, while excluding the survivors of Magdalene’s, got to hear of some survivors experiences (e.g the Ryan Report).

21 Ryan Report evidence of children in the Magdalene Laundries [1 of 3] “I was being abused by my step-father. When I approached my mother, she went to the priest and the nuns and it was decided that I was the one to be sent off … I was put into the laundry, I was only 10.” [pg. 374] “Every morning were were up at 5 o’clock in the summer, 6 o’clock in winter. We slaved all day. … They starved us and worked us to death while they lived in luxury. The nuns … used to shave our hair off.” [pg. 377] “I did starching, I did priests’ cloaks … I did collars, you had to keep ironing them until they become real stiff. There was a little wooden thing you could stand on.” [pg. 381]

22 Ryan Report evidence of children in the Magdalene Laundries [2 of 3] “I was put in the middle of older and middle aged women, I cried for weeks and weeks on end, I was nobody … I was 16…. I was locked away, working 6 days a week in the laundry and in the kitchen on Sunday.” [pg. 383] “Seven female witness reports related to continuous hard physical work in residential laundries, which was generally unpaid. Two witnesses said that the regime was ‘like a prison’, that doors were locked all the time and exercise was taken in an enclosed yard. Working conditions were harsh and included standing for long hours, constantly washing laundry in cold water, and using heavy irons for many hours.” [pg. 377]

23 Ryan Report evidence of children in the Magdalene Laundries [3 of 3] Four (4) female witnesses reported that their education, social development and emotional well being were neglected as they were constantly forced to work without pay for long hours, with limited time for education and recreation. The lack of safety, adequate food and a supportive educational environment was frequently commented upon by witnesses. [pg. 381] Six (6) female witnesses … reported that the loss of liberty, social isolation and the deprivation of identity had a traumatic impact on them. Friendships were discouraged or forbidden, communication was severely limited by the rule of silence and doors were constantly locked. Two (2) witnesses stated that restrictions … contributed to a feeling of being treated like a prisoner. They described their punishment for breaking the rule of silence as having their head shaved and being made to take meals separately from their peers. [pg. 383]

24 In order to understand the Magdalene Institutions we need to recover all we can in terms of empirical and archival evidence and personal memoir (from largely an older population). We believe that making an analysis of the Magdalene Institutions will allow us to gain a more comprehensive understanding about what happened in the past to vulnerable women and girls; We can then ascribe at least a general responsibility for that. This analysis is not possible without the recovery work that we are proposing.

25 The case for the Oral History Project – A Social Justice Issue The critical importance of oral testimony has been demonstrated in the histories of trauma in the 20th century. Holocaust testimony South Africa TRC Northern Ireland

26 As Archbishop Tutu remarked in the South Africa case true reconciliation and justice can never happen if we continue to deny the past. The meeting under the South African TRC of survivors of the apartheid system, victims and enforcers, allowed for forgiveness and reconciliation and is held up as a model of social justice in action.

27 In Ireland women who were put in these Magdalene Institutions were and continue to be among the most marginalised and invisible of groups. This project will help redress an historical injustice suffered by thousands of women on the island of Ireland in the 20th century. The complicity of religious organisations, of State bodies and of wider society in condemning these women to a live of penury and hardship must be acknowledged.

28 Oral histories play a very important role in documenting the lives of those which might otherwise go undocumented. Oral History serves a valuable function to refute myths of the pasts, debunk fabrications and incorrect narratives of experiences and events. The voices of the women to be included in this project have been systematically excluded from Irish history, here their stories can be heard, their memories allowed and their place in Irish history acknowledged.

29 As the intention is to allow a full, nuanced, balanced project which would look at the fullest possible history of the 20 th century Magdalene Laundries on the island of Ireland we would propose the following groups for inclusion in the Oral History Project Women who worked in the Laundries Sisters who worked in the Magdalene Convent Visitors to the Magdalene laundries Children of women who worked in the laundries Other family members –sisters, brothers, relations People who did business with the Magdalene Laundry – including state officials – police, probation officers, judges etc Church Leaders.

30 What is Needed An oral history project should be established to record and archive the experiences of survivors, family members, female religious, and other interested parties An appropriate national memorial should be erected and thereby protect against the erasure of this chapter in the nation's history. Likewise, this chapter in the nation's history should be taught as part of the State’s educational curriculum Magdalene burial plots must be properly maintained. The religious orders should erect suitable and accurate memorial stones, and all language referring to Magdalenes as “penitents,” "residents,” “sinners,” etc., should be amended

31 Ultimately acknowledging what happened in these Magdalene Institutions and how why it happened allows the truth of a traumatic period in women’s history be written And allows remaining survivors be supported should they wish that support and allows Irish society continue on the route of achieving a more just and equal society.


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