The Magdalene Laundries Scandal

UN commission exposes disgrace of slavery in Ireland

As usual, it has taken outside pressure to force acknowledgement of the imprisonment, torture and degradation inflicted on Irish women by this State and by the nuns who carried out the abuse.  The United Nations Committee Against Torture has published a report condemning Ireland for a crime.   Women who had children outside of marriage, or who might simply have been perceived as having a bright, cheerful spirit, were abducted by State agents and imprisoned for ever more.

The disgracefully-misnamed Magdalene laundries broke the spirit of thousands of women, enslaving them for the financial gain of warped, sexually-frustrated nuns who inflicted their vindictive self-hatred on these helpless prisoners.

Ireland being what it is, the government excluded the nuns’ gulags from the terms of reference of the Ryan report, no doubt hoping that the problem would go away as the former prisoners became older and more frail, but there it still is, an indictment on the confessional nature of this State from its foundation.

Let nobody tell you that the nuns and the priests and the brothers saved the State money by imprisoning these people.

They did not.

The religious orders made a handsome profit from their prisoners, through slavery.  And if they got a little sexual kick along the way, so much the better.


We have to acknowledge that the nuns who ran these prisons were deeply disturbed individuals, but their disorder seems to be widespread, and not just among those who controlled the Magdalene laundries.   There’s a creepy commonality in the stories told by women who attended nun-run schools, of violence, vindictiveness and small-minded cruelty.

The motif of the keys is the one that stands out most strongly.  Many women, including members of my own family, and also survivors of the laundries, describe being struck on the knuckles with bunches of keys by enraged nuns.  And this punishment always seems to have been administered coldly.

What was wrong with these women that made them so cruel, so callous and so angry?

In my opinion, it isn’t natural to live your entire life without sex, and I think the experience derailed them, but maybe that’s just me being a dirty bastard.  I don’t think so, though, and neither did the old women I grew up among who used to say the same thing, in less explicit terms.

I think these nuns, and all the other hated torturers in the schools and the laundries were so cruel because they were completely screwed up by being who and what they were.  And I think they took it out on the poor unfortunates who fell into their insane grip.

The sooner the crime of the Magdalene laundries is exposed, the better.  There are still nuns out there, walking around, who tortured, beat, enslaved and humiliated other women in the name of Christianity.  They should be held accountable now.

We have to exorcise all the ghosts haunting modern Ireland, until we finally acknowledge the disgrace that happened after independence, where absolute power was handed over to one church.

Until we do that, Ireland will never achieve maturity as a nation.


Previously : The Magdalene Laundries

All Bock posts on the Ryan Report

All Bock posts on the Murphy Report

Ryan Commission report

20 thoughts on “The Magdalene Laundries Scandal

  1. Ireland was a de facto dictatorship during those years. There may have been elections but there was no personal freedom and if you railed against, or were perceived as a threat to the system you paid the price, just like those women.

  2. Taliban times.
    A good snap-shot of the Scary Eire Era is to be found in the all-but-banned ‘ Rocky Road to Dublin’ Documentary.

  3. Anyone who had the misfortune to be incarcerated in the Industrial gulags and Magdalene prisons knows intimately what a hellish place Ireland was to live in. You yourself , Bock described it like Albania. Monstrous crimes were carried out against these defenseless women. What is wrong with the Irish, that they don’t get angry about such injustices? Very few prominent people in Irish society spoke up for these women.

  4. unless many prominent people in Irish society don’t care, or don’t want to drag any “scandals” up that might dirty their family name, such as an aunt or niece being in one of the gulags….

  5. Don’t forget that the whole of Ireland was enslaved to the catholic Church up until recently.
    Remember the “Faith of our fathers” sung before the GAA games? I remember, as a young boy in the 1950s saddened by the fact that there was no way I could die for my faith and thereby go straight to heaven. There were no virgins promised but otherwise it was Taliban country.

  6. It’s not so long since Ahern’s government spent nearly €1.5 billion to bail them out of their obligations in the |Redress Board.

  7. Yes I agree Bock. Also,those who did ‘settle’ with them, were once again destroyed. What a sham the whole scene is and you can take it to the bank the Magdalene Laundries women will be destroyed yet again.

  8. The worst aspect of these laundries was the manner in which women–literally in many cases–had their newborn children snatched from them and pawned off to adoption agencies. A similar situation has developed in England and Wales among their social services, who cater to private adoption agencies making huge profits.

    And now we’re supposed to have a “children’s referendum”. This country is caught in a time loop.

  9. What realy makes me angry is that the Irish public has been so silent about this ongoing injustice. Why arn’t people demonstrating on a continuous basis outside the Dail. That cretin Batt O’ Keefe had the nerve to call these women “employees”

    Everyone knows these women were slaves incarcerated for a lifetime for no crimes. What happened to these women and the thousands of incarcerated children in the industrial gulags is up there with Nazi Germany, Stalin’s gulags and Pol Pots Cambodia.

    ‘They’ (most of the political class and the media) want to erase this event from history. It’s of no importance to them. It didn’t happen. Personally, i find it quite scary to be living in a society like this. What has realy changed in Ireland?

  10. Thanks for this piece, Bock. It’s easy to forget how things were. Thanks also to Darren Maher for mentioning the documentary “Rocky Road to Dublin”. I hadn’t seen or heard of it before, but it’s on Youtube for those that are interested. Well worth a viewing.

  11. Cheers Spikes, it wasn’t banned at the time (because there was nothing in it the censors could censor ) it just wasn’t really shown anywhere…

  12. This was our holocaust… Now we must have our Nuremberg
    justice must prevail.
    the hurt and anguish will linger on unless there is some naming and shaming.
    My sincere best wishes to all survivors of abuse at the hands of the church.
    I hope you will soon find peace .

  13. I have seen Utube clips of the Magdalene Sisters-but the few I viewed was enough for me. Some people who viewed this movie were physically shaking when they left the theatre. No wonder one who viewed this movie told me she wanted Rose to jam those scizzors in Sr. Margarate’s neck. The real tragedy are the families that never came into being, weddings, that never happened, or women who could have become lawyers, nurses, doctors, mothers, all because of these gulags. My anger wishes those nuns still living who ran those places to bleed, but I am a better Christian than they are knowing they have God to answer to-not me. I feel pity for those nuns still living because they have not escaped justice in this world. I pity the founders of those orders of nuns responsible because these founders must weep for the victims every day in heaven. I pity the families who sent those women to those places, the police who caught and brought those women back to the laundries, or the businesses that sent their laundry to these places. The orders responsible will need decades to wash the stain on their orders and I feel for the generations of the Irish church who have to deal with this.

    Despite my anger towards the Catholic Church in Ireland, My quarrel is only with the generations responsible and even then I’m sure there were those priests and religious who did what they could to help those women even risking reprisal from the church for helping women escape, or preventing them from being sent to the laundries. I also believe there were laity who hid women who escaped and police who turned a blind eye to women escaping not to mention aid in their escape. Delivering innocents from hell is never a crime.

    I’ll be honest if I ever visit Ireland, attending mass would be a major act of charity knowing what every parish in Ireland allowed to happen. My visit would be tinged with sadness over this tragedy. I mean no offense to the beautiful county of Ireland by this.

    The county of Ireland, not to mention the Catholic church in this country must never forget this tragedy. God bless all those in Ireland who work tirelessly for the women still living who survived the laundries. These women are the true Christians whose courage
    holds me in awe and respect.

  14. The way to adoption for prospective adopters was often to the parish priest, I’d say it was the same abroad as well. The adoption agency in those times was in fact the Roman Catholic Church was it not. As for the money that changed hands you can only guess at that. Well heeled UK and US families would have been able to pony up to their parish funds. There could be trouble getting a copy of the accounts I’d say!

  15. I have been reading books aboutthe magdalen laundries, I agree with all that has been previoisly said here, those unfortunate girls muat of suffered terribly. My heart goes out to them. I am very interested in this horrificstory as I like to know why thingaswere like that and how they have come to change. I would like to visit one of the magdalene laundries to see what conditions the girls lived in. I am an unmarried mother of 2 and to think 50 years or so ago I would of been sent to one of those places is unthinkable. The stories I have read have gripped me by the heart, I feel so much sorriw for those poor girls and eomen. The nuns do have god to answer to and that is my only solice after reading these books.

  16. @Tommy, you won’t find the answer in congregational accounts (those that ran the Mothers and Babies’ Homes or Adoption Societies such as St Patrick’s), as ‘payments’ for adoptions were never sanctioned in the Irish system (de facto adoption until 1951, and thereafter operated under don’t ask, don’t tell). In reality they solicited ‘donations’ or ‘bequests’ which would not feature in connection to adoptions facilitated by the nuns involved. In effect this amounted to payments for babies, but you won’t find any official record which confirms this. I have worked in religious archives (on research not connected to the above) and have seen the evidence (accidentally) of such bequests from America, Australia and beyond. This is verified by testimony from adoptees in Mike Milotte’s book Banished Babies. Most of the records related to these homes have been deposited with the HSE in County Meath. There is no access to convent records after 1900 (they claim certain rights as ‘data controllers’ under the Data Protection Act) and afaik, there has been no statistical analysis of these records allowed outside of the investigations performed by statutory tribunals of inquiry or the ‘committee’ style investigation performed for the McAleese Report. What the surviving accounts (I say surviving, as in my experience, religious archive records are very patchy for a number of reasons) could reveal in relation to this is very little. On a side note, this is one of my major criticisms of the McAleese Report, repeatedly we are told of ‘missing’, ‘unavailable’ or ‘incomplete’ records on behalf of state bodies and the religious institutions involved. To speak confidently of exact statistics and the ‘truths’ revealed by the report, as some government representatives are wont to do, is therefore a fallacious elision.

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