Great to hear that my publishers have decided to reissue The Magdalen in July. All of us are still deeply moved by the stories of all the women and young girls who went through the harsh system of working in the laundries and their campaign for recognition and justice. Following the government review hopefully they will soon get the good news that they deserve. Here’s the new cover and the introduction to the new edition.
Introduction to the 2013 edition
It is almost fifteen years since I first wrote The Magdalen, the story of a young Irish girl who gets pregnant and, like many other unmarried mothers of that time, is sent to work in a Magdalen Laundry. Many unwanted women, orphaned young girls and those rejected by their families found themselves living and working in Magdalene Laundries around Ireland. Irish companies, hotels and government offices used the services of these laundries which were run mostly by Catholic orders of nuns. Conditions were harsh and the women and young girls working as unpaid labour in the laundry were often subjected to unnecessary mental and physical cruelty as well as deprivation and isolation.
In 1993 The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity in High Park Laundry in Dublin sold part of their convent grounds to a developer. An outcry ensued when the remains of 155 women buried in unmarked graves were then exhumed and cremated and reburied in a mass grave in Glasnevin Cemetery. The secrecy had been broken, and former inmates of Magdalen Laundries around Ireland began to come forward and testify to the neglect, abuse and cruelty they had endured.
In the following decade the Irish state and religious run institutions were beset by scandal after scandal as story after story broke of neglect, cruelty and the physical, mental and sexual abuse of children being cared for in Children’s Homes and Orphanages operated by religious orders. In May 2000 the Irish government established a commission to inquire into child abuse chaired by Mr Justice Ryan. In May 2009 the Ryan Report was released with victims of abuse between the 1930s and 1990s offered redress.
However, although the Irish government acknowledged that women in the Magdalen Laundries were also victims of abuse they were not included in the inquiry.
Justice for Magdalenes lobbied the government to investigate the Magdalen Laundries and went to the United Nations Committee Against Torture with their case, saying that the exploitation of these women was a violation of their human rights. In response to this in 2011 the Irish government set up a committee, chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, to uncover the facts about the laundries and the state’s involvement. The McAleese Report was published on 5 February 2013, and found that there was state collusion in the admission of thousands of women into the Magdalen institutions. Survivors angrily protested that they had been failed again by the state as they had no access to redress.
On 19 February 2013 Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny stood up in the Dáil in Dublin and offered a sincere and emotional apology to the women of the Magdalen Laundries on behalf of the state, the government and Irish citizens for all the hurt that was done to them and the stigma they suffered as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalen Laundry. A number of survivors from the Magdalen Laundries were present to hear historic and moving speech.
The shameful story of the forgotten Magdalenes has touched many over the years. These strong and courageous women and girls deserve not only to be remembered but also justice for the way they were treated. A review by Justice John Quirke to assess support and redress for Magdalene survivors is currently underway.