An egg once a year

More on the realities of the Magdalene laundries at

ALTHOUGH PREVIOUS REPORTS and testimonies reveal that labour in the Magdalene Laundries was forced and wholly unpaid, conditions harsh and the incarcerated women completely deprived of their liberty, suffering both physical and emotional abuse, survivors are still searching for an apology and redress.

Although the State gave the nuns who ran the Laundries direct capitation (per-head) grants and valuable contracts for commercial work, it has failed to offer that apology or any type of redress.

It’s shocking, isn’t it – forced unpaid labor in harsh conditions, with no escape, and with physical and emotional abuse – not as punishment for crime but as torture for being female and poor and possibly or actually sexual. Not in 1860 but well into the 1990s. Ireland committed war crimes against the female half of its own population.

Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) believes – and provides evidence to back up its claims – that there was State involvement in the operation of the Magdalene Laundries as places to send women, often known as “problem girls”, affected by pregnancy outside marriage, poverty and crime.

“The State regarded the Magdalene Laundries as an opportunity to deal with various social problems – illegitimacy, poverty, disability, so-called licentous behaviour, domestic and sexual abuse, youth crime and infanticide,” the group writes in its 145-page submission to the Government’s Inter-Departmental Committee set up to probe exactly what happened between the 1920s and 1990s.

“Deal with” them how? Long sentences to slave labor for the profit of the Catholic church.

The committee has delayed issuing its report, so Justice for Magdalenes has provided a redacted copy of its document to every TD and Senator at Leinster House. JFM says the document provides rock-solid evidence of government complicity.

This year’s submission details how no one in senior government sought to understand how the Magdalene Laundries operated. JFM believe that the fact that the religious orders were in control was “enough” to excuse official inquiry, inspection or regulation.

It says that there was “no statutory basis at all between 1922 and 1960 for incarcerating any of the women”. “None of them were detained lawfully,” the report continues.

All the women had no choice whether to stay. One survivor from High Park Magdalene Laundry in Drumcondra remembers:

Every window in the building, every window had bars on it…All the doors, every door was locked.

That’s theocracy in action – a state so blindly trusting of a religious sect that it allows that sect to impose mass imprisonment without trial or hearing or due process of any kind.

Many believe they were taken from their original lives as “cheap labour” with the excuse of it being for their “own safety”.

We worked long hours every day…scrubbing, bleaching and ironing for the whole of Cork – hotels, hospitals, schools, colleges – for which the nuns charged, of course, though we never saw a penny. It was an industry and they were earning a fortune from our labour.

Work in the Magdalene Laundries was hard. It involved lifting heavy weights in very hot temperatures and the use of toxic chemicals. The clothes for one machine weighted 200 lbs, or 90 kgs.

The working conditions were absymal.

We worked in great heat associated with the laundry machine and mangles.
You could stand in half a foot of water sometimes down in the laundry all day.
The laundry work was hard too. I often got bleach in my eyes. It was a sore does. It would be sore for days. And the soap would burn your hands.

Other external witnesses told JFM:

By Jesus, they worked hard. They broke a lot of sweat in that laundry. The laundry was very hot. It was just basically a sweathouse just to provide Joe Public out there with nice clean sheets.
The girls could get burns from pouring in soap, splashing into their eyes or pouring in bleach, raw bleach, which they would dilute by 50 per cent…And sometimes these carboys (10 gallon containers) would break and the bleach would go everywhere and it was a nightmare. And the fumes of the bleach alone were dreadful.

Another manager recalls have one woman lost her arm in a bad accident on a hot roller ironing machine.

And the living conditions were just as shit.

Breakfast was generally porridge, while sausage, potatoes and cabbage made up the bulk of the rest of their meals.

I was extremely thin and sickly…the convent cared for us with absolutely the minimal standards.

Another survivor recalls how they “got one egg a year” on Easter Sunday morning.

There was also “no such thing as education” – “no reading, writing” and “for the most part…intellectual development was ignored”.

And all of this was administered by the Catholic church in Ireland.


  1. kevinalexander says

    …intellectual development was ignored” prevented.

    If you’re unable to name what they’re doing to you then it isn’t happening.
    The unholy trinity of sado-masochism, sexual obsession and misogyny which is the foundation of the church is like that other trinity in that they are all aspects of a single thing, common in other social species, which is the savage need to prevent others from reproducing.

  2. moarscienceplz says

    And doubly so coming from a country that made it a cultural imperative to remember the way they were enslaved by the British landowners in centuries past.

  3. karmacat says

    It is appalling. And how so unlike the Jesus these Catholics worship. Of course, the men are not “punished.” I know some of the girl babies were adopted but some were kept at the laundries. I was wondering if all the boy babies were adopted.

  4. says

    It would still be happening if the Catholic Church had adapted their business model to the widespread introduction of washing machines. With better management there could have been Magdalene call centres, or Magdalene Amazon distribution warehouses.

  5. 4ozofreason says

    hyperdeath @4:
    Distribution centers *maybe*. To have a call center they would have had to teach them to read.

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