Drawing extensively from an oral history project taken by Justice For Magdalenes Research, which collected around eighty interviews with survivors and other key informants, this article focuses on experiences of Catholic identity in the context of a carceral abusive religious environment, specifically the Magdalene institutions in twentieth-century Ireland. It explores how survivors experienced their faith whilst in the institutions, as well as how they (re)engaged with organised religion – and their own personal faith – after leaving the laundries.
Focusing on the ways gendered religious subjectivities are produced, as well as how religious actors communicate these, I consider the various ways in which women negotiated their religious relationships within this specific carceral context. By situating an awareness of these complex religious relationships within the social and cultural context of twentieth-century Ireland, I demonstrate how this is fundamental to a better understanding of the impact of the Magdalene institutions on Irish society.
Drawing on the Government of Ireland Collaborative Research Project, ‘Magdalene Institutions: Recording an Archival and Oral History’, this paper explores the nature of women’s experiences in Ireland’s Magdalene laundries though the lens of forced work. I argue that the perceived nature of the work done by the women—productive, respectable, ‘women’s work’—significantly impacted on how the abusive nature of the laundries has been considered by official bodies and wider Irish society. This paper focuses on work done in these institutions and how it was viewed, using interviews from survivors and those who visited the laundries. By exploring the links between work and respectability, productivity and morality, with particular attention to the ways this plays out upon the bodies of women, this article argues for an understanding of this work as a violent and disciplinary process, designed to produce the desired Irish Catholic female body: docile and productive, penitential and obedient.