In 1993 when the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge decided to sell some of their land at High Park, Drumcondra, the Magdalene women who were buried in a graveyard on that land were exhumed and reinterred at Glasnevin Cemetery. Justice for Magdalenes (JFM, now JFM Research) was founded in 2003 on foot of serious questions raised by the late Mary Raftery about the exhumations at High Park. Also in 2003, JFM established the Magdalene Names Project, an initiative which is led by Claire McGettrick. The project examines various archives and records, including gravestones, digitised census records, electoral registers, exhumation orders and newspaper archives. By recording and analysing the data from these archives the project seeks to offer a narrative that honours the lives of those who lived and died behind Magdalene Laundry walls. Thus far, JFMR has recorded the details of 1,663 women who died in the Magdalene institutions between 1835 and 2014.
This lecture will examine the work of the Magdalene Names Project, in particular how the project’s findings offer a counter-narrative to the report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries (IDC). I will present three sample ‘legacy cases’ which were omitted from the IDC report, including ‘Maggie’, who entered the Limerick Good Shepherd at eighteen and died in her eighties after the laundry closed. The circumstances surrounding the exhumations at High Park Magdalene Laundry will also be outlined, as well as the work of the Names Project in shedding further light on the matter. Finally, I will discuss my continuing research under the Names Project in identifying the burial places of former Magdalene women, and the serious discrepancies that persist in many Magdalene burial sites across Ireland.
Claire McGettrick is an Irish Research Council postgraduate scholar at the School of Sociology in University College Dublin. Her PhD research is examining how adopted adults and children have been classified and defined in the discourses of expert knowledge, and how they have been managed in adoption policy and practice. The study will also reconstruct the progression of formal and informal adoption in Ireland, from the establishment of the ‘boarding out’ system in 1862 to the present day. Claire is also an adopted person and survivors' rights advocate. She is co-founder of Justice for Magdalenes (now JFM Research) and Adoption Rights Alliance. She coordinates the Magdalene Names Project, which has recorded the details of over 1,600 women who lived and died behind laundry walls. Claire also jointly coordinates the Clann project on behalf of JFM Research and Adoption Rights Alliance and in association with global law firm Hogan Lovells. The project provides free statement-drafting assistance to witnesses who wish to give evidence to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation.