The Magdalene Sisters: When Girls Misbehave


I have been meaning to watch Peter Mullan’s film The Magdalene Sisters ever since I heard about it. The Magdalene Asylums was one institution amongst many in Ireland where disreputable girls were sent away to presumably be reforme although in fact to often live out their lives in hard labor. Their sins:  become unwed mothers, or being raped, or in some cases being merely flirtatious and/or good looking.

This film in particular focuses on the fate of four Irish girls. My mother loves the Irish, they’re just like us, she’s always said. Accordingly, this was a hard film for me to watch, no less because, had I been born in that clime I may very well have ended up in one of those institutions. Actually I have no doubt that I would have. How thankful I must be then that Pakistan harbors, at least, no such institutions for fallen women. Of course troublesome wives, sisters, daughters do often go mad in which case they are locked away in mental institutions.

I was shocked to discover in the film postscript that the last Magdalene Laundry closed in 1996. 19 bloody 96. The year I graduated from college. That year I was still trapped in my mind, scared, broken, and trying to make sense of who I was versus where and to whom I’d been born. That year I did not know there were still institutions where my broken, scared, senseless sisters were trapped too.

The Magdalene Sisters is based on the documentary Sex in a Cold Clime which you can watch here (it is also available as an extra on the Magdalene Sisters DVD). Please do take the time to watch it so you can bear witness to these stories which should have never been.

I was heartbroken by the looks on the women’s faces as they relate their losses of so many years ago. And, as usual, really pissed at the way religion and community manipulates females.  The picture above is the cover of the book by James M Smith ‘Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment

Here is a blog post by the author himself on the Manchester University Press blog.

“Are you the man who wrote the Magdalen book?” A voice, hesitant and frail, asked from the other end of my office phone. “I just finished it. I read about ten pages a day.” She called to share her story. She wanted someone to listen. She needed someone to understand. Her mother died when she was seven. Initially,she and a younger sister were cared for within the extended family. The farm required her father’s attention. At fourteen, he deposited her with the Good Shepherd nuns in New Ross. Her sister was sent to the congregation’s Limerick convent.”

Ps. There is also the phenomenal film Philomena (starring Judi Dench) which delves into one woman’s search for the infant so brutally separated from her.