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The Magdalene Sisters and the Magdalen Laundries

The following is from an Email I sent to Fiachra Gibbons, Arts correspondent for the UK Guardian in relation to an article he wrote about the film "The Magdalene Sisters" in February 2003. I refer to ludicrous allegations made by Peter Mullan, the director of the film, also to the behaviour of Dr. Frances Finnegan whose "research" on the Magdalen laundries was the basis for the much aclaimed Channel 4 documentary, "Sex in a Cold Climate". It is very clear that neither Peter Mullan nor Frances Finnegan can be relied upon as reliable witnesses in this area.

Fiachra Gibbons
Arts Correspondent
The Guardian

I am referring to your article "In God's Name" in the Guardian (7 February 2003) regarding Peter Mullan's film "The Magdalene Sisters" and author Frances Finnegan. The attached is from a "Magdalene Laundry Survivors" website that (unusually) gives the 2 sides of the story. ........ Dr Finnegan's book features the Good Shepherd nuns in particular and so does the attached website article.

You will note that Dr. Finnegan wants to stop nuns from working with prostitutes in Dublin. She either does not know, or does not care, that no-one else is doing this work (least of all middle class feminists like herself). Yet she is working from the mother superior's bedroom in the former Waterford Magdalene convent!

In addition I have two specific comments on your article:

(1) You write: "Much of Dr Finnegan's research, gleaned at a time when the orders thought themselves so invulnerable that one opened its records to her, formed the basis of Steve Humphries' acclaimed Channel 4 documentary, Sex in a Cold Climate, which first brought the lives of the Magdalene women into the open. Dr Finnegan now works from the mother superior's bedroom of the former Waterford Magdalene convent, which her college bought after it closed. The nuns and the women who slaved under them now share their dotage in old folks' bungalows over the wall."

TRANSLATION: The nuns looked after these women all of their lives because they had no-one else to turn to. What has Frances Finnegan done apart from her anti-clerical ranting?

(2) "[Peter] Mullan has been told many spine-chilling stories since he made the film, but one - about the spectacular cruelty of the industrial schools - haunts him. These schools, which are often like Victorian borstals, still exist.

"A group of boys were driven into countryside outside Dublin in a school bus," he recalls. "They stopped alongside another bus wherein stood several young dental students who proceeded to remove all their teeth without any anaesthetic. I'm sorry, but that is Dr Mengele stuff. Where are those young dentists now? Why didn't they say something 20 or 30 years ago about this? Why keep silent all this time? How did they rationalise that to themselves?"

COMMENT: This is sheer undiluted lunacy.


Rory Connor
11 Lohunda Grove
Dublin 15


In the film "The Magdalen Sisters", nuns were presented as monsters of cruelty. Journalists praised the film as accurate and themselves savagely criticised the nuns. The following article appeared in the Evening Herald on 1st April 1998. It concerns Dr Frances Finnegan who was the historical consultant for the TV documentary on the the Magdalen laundries. What sort of criticism did Dr. Finnegan face from the same journalists?

Nuns 'unsuited for streets' Claim Rejected

Furious Dublin prostitutes today rejected a suggestion that because nuns are celibate, they have no place working with women on the streets. Their anger was sparked off after comments from author and social history lecturer Dr Frances Finnegan. Dr Finnegan said it was "disturbing and distasteful" that celibate women were still allowed concern themselves in areas like prostitution and women's refuges.

Dr Finnegan, the historical consultant for the TV documentary on Magdalen laundries, was speaking in the context of a need for a sworn enquiry into abuse allegations.

But Tina, who works in prostitution in Dublin retorted: "The only ones who care about us at the moment are the nuns. They are with us on the street at 4am or 5am. If there is a woman raped they go to the hospital with her. What help do we get from any other women's organisations?"

Tina said she had been contacted by friends about Dr. Finnegan's comments. "Good Shepherd sisters and Sisters of Charity in Dublin are providing the only help women on the streets are getting", she said. "We can talk openly about our work to them. They have also opened up educational courses for women, "she said. "I was a victim of the nuns when I was a child and I have the scars. But I do not blame the nuns of today".


The Last Days of A Magdalen Laundry, Irish Times - 25 September 1996

The Magdalene Sisters Controversy by Stephen D. Greydanus - 2003

The Magdalene Sisters; Dr Frances Finnegan, Peter Mullan and False Allegations of Child Abuse

"Kathy's Real Story" and Mis Lit ; Daily Telegraph Review - 5 March 2008

Magdalenes - State Responsibility To Establish Inquiry - 9 November 2010

Call for Inquiry into Magdalene Laundries , Irish Times - 10 November 2010

Magdalene Survivors Seek Recognition with UN Committee Against Torture, - 26 April 2011

Decision Due Soon on Magdalene Homes Report, Irish Times - 27 April 2011

Dear Cabinet: Magdalene Survivors Need Justice Now, Irish Times - 2 May 2011