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Memorialising the Magdalene Laundries

From Story to History

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Nathalie Sebbane

Since the publication of James Smith’s groundbreaking book on the Magdalene laundries in 2007, many developments have made the issue even more topical. Even though the lack of access to archives and records of religious orders remains a major obstacle to writing a comprehensive history of the Magdalene laundries, the accessibility of witness testimony and the publication of the McAleese report in 2013 have opened up new avenues of research and methodology.

Written from the perspective of a French academic using French theory, holocaust studies and memory studies to analyze an eminently Irish question, the present publication proposes to make an assessment of the way the issue has evolved from being a media story at the onset of the twenty-first century to becoming a subject worthy of historians’ attention. If the McAleese report was a formative moment in anchoring the Magdalene laundries into the national narrative, this book will show how it also contributed to dis-remembering the laundries by offering a doctored and state-sponsored version of what really happened within the institutions and contributed to preventing proper memorialization. It will show how in the absence of official memorialization, cultural and activist memorial practices have emerged and developed to ensure that this particularly painful and infamous episode in the history of the nation state does not fall into oblivion.

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