Katherine O’Donnell is Associate Professor, UCD School of Philosophy, and has published widely on the history of sexuality and gender and the intellectual history of eighteenth-century Ireland.
She has been principal investigator on a number of funded research projects, including gathering an archival and oral history of the Magdalen institutions funded by the Irish Research Council. Her teaching awards include the UCD President’s Gold Medal for Teaching Excellence and the British Universities’ Learning On-Screen Award.
She has gained academic honours, including a Fulbright Fellowship and the University of California, Berkeley, Chancellor’s Prize for Prose. As a member of Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR), she has shared in activist honours, including the Irish Labour Party’s Thirst for Justice Award.
This talk will give a survey of how the ten Magdalene institutions which flourished in twentieth-century Ireland have their origins in the nineteenth century. We will look at how the Magdalenes are part of what James M. Smith has described as ‘Ireland’s architecture of containment’. By the 1950s Ireland had locked up 1% of its populations in psychiatric hospitals, mother and baby homes, industrial and reform schools and Magdalene laundries. This system of ‘coercive confinement’ (as defined by Ian O’Donnell and Eoin O’Sullivan) focussed on poor women and their children and I argue that they are best understood as motivated by neo-colonial impulses and Papal social doctrine exhorting the establishment of ‘voluntary’ organisations. The talk will relate the lives lived by the girls and women of the Magdalene institutions as told in their own words drawn from their generously-given oral histories.