"Through her heroic efforts to unite mothers and children separated by cruel practices and archaic laws, Philomena is helping make gentle the life of the world" — Ethel Kennedy
But those women and girls who had suffered in the equally harsh Mother and Baby Homes, and who lost their children to forced and often illegal adoptions, have yet to receive that same justice. The records pertaining to those adoptions remain sealed and adopted people have no automatic right to their birth certificates.
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From the 18th century up until the late 1990s, Catholic, Protestant and non-denominational lay committees in Ireland operated Magdalene Laundries, industrial schools, convent homes and orphanages (previously known as workhouses), all of which were harsh, punitive institutions and part of an over-arching ‘architecture of containment.’ In the 1920’s, religious orders such as the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, the Daughters of Charity and others established what were called Mother and Baby Homes on the premises of lands and buildings donated to the Church. These facilities housed girls and women who had become pregnant out of wedlock and their children. During this time, countless women were separated from their sons and daughters, who were often given up for adoption against their will.
WHAT WAS A MAGDALENE LAUNDRY?
Magdalene Laundries were for-profit institutions run by religious orders where women and girls worked doing laundry, needlework and lacework. The laundries were originally philanthropic institutions but they became increasingly punitive, particularly after the foundation of the Irish State. For further information on the Magdalene Laundries, please see the JFM Research website and Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment by Professor James Smith (Boston College/JFM Research).