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What was the Magdalene Laundries scandal? The Woman in the Wall inspiration explained

The new series aims to bring attention to the trauma survivors have lived through


The Woman in the Wall is BBC One’s latest drama series, starring Ruth Wilson and Daryl McCormack.

Ruth Wilson stars as Lorna Brady, a woman suffering from extreme sleepwalking as a result of the abuse she faced when she was younger. While Lorna in The Woman in the Wall isn’t based on a true story, it draws inspiration from the real life Magdalene Laundries scandal in Ireland.

A Magdalene Laundry was an institution where “fallen women” would be incarcerated, which operated for decades. The series aims to bring attention to the trauma survivors have lived through.

TW: Mention of abuse

What were Magdalene Laundries?

via BBC

Magdalene Laundries were institutions run by Catholic nuns from the 18th to the late 20th centuries. These Laundries would accept “fallen women”, a term used to describe sex workers, unmarried mothers and other women deemed to be “problematic”.

Once these women would be admitted to a Magdalene Laundry, they would complete physical labour for long hours with no pay and often had little contact with their families. This famously included commercial laundry.

Over the years, survivors of these Laundries have spoken about being physically or sexually abused by those in power. An estimated 30,000 women were confined in the Laundries over the decades.

Many women never left the Magdalene Laundries and died while still confined within their walls. This ultimately led to the downfall of these Laundries in Ireland.

Is Lorna’s story in The Woman in the Wall based on a true story?

The Woman In The Wall true story

via BBC

Ruth Wilson’s character, Lorna, isn’t based on a real person but it is based on the very real experiences of survivors of Magdalene Laundries.

In the series, a young Lorna gives birth whilst living in one of the Laundries, but the baby is taken away from her, something that happened to a lot of women.

Talking about what she had learned whilst filming the series, Ruth Wilson told BBC News: “In some of them, the girls gave birth, and then they’d have to nurse their child for two years, and then their child was taken away from them.

Talking about what she had learned whilst filming the series, Ruth Wilson told BBC News: “In some of them, the girls gave birth, and then they’d have to nurse their child for two years, and then their child was taken away from them.

The late Sinead O’Connor was once sent to a Magdalene Laundry when she was 14 years old. She had previously spoken about her time at the institution in an interview with Irish Central and likened it to a prison.

The singer had been institutionalised at Sisters of Our Lady of Charity laundry in Dublin because she was deemed a “problem child” after she began shoplifting.

“We were girls in there, not women, just children really. And the girls in there cried every day,” she told the publication.

“It was a prison. We didn’t see our families, we were locked in, cut off from life, deprived of a normal childhood.

“We were told we were there because we were bad people. Some of the girls had been raped at home and not believed.”

When were Magdalene Laundries shut down?

Ruth Wilson in The Woman In The Wall true story

via BBC

In 1993, a former Laundry was sold by those who owned it to a property developer, who later discovered a mass grave of 155 women, some who hadn’t even been declared as dead to the state.

The Irish Catholic Church received backlash for its role in running these Laundries. The Irish government also faced criticism for having contracts with some of the institutions. The final Magdalene Laundry was shut down in 1996.

In 2011, an 18-month enquiry was launched and the findings were “neither independent nor thorough enough” by the UN Committee against Torture, according to The New Statesman.

However, it did declare “significant” state collusion in admitting women to these institutions.

Following the findings in February 2013, the then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny issued an apology to survivors and announced a compensation package, which no religious institutes associated with the Laundries have contributed to.

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Featured image credit via BBC.