Public performance and reclaiming space
Waterford’s Magdalen Laundry
in Legacies of the Magdalen Laundries
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For institutions such as the Magdalen Laundries to exist, Irish society had to co-construct powerful interpretations of Catholic notions of guilt, sin, silence, and the potential threat of unrestrained female sexuality. These institutions operated at the nexus of interrelated social constructions of gender, nationalism, and class, confining ‘sinful’ women to prevent contamination of an idealised Irish society. Concealing these women from society also excised them from Irish history and collective memory; the censoring of their voices maintained dominant, Irish Catholic, cultural regimes.

This chapter explores the interdisciplinary project When Silence Falls: Investigating Literary and Bodily Memory at the Waterford Laundry, which culminated in October 2016. The event contained talks, live art performances, screenings, installations, and oral histories, which commemorated (and took place in) the former site of St Mary’s Good Shepherd Laundry and St Dominic’s Industrial School in Waterford, and the women and children confined there. This chapter explores the performance work created for the event, focusing on how site-specific performance can interpret the history of the Magdalen Laundries, revealing the social constructions of that history. Examining four site-specific performances through performance and socio-historical lenses, the discussion explores how they reclaimed the contested and traumatic space of the Waterford Magdalen Laundry.

Legacies of the Magdalen Laundries

Commemoration, gender, and the postcolonial carceral state


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