The Magdalene Names Project is a JFM Research initiative which examines various archives and records, including gravestones, digitised census records, electoral registers, exhumation orders and newspaper archives. By recording and analysing the data from these archives the project seeks to offer a narrative that honours the lives of those who lived and died behind Magdalene Laundry walls. More recently, the project began work on examining electoral registers; initial data regarding lengths of stay points to the need for more in-depth, nuanced research than the work conducted by the McAleese Committee. Work has also commenced on including Northern Ireland in the Names Project, with one Good Shepherd grave already located in Belfast. Anecdotal evidence and survivor testimony suggest that there were cross-border transfers between institutions and it is hoped that the Names Project can offer some insight in this regard. The Names Project will also be expanded further by examining court archives and death certificates.
The work of the Magdalene Names Project is ongoing. More work is required to ascertain burial locations, while the remaining electoral registers also need to be analysed.Unfortunately, the work has also uncovered serious inaccuracies and discrepancies at Magdalene grave sites and our work is ongoing in attempting to rectify these issues. JFMR hopes to build on this work by examining other records and archives so that eventually, a resource can be made freely available to family, friends, researchers and members of the public who wish to learn about the women who died in Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries.
The Magdalene Names Project began in 2003 and at its inception it involved photographing the Magdalene graves and recording the names of those who died in the laundries so that they could be honoured and remembered. After the Magdalene graves are photographed, the names are inputted manually into databases using photographs taken at the grave sites and thus far, JFMR has recorded the details of 1663 women who died in the Magdalene institutions between 1835 and 2014.
More recently, JFMR has examined the online records provided by Glasnevin Cemetery’s genealogy service. Searches of the online archive are conducted using the names in the databases generated from the Magdalene graves at Glasnevin and the names that appear on the exhumation licence for High Park. The Glasnevin genealogy service also includes an option to conduct ‘extended’ searches whereby it is possible to obtain the details of those buried in the same grave as the person sought. This service has been most useful to JFMR in identifying the names of women who do not appear on the headstone, as well as major inaccuracies that exist for those whose names are inscribed. These issues are discussed in JFMR’s Critique of Chapter 16 of the McAleese Report which is available here.
We have provided locations (where known) and photographs of the Magdalene graves around Ireland below. You can also view a map of laundry and grave locations here. If you think your relative or friend may be buried in a Magdalene grave in Ireland, please contact us and let us know the name, age (approximate), and laundry where the individual was incarcerated and we will be happy to look up our records.
1901/1911 Census Data
The online digitisation of the 1901 and 1911 censuses by the National Archives of Ireland opened up new possibilities for the Names Project and simplified the creation of databases. The digitised census data also made the process of locating the Magdalene Laundries in the census archives less challenging. Ironically, searching for the ‘occupation’ of the women proved to be the most reliable method of finding the Magdalene Laundries entries. More often than not the women’s ‘occupation’ was noted as ‘laundress’ or sometimes ‘seamstress’, and in some cases accompanied by the term ‘inmate’ in another column.
Importantly, the 1901 and 1911 census data offered a snapshot of the number of women in the Magdalene Laundries during those years at a time when this information was not known. Comparisons revealed the length of stay (lasting up to 74 years in some cases) of some of the women incarcerated in the laundries. It was also possible to compare the 1901 and 1911 censuses with each other, suggesting the number of women who appear to have spent at least 10 years in a laundry.
You can access the census data via the links in the table below; names (where provided) are alphabetised. Unfortunately, in some cases very little data is supplied by the religious orders, for example, in the case of a number of laundries, only initials were supplied for the census. Please note that any errors in the original transcriptions have not been corrected. If you recognise a name as that of a family member of lost loved one, please e-mail us about a name to advise us.
Using a similar methodology, we are currently examining electoral registers containing the names of women who were registered to vote while confined in a Magdalene Laundry. When copies of the registers are obtained, the names are inputted into a database and sorted into alphabetical order. In the registers examined by JFMR to-date where the names of Magdalene women are recorded, a distinction is made between the religious sisters and the ‘inmates’. As above, the databases for each electoral year are then compared to each other and against the databases generated from the grave photographs.
Thus far, JFMR has processed the electoral registers for High Park and Donnybrook laundries for some of the years between 1954-1964. The average number of women who were registered to vote during this time in High Park was 137, with an average of 102 for Donnybrook. JFMR was able to conduct a comparison of the electoral registers from 1954-55 against the electoral register for 1963-64, revealing the number of women who appear to have spent at least nine years in the laundries and a comparison of the electoral register for 1955-56 against the electoral register for 1963-64, showing how many women appear to have been confined for a minimum of eight years.
In the case of High Park, 63.4% of the women who appear on the electoral register in 1954-55 also appear on the electoral register for 1963-64, revealing that they spent a minimum of nine years confined and 61.4% of the women from 1955-56 were there for a minimum of eight years. The electoral registers for the Donnybrook laundry reveal similar results with 63.1% in 1954-55 incarcerated for a minimum of nine years and 67.9% of those in 1955-56 incarcerated for a minimum of eight years.
We have also compared the names on the electoral registers against the grave records for the same laundries. In the case of Donnybrook the available electoral registers for 1954-64 indicate that over half of these women are buried in the graveyard at the old laundry site. JFMR is aware of at least two other women who died in Donnybrook, each having spent over 50 years confined, who are now buried in family plots. For High Park, the data shows that an average of 47.5% of those who were in High Park between 1954-64 died there.
If you are a Magdalene survivor and you think your name was inputted on the electoral register please contact us and we will be happy to look up whatever records we have. If you are a relative or friend searching for a woman you believe may be on the electoral registers, please contact us and let us know the name, age (approximate), and laundry where the individual was incarcerated and we will do our best to help.