How might historical research into past abuse serve the ends of restorative justice? What kinds of challenges do historians face in gathering testimonies of traumatic experience? Katherine O’Donnell and Claire McGettrick are scholars, activists, and members of Justice for Magdalenes Research, an organization dedicated to unearthing the histories of the women and girls who passed through Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries. Over the past decade they have worked tirelessly to gather survivors’ testimonies, to educate the public about the abuses endured, and to support survivors’ campaigns for redress. They discuss their work in this episode of the History Workshop podcast.

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Magdalenes processing from Sean McDermott Street for Festival Day in the 1960s.


Claire McGettrick is an Irish Research Council postgraduate scholar at the School of Sociology in University College Dublin. Her PhD research is investigating the bodies of expert knowledge on adoption, how adopted adults and children have been classified and defined in the discourses of expert knowledge, and how they have been managed in adoption policy and practice. Claire is also an adopted person and survivors’ rights advocate. She is co-founder of Justice for Magdalenes (now JFM Research) and Adoption Rights Alliance. She coordinates the Magdalene Names Project, which has recorded the details of over 1,900 women who lived and died behind laundry walls. Claire also jointly coordinates the multi award-winning Clann Project with Dr Maeve O’Rourke. The Clann Project provided free statement-drafting assistance to witnesses who wished to give evidence to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation.

Katherine O’Donnell is Associate Professor of the History of Ideas, University College Dublin School of Philosophy and is a member of Justice for Magdalenes Research.  She was Director of UCD Women’s Studies Centre, a position she held for ten years until 2015. In the academic years 2015/16 and 2016/17 she taught modules in Feminist Philosophy on the University of Oxford’s B.Phil programme. In 2017 she was appointed to her current position as Assoc. Prof. in the History of Ideas at UCD School of Philosophy. O’Donnell has won prizes for her teaching, including the UCD President’s Gold Medal for Teaching Excellence (2007) and the British Universities Learning on Screen Award (2014). Her research has been funded a number of times by both the Irish Research Council and the EU Commission, and she has published widely in the history of sexuality and gender as well as the intellectual history of Eighteenth Century Ireland.

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