Sex in a Cold Climate – More Magdalene Laundries

Quite awhile ago – nearly two years ago in fact, I wrote about The Magdalene Laundries after watching Peter Mullan’s The Magdalene Sisters film. I have made no bones about the fact that I find this element of history completely fascinating and of course horrifying at the same time. It completely beggars belief that such practices could be allowed to continue in what is most definitely a first world country. The Church has a lot to answer for and I use a capital C because it’s extremely far removed from the churches millions of completely normal people visit every day. It’s not my place to criticise anybody or anything that I have nothing to do with but the things representatives of the Catholic Church in Ireland whilst the Magdalene Laundries and their associated orphanages were open did need to be criticised.

Anyway, this post is about another documentary on the same subject. I was kindly pointed in the direction of Sex in a Cold Climate on YouTube by @Neev_ie. The documentary was initially aired in 1997 on Channel 4 and tells the stories of four women who were interned in different laundries across Ireland, or in the case of one woman, the orphanages which were attached.

The personal element of this documentary makes it much more hard hitting that Mullan’s film, which I think is brilliant but obviously fictionalised to a degree. Sex in a Cold Climate gives it to you straight from the women who lived it. Each woman had a horrific tale to tell and each one had had their faith and their lives destroyed by their experiences. As one survivor said

“if there was a just god in heaven we wouldn’t have suffered like that”

I’m not sure there’s anything anyone can do to repair what was done and as I said in my previous post, the last of the laundries didn’t close until 1996 so there are still many women living with the shame and pain caused by living in one of these prisons, because they really were nothing more than that.

Of all the stories the one that amazed me most was that of Phyllis. She spent EIGHT YEARS in a Laundry simply because she was too pretty. She had grown up in a orphanage run by nuns as most were and because she looked too pretty, they sent her to the laundry as a precaution – to ensure she didn’t fall pregnant and give them another mouth to feed. She spent eight years in basically a hard labour camp for just looking the way she did. What’s moral or just about that?

The other stories were no less harrowing, with priests exposing themselves and young women ripped away from children they loved.

Ireland is still atoning for the history of the laundries. In fact, news as recent as this week has shown that justice is still being fought for and in my opinion should continue to be fought for. I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that can be repaired but those and the families of those who suffered should be given the chance of full reprieve. They need to know the truth and this latest news does suggest that steps are being made to give them this truth.

EDIT: since writing this the report has been released. I have yet to read it but have skimmed over the news stories relating to it and it seems, sadly, that the Irish government still haven’t provided a formal apology for the State’s involvement for the survivors and families of the Magdalene girls. I’m not sure if this will ever come now but it’s the very least they deserve.



  • Ena Zahran commented on March 18, 2013 Reply

    I watched a few of these documentries, I found it very harrowing to say the least.
    I also spent two Months in the Sacred Heart Convent in Blackrock Cork.
    My experience was completely differently! The Nuns there were very kind and compassionate.
    When I went into labour I was looked after even better than a private Hospital.
    My job was to look after a six week old baby who had been abandoned by his Mother, and was not responding to feeding,lethargic and underweight.
    I began to feed him, gave him love and cuddles and he responded very quickly.
    I can honestly say that when I was in labour, I was given pain relief and never left alone at any point.
    When it came to delivering my Baby I had two people who put hot flannels on my perineum,to prevent me from tearing and I only had to have one small stitch.
    After delivery I was helped to bath myself, and my Baby was brought to me every three hours to help to breastfeed.
    I now have two other children, but those births were very difficult, as I did not have the individual attention that I got at Bessborough in Cork.
    So I say thank you Sisters for looking after me.

    • plasticrosaries commented on March 18, 2013 Reply

      Thank you for your interesting comment – I’ve never heard a story like yours before so it’s always interesting to hear the other side.
      Thanks again.

  • Jill smith commented on October 16, 2013 Reply

    I was schooled in America by nuns
    Most of them were quite willing to be mean and judgmental , some were kind . A lot of lesbians in the convents. A lot
    I have no doubt that the laundries were terrible places.

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