Congrave  Press


Do Penance or Perish: A study of Magdalen Asylums in Ireland

Portrait of a Lady in Classical Pose, c.1790. Artist unknown

Frances Finnegan

ISBN: 9780954092108

256 pages with 18 illustrations, bibliography and index.

Do Penance or Perish is a history of four of Ireland's Convent Magdalen Asylums, established in the mid-nineteenth century for the detention of prostitutes undergoing reform.

It traces the development of the Female Penitentiary Movement in Britain and examines how, following the arrival of the Good Shepherd Sisters in 1848, 'Rescue Work' in Ireland underwent a change. Short-term lay refuges became long-term Magdalen Institutions, many of whose inmates were discouraged from leaving and were sometimes detained for life. Labouring in the adjoining laundries unpaid workers were subjected to penance, harsh discipline, silence and prayer. As prostitute numbers dwindled other 'fallen' women were targeted including unmarried mothers and wayward or abused girls - many being incarcerated by their families or priests.

Drawing on hitherto unpublished material, the book contains case-histories of individual women and insights into how the Homes were run. Though concentrating largely on the Victorian period, the study explores the survival of these institutions into the late 20th century. It discusses the far-reaching consequences of such a system, especially for the poor many of whose children were housed in the order's adjacent Industrial Schools; and it examines some of the misconceptions surrounding this discreditable episode in Irish women's history.


"The definitive account of the Magdalen Asylums ... " - The Guardian

"Frances Finnegan's pioneering works on poverty and prostitution in Victorian Britain are classics, and so is this beautifully-produced book, the eagerly-awaited fruit of two decades' research. This is what social history should be ... This excellent book represents a coming of age for Irish women's history." - Women's Studies

How to order a copy

(Also published by and available from Oxford University Press)
Paperback, ISBN: 0-19-517460-7

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