Outcast ireland: instituions and the making of irish society 1801-2000


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module handbook

outcast ireland: instituions and the making of irish society 1801-2000

Convenors: Professor Maria Luddy and Dr. Elizabeth Barry

Table of Contents
Introduction 3

Week 1: Issues in Irish History and Literature       4                       

Week 2 & 3:  Workhouses and the Destitute                      4

Week 4 & 5:  Industrial Reformatory Schools: Caring and Corruption                                                   6    

Week 6:  Reading Week                                                         

Week 7 & 8: Asylums and the Construction of Madness               9     

Week 9 & 10: The Magdelene Asylums: Penitence and Social Order    12

Illustrative Bibliography 13


The purpose of this course is to investigate, through a study of primary documents, literary responses, and secondary reading, a range of institutions that dealt with the ‘outcast’ (the poor, the diseased, the ill, prostitutes and unwanted children) in nineteenth and twentieth-century Ireland. The institutions to be examined include workhouses, lunatic asylums, Magdalen asylums, and industrial and reformatory schools. Those participating in the course will discuss and analyse the history of these institutions, their function and development within a changing society, and their literary and cultural representations. The course will investigate how far the literature and non-fiction of the period offered ideological challenges, critiques and consolations for the troubled histories of these institutions. It will also consider the process of memorialisation at work in Irish culture: how the memory of these asylums and schools is constructed and perpetuated, and its effects on present-day Ireland.

Each session will begin with a short lecture on the theme noted in the course outline and we will then proceed to discuss the documents, literary works and the secondary reading.

You are expected to read all of the items marked with an ** The secondary reading will give you the historical and literary background need to make sense of the primary texts.

General Texts:

To get as much as possible from this course it would be very useful for you to read the following general texts. Copies are available in the library.

All of the documents which have ‘In box’ after them are available from the History department’s post graduate office HXXXX. You may remove and read/copy these texts as required but you must return the original copies to the box so that all students can have access to the material. If copies go missing the will not be replaced.

Week 1: Issues in Irish History and Literature
Lecture Course and Planning
Weeks 2 & 3 : Workhouses and the Destitute

Literature and Film

Rosa Mulholland, Nanno: Daughter of the State (1899)

Maura Laverty, Alone We Embark (1943)

Lady Gregory, The Workhouse Ward (1908)

Sean O’Faolain, ‘The End of the Record’ (1949)

In the first session (week 2) we will look at extracts from Rosa Mulholland’s Nanno: Daughter of the State (1899) and Maura Laverty’s Alone We Embark (1943), available from the English office to sign out and return. A copy of Laverty’s novel will also be available from Short Loan and is well worth reading in full.

Think about the following questions while you are reading in preparation for the discussion:


Think about the discourse that Mulholland employs. What kind of language does she use? How far is it coloured by moral or ideological considerations?

[Think about Nanno’s refusal to marry Sean, and Father Tom’s endorsement of this decision in this respect – how are we encouraged to view the decision?]
What kind of gap emerges between the “maxim” and the “practice” (10) of those who run the workhouse in Nanno?
Look again at the first chapter having read the whole story. Is Nanno’s fate determined by her birth and upbringing? How far is escape possible, in Mulholland’s representation?
Alone We Embark

Think about the role of the two men in authority, Mr Bergin, Mary’s employer, and Dr Mangan in her decision to put her mother in the workhouse (78-81)

What does Mary find off-putting about the workhouse? How far is class implicated in her aversion?
Alone We Embark was banned by the Irish Censorship Board for ten years. There is no documentation detailing why this was so: what aspects of the novel might have been deemed unacceptable?

In the second session (week 3) we will look at Augusta (Lady) Gregory’s play ‘The Workhouse Ward’ (1908) and Sean O’Faolain’s short story ‘The End of the Record’ (1949).

The Irish Literary Revival encompassed a new interest in Irish folklore and culture (songs and stories). How is this interest represented in these two treatments of the cultural anthropologist arriving at the workhouse?
How significant a setting is the workhouse? How benign or otherwise do the institution and its staff seem? How far has habituation to the institution affected the characters?

Gregory’s play has been read as following a particularly Irish comic tradition, encompassing the satirical and the grotesque (see Roche, 173). Do you agree?

Think about the depictions of the following in both works:

- poverty

- old age

- rural experience

How would you characterize their treatment (e.g. Sentimental? Satirical? Condescending? Objective? Realistic?)?
Anthony Roche argues that the dramatic structure of a play such as The Workhouse Ward is “based on repetition with variation, rather than any social or theatrical notions of development and climax”. Is the workhouse setting implicated in this ‘lack’ of development? Is this a strength or a weakness of Gregory’s work?
How far might O’Faolain’s story be in dialogue with Gregory’s play?
Secondary Reading (Literature)

Excerpt from James H. Murphy, Catholic Fiction and Social Reality in Ireland [scanned]

**Caitriona Clear, ‘‘I Can Talk About It, Can’t I?’: The Ireland Maura Laverty Desired, 1942-46’, Women’s Studies 30 (2001), 819-835 [scanned]
**Anthony Roche, ‘Reworking The Workhouse Ward: McDonagh, Beckett and Gregory’, Irish University Review, 24 (2004), 171-184 [scanned]
Historical material


Suzanne Day, The Amazing Philanthropists (1916)

Extracts from the South Dublin Union Minute Books

The ‘Precedent Book’

The secondary reading is to enable you to get to grips with each topic as it has been written about by historians. In these sessions (weeks 2 and 3) we will explore Day’s ‘The Amazing Philanthropists’ as an historical document. You will need background material, such as that by Crossman to be able to put this novel in historical context. The other primary documents here, the extracts from the precedent book and the South Dublin Union Minute books will give you some indication of the concerns of the poor law authorities at certain periods of time.

In reading the novel keep the following questions in mind and remember that Day herself was a poor law guardian.

Is fiction of any value to the historian?

Is Day’s book useful in any way in helping us understand the workings of the poor law system in early twentieth-century Ireland.

What do you think are the main concerns Day has with the poor law system?

Why is it written as a series of letters?

How are issues of class, gender and race dealt with in this novel?

What attitudes are expressed towards the poor?

Are there different kinds of poor people?
Secondary Reading

You don’t have to read every one of the following secondary sources but those marked with an ** will be very useful in helping you to gain an understanding of the subject.

**Felix Driver, Power and Pauperism: The Workhouse System, 1834-1884 (Cambridge, 1993, reprinted 2004), chapter 6. In box

**Joseph Robins, The Lost Children: A Study of Charity Children in Ireland 1700-1900 (Dublin, 1980), chapter 12. In box

Lynn Hollen Lees, The Solidarities of Strangers: The English Poor Laws and the People, 1700-1948 (Cambridge, 1998), chapter 4. In box

**Helen Burke, The People and the Poor Law in 19th Century Ireland (Dublin, 1987), chapters 3 and 7. In box.

**Anna Clark, ‘Wild workhouse girls and the liberal imperial state in mid-nineteenth century Ireland’, Journal of Social History, 39, 2 (Winter 2005), 389-409. Available online.

Virginia Crossman, ‘The New Ross workhouse riot of 1887: nationalism, class and the Irish poor laws’, Past and Present (May 2003), 135-58. Available online.

**Virginia Crossman, The Poor Law in Ireland, 1838-1948 (Dundalk, 2006). This is the best introduction to the history of the poor law in `Ireland and the library has a number of copies. It is a pamphlet and runs to about 70 pages, so do read this.

Felix Driver, ‘The historical geography of the workhouse system in England and Wales, 1834-1883’, Journal of Historical Geography, 15, 3 (1989), 269-86.

O’Brien, Gerard, 'The establishment of poor-law unions in Ireland,1838-43', Irish Historical Studies, 23, 90 (November 1982), 97-120. IHS is available in the Library.

Weeks 4 & 5: Industrial Reformatory Schools: Caring and Corruption
Literature and Film
Week 4: May Laffan Hartley, The Game Hen (1881)

Mannix Flynn, Nothing to Say (1983)


Game Hen

Make a comparison between the depiction of landscape and rural life, and the unfortunate heroines’ relationship to both, in this story and in Nanno.

What kind of relationship is invited with the morally ambiguous heroine?

Examine Petie’s committal to the industrial school. What form does it take? How benevolent does it seem? In what sense is he a “commodity”, as the cab driver calls him?

How does Hartley’s story intervene in the debate over the merits of industrial schools?
Nothing to Say

What effect is created by the opening and closing ‘frame’ for the central story (11-12; 171-73)?

Think about the effect of other devices which problematize the documentary function of the narrative: the dream-like italicized passages, the fluidity with which the narrative switches between Dublin and Letterfrack life, the past and the present, etc.
Consider the depiction of the women involved in Gerard’s sentencing (his mother, the other mothers, the old woman with the prayer-book, the Probation Officer, the (female) Judge), the roles that they play, and their relationships with each other.

“I never felt like a child in that cell” (Flynn, 39). How far does Gerard seem to be a child at this point in the narrative? How dispassionate or otherwise is the narrative voice here and elsewhere in the novel?

Compare the depiction of the industrial school, and the various ‘industries’ it contains, in The Game Hen and Nothing to Say (ch. 4).
“My education had begun” (Flynn, 57): consider the presentation of the countryside and rural life in this novel. What values attach to rural life and what to city life?
“This was the law of the inmates. The Brothers had their rules and the boys

had theirs” (Flynn, 66). Consider the parallel codes of conduct and law that

operate in the school.

Week 5: Patrick McCabe, The Butcher Boy;

The Butcher Boy (film), dir. Neil Jordan

“I clammed up and gave her a sad, ashamed look instead” (74). Comment on this encounter between Francie (and the industrial school boys) and people on the ‘outside’.

“But he wasn’t that much of a cod” (81). How sympathetic is a) Francie, and b) the narrative to Father Sullivan?
How significant (as Molino argues) is the moment when Francie tries to tell Joe about what Father Sullivan did to him (97)?
Consider the representation of family in all of these works. How far does the industrial school aim to replicate family relationships? How far are the protagonists encouraged to maintain or sever their relations with their blood families?
Secondary Reading (Literature)

**Michael Molino, ‘Surviving the ‘House of a Hundred Windows’: Industrial Schools in Irish Writing’, New Hibernia Review 5.1 (2001) 33-52 [available online]

Helena Kelleher Kahn, Nineteenth-century Ireland’s Political and Religious Controversies in the Fiction of May Laffan Hartley (Greensboro: ELT Press, 2005) [scanned]

Christopher FitzSimon, ‘St. Macartan, Minnie the Minx and Mondo Movies’, Irish University Review, 28 (1998), 175-189 [scanned]
**James M. Smith, ‘Remembering Ireland’s architecture of containment: ‘telling’ stories in The Butcher Boy and States of Fear’, Eire-Ireland: A Journal of Irish Studies, 36 (2001) [scanned; linked from http://www2.bc.edu/~smithbt/publications.htm]
Martin McLoone, ‘The abused child of history: Neil Jordan’s The Butcher Boy’, Cineaste 23 (1998) [available via Factiva on library website]
Historical material


Kathleen O'Malley, Childhood Interrupted (Virago: London,


P. Touher, Fear of the Collar (O'Brien Press, Dublin, 2001)

Peter Tyrrell, Founded on Fear (Irish Academic Press: Dublin, 2006).

Secondary Reading

Jane Barnes, Irish Industrial Schools, 1868-1908: Origins and Development (Dublin, 1989), chapters 4 and 7. In box.

Mary Rafferty and Eoin O'Sullivan, Suffer the Little Children: The Inside Story of Ireland's Industrial Schools (New Island: Dublin, 1999).
Barry Coldrey, '"A strange mixture of caring and corruption" : residential care in Christian Brothers orphanages and industrial schools during their last phase, 1940s to 1960s'. History of Education, 29:4 (2000), 343-56. In box.

Weeks 7 & 8: Asylums and the Construction of Madness

Literature and Film
Week 7:

From Aidan Higgins, Scenes from a Receding Past (1977) [‘The Institution’, and ‘The Suicided Corpse’]

Patrick McCabe, The Butcher Boy (1994)

Sebastian Barry, The Steward of Christendom (1995)


Scenes from a Receding Past

“I’ve been examining half-scraps of my childhood. They are pieces of distant life that have no form or meaning” (opening of SRP, a quotation from Richard Brautigan). What larger meanings are discernible in Dan’s accounts of his brother’s and mother’s nervous breakdowns?

What do we make of Higgins’ portrayal of the ‘Institution’ in which Dan’s brother Wally is confined? Can we discern any implied position on the treatment Wally receives?
“Nerves and nervous breakdowns seemed maladies peculiarly Irish” (Higgins, 134). Is there anything ‘peculiarly Irish’ about those that befall Wally and his mother? What is the larger context for their problems?
The Butcher Boy

How far does McCabe draw parallels between the Industrial School and the psychiatric hospital (the second “house with a hundred windows”)

Explore the relationship between madness and story-telling in McCabe’s novel. How much of what Francie tells the psychiatrists (146-47) is ‘genuine’ hallucination or delusion, and how much conscious fictionalization?
“[H]e was mad to get information to write down”: is there any sense in which the institutional circumstances are ‘producing’ or have contributed to Francie’s insanity?

“You needn’t think you’re not seen” (McCabe, 148): be attentive to the trope of being seen, and being invisible in the works studied.

“…travel through the wastes of space and time” (148): is the experience of institutional time different from the experience of time on the ‘outside’?
The Steward of Christendom

“Smith: …If you weren’t an old madman, we’d flay you. / Mrs O’Dea: “That’s fine, Mr Smith, leave him be. Can’t you see you terrorise him? That’s him scrubbed” (Barry, 243). Think about the institutional ‘care’ with which the play opens. What kind of relations are created between this and Thomas’s past life?

Think about the significance of clothing (and nakedness) in this institutional context (and others).
Explore the significance of the title of the play (cf. Barry, 250).
Think about the connotations of the word ‘asylum’. In this, and in other representations of the psychiatric institution, how far is confinement embraced and how much resisted?
In what ways does this and other works give life to Stephen Dedalus’s comments in Ulysses about history as a “nightmare” from which he is “trying to awake”?
Week 8

Anne Devlin, After Easter (1994)

Mary Lavin, ‘The Becker Wives’ (1945)

Can you offer any hypothesis for why the hallucinations of many of the characters encountered take a religious form? How do you read this?

What do we make of Melda, and her confinement on the “banana ward” (Devlin, 38)?

“In England they lock her up if she’s mad but let her go if she’s political. In Ireland they lock her up if she’s political and let her go if she’s mad” (Devlin, 47). How might what Greta has been doing be construed as political? How, if at all, is her ‘madness’ connected with politics? Does this statement have any bearing on any of the other works read?

How convincing is an allegorical reading of ‘The Becker Wives’ such as Michael Neary makes (see Neary in Secondary Reading (Literature)), Flora the ‘small’ Ireland, imitating and challenging its more stolid and materially powerful neighbour?
Is it significant that both Greta in After Easter and Flora in ‘The Becker Wives’ are “copiers” (Devlin, 59)? How far might this support the national identity reading that Neary offers of Lavin’s story (c.f. mimicry in Bhabha)?

Secondary Reading (Literature)

**Henry Sussman, ‘On the Butcher Block: A Panorama of Social Marking’, The New Centennial Review 4 (2004): 143-68 [available online]
C. Wallace, ‘Running amuck: manic logic in Patrick McCabe's The Butcher Boy’, Irish Studies Review (1998) [scanned]
**Michael Neary ‘Flora’s Answer to the Irish Question: A Study of Mary Lavin’s ‘The Becker Wives’’, Twentieth-Century Literature, 42: 4 (Winter 1996), 516-525 [available via JSTOR]
**Maria Kurdi, ‘“Really all danger”: An Interview with Sebastian Barry’, New Hibernia Review, Volume 8, Number 1, Spring 2004, 41-53 [available via Project Muse]
J. R. Meche, ‘Seeking "The Mercy of Fathers": Sebastian Barry's The Steward of Christendom and the Tragedy of Irish Patriarchy’, Modern Drama, 2004, 47: 3, 464-479
Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, ‘Colonial Policing: The Steward of Christendom and the Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty’, Eire-Ireland, 39: 3+4 (Fall/Winter 2004), 11-37 [available via Project Muse]

Historical material


Case studies of patients1843

State of the lunatic poor in Ireland 28th Report on District, Criminal and Private Lunatic Asylums (1878-9)

Secondary Reading

Mark Finnane, Insanity and the Insane in Post-Famine Ireland (Croom Helm: London, 1981), chapters 1, 4. (Available online as an e-book).

‘Asylums, families and the state’, History Workshop Journal, xx (1985), pp 134-47. Available online.

‘Law and the social uses of the asylum in nineteenth-century Ireland’, in D. Tomlinson and J. Carrier (eds), Asylum in the Community (London, 1996), 91-110. In box.

Marcus Reuber, ‘Moral management and the unseen eye: public lunatic asylums in Ireland, 1800-1845’, in E. Malcom and G. Jones, (eds.), Medicine, Disease and the State in Ireland, 1650-1940 (Cork, 1999), pp. 208-33. In box.

David Wright, ‘Getting out of the asylum: understanding the confinement of the insane in the nineteenth century’, Social History of Medicine, x, (2001), 137-55. Available online.

Oonagh Walsh, ‘Lunatic and criminal alliances in nineteenth-century Ireland’, Peter Bartlett and David Wright (eds), Outside the Walls of the Asylum: the History of Care in the Community (London, 1999), 132-52. In box.

, ‘A lightness of mind: gender and insanity in nineteenth-century Ireland’, in Margaret Kelleher and James H. Murphy (eds), Gender Perspectives in Nineteenth-Century Ireland (Dublin, 1997), 159-67. In box.

, ‘Gender and insanity in nineteenth-century Ireland’, in J. Andrews and A. Digby (eds), Sex and Seclusion, Class and Custody: Perspectives on Gender and Class in the History of British and Irish Psychiatry (Amsterdam, 2004), 69-94. In box.

Lindsay Prior, ‘The appeal to madness in Ireland’, in D. Tomlinson and J. Carrier (eds), Asylum in the Community (London, 1996), 67-90. In box.

Weeks 9 & 10: The Magdelene Asylums: Penitence and Social Order
Literature and Film
Week 9:

Patricia Burke Brogan, Eclipsed (1993)


James M. Smith argues that Ireland’s Magdalen institutions continue to exist in the public mind primarily at the level of story (cultural representation and survivor testimony) rather than history (archival history and documentation). If true, what implications might this have?

Think about how the play, like other works on the course, illustrates the permeability of past and present.
“Sister Virginia: …The women are drudges, are bond-women!” (46): think about the presentation of work in the play. What relationship do the women have to their work?
“Brigit: …Why aren’t our lover-boys locked up too? One law for them and another for us!” (60): this argument is echoed in recent historical readings of the legislation in force when the play is set. Explore this theme of gender inequality in your reading of the literary and historical works.

Week 10

The Magdalene Sisters (film), dir. Peter Mullan

Les Blanchisseuses de Magdalen (film), dir. Weber & Glimois

Les Blanchisseuses

Sister Lucy Bruton: “I don’t think we drove anyone to madness ...we institutionalized them”(Blanchisseuses). Think about this in relation to this film, and previous discussions on this subject.

The Magdalene Sisters

Think about the convent-as-prison convention in the Gothic genre (see Cullingford) – how is this invoked in Mullan’s film?

Secondary Reading (Literature)

**Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, ‘Our Nuns are not a nation: politicizing the convent in Irish literature and film’, Éire-Ireland 41.1 (2006) 9-39 [available via Muse]

James M. Smith, ‘The Politics of Sexual Knowledge: The Origins of Ireland's Containment Culture and the Carrigan Report (1931)’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 13: 2, April 2004, 208-233 [available via JSTOR; linked from http://www2.bc.edu/~smithbt/publications.htm]

Historical material

Rules and regulations for the Sisters of Mercy

‘The Magdalens of High Park’, The Irish Rosary, 1 (1897)

Extract from register of Sisters of Charity Magdalen Asylum, Dublin

Halliday Sutherland, Irish Journey (New York, 1958), ch. 7
Secondary Reading

Frances Finnegan, Do Penance or Perish: A Study of Magdalen Asylums in Ireland (Oxford University Press, 2004).

Maria Luddy, Prostitution and Irish Society, 1800-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), chapter 3.

James Smith, Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment (Manchester: Manchester university Press, 2008).

Illustrative Bibliography

The following books provide good general histories of Ireland in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  It is advisable that you read at least one of these texts.

Boyce, D.G., Nineteenth-century Ireland: The Search for Stability (Dublin, 1990).  This is a good general text.

Ferriter, Diarmaid, The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000 (London, 2004).

Foster, R.F., Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (London, 1988).

Hoppen, K.T., Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity (London, 1989).

Jackson, Alvin, Ireland, 1798-1998 (Oxford, 1999).  

Keogh, D., Twentieth Century Ireland. Nation and State (Dublin, 1994). 

Townshend, Charles,  Ireland in the Twentieth Century, A Political History   (London, 1998).

For works on the history of Irish literature you will find the following useful:

Foster, John Wilson (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Irish Novel (Cambridge, 2006).

Kelleher, Margaret and Philip O’Leary (eds), The Cambridge History of Irish Literature, 2 vols. (Cambridge ,2006).

You will also find The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing vols. 1-3 (Derry/New York 1991) and the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing: vols. 4-5, Irish Women’s Writings and Traditions (Cork/ New York, 2002), especially useful.  Vols. 4 and 5 contain information on the place of women in Irish history, society and culture from 600 to 2000. 

For an introduction to Irish film see Martin McLoone, Irish Film: The Emergence of a Contemporary Cinema (London, 2000).

The Royal Historical Society has an excellent bibliographic site that can be searched for books and articles published on British and Irish history.  It is very straightforward to use and should be of great benefit to you when you need to find reading for an essay.  The address is http://www.rhs.ac.uk/bibwel.asp

The Library also holds a number of journals, either through JSTOR or on the shelves that deal with Irish history, politics, literature and culture. These are:

  1. Irish Historical Studies

  2. Saothar: Journal of the Irish Labour History Society

  3. History Ireland

  4. Irish Review

  5. Irish Economic and Social History

  6. Irish Studies Review

  7. Eire/Ireland

  8. New Hibernia Review

The last three journals will contain many articles relevant to this course.


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