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The Magdalen Girls
by V.S. Alexander

Published: 2016-12-27
Paperback : 304 pages
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Dublin, 1962. Within the gated grounds of the convent of The Sisters of the Holy Redemption lies one of the city’s Magdalen Laundries. Once places of refuge, the laundries have evolved into grim workhouses. Some inmates are “fallen” women—unwed mothers, prostitutes, or petty ...
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Dublin, 1962. Within the gated grounds of the convent of The Sisters of the Holy Redemption lies one of the city’s Magdalen Laundries. Once places of refuge, the laundries have evolved into grim workhouses. Some inmates are “fallen” women—unwed mothers, prostitutes, or petty criminals. Most are ordinary girls whose only sin lies in being too pretty, too independent, or tempting the wrong man. Among them is sixteen-year-old Teagan Tiernan, sent by her family when her beauty provokes a lustful revelation from a young priest.

Teagan soon befriends Nora Craven, a new arrival who thought nothing could be worse than living in a squalid tenement flat. Stripped of their freedom and dignity, the girls are given new names and denied contact with the outside world. The Mother Superior, Sister Anne, who has secrets of her own, inflicts cruel, dehumanizing punishments—but always in the name of love. Finally, Nora and Teagan find an ally in the reclusive Lea, who helps them endure—and plot an escape. But as they will discover, the outside world has dangers too, especially for young women with soiled reputations.

Told with candor, compassion, and vivid historical detail, The Magdalen Girls is a masterfully written novel of life within the era’s notorious institutions—and an inspiring story of friendship, hope, and unyielding courage.

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The nuns convened near the doorway like a swarm of black flies. Some giggled with nervous anxiety. Some clutched the crucifix that hung by their side and stared at the three young women who lay supine before them.

Sister Anne, the Mother Superior, had arranged them in the manner of Golgotha, much like the crucifixion depicted in a Renaissance painting. A punishment should never leave a bruise or draw blood. To do so would defile the body and bring disgrace upon The Sisters of the Holy Redemption. No, it was better to make the penitents realize their mistake through the love of Christ.

No crimson, royal purples or azure blues adorned the three on the library floor. The composition was artfully arranged, the troublemaker with the most to regret, Teresa, pretty and blonde, taking the place of Jesus. Her head was above the other two girls to the left and right, her compatriots in sin. The afternoon sunlight filtered through the room, catching the motes that swam in the air like beaded jewels in the convent’s old library. Seeing the girls in their plain uniforms, their arms spread in supplication, their bodies as stiff as the boards they were supposed to be nailed upon, gave Sister Anne modest pleasure. She didn’t want to hurt them; she wanted them to realize how much pain they had brought to the Order. She couldn’t tolerate insubordination and vain camaraderie from those who had sinned. Rehabilitation and penance were never far from her mind, nor was love.

The nuns craned their necks through the doorway to get a better look. They had seen punishments before from Sister Anne, but this was a new twist. A few clucked in anticipation of the admonishment the three penitents deserved. The Mother Superior towered over them like the Holy Ghost and marveled at the thought of the love flowing through her to them.

Sister Anne crossed herself. “Penance.” She pronounced the word slowly, accenting the two syllables distinctly, but barely loud enough for the girls to hear. She lowered her tall, thin body and knelt above Teresa’s face.

The girl stared at the ceiling and then closed her eyes. Monica, the dark-haired one, to the right of Teresa, seethed with anger, her gaze full of hate. Lea, white and slender, to the left, was already in prayer. Sister Anne didn’t want to punish Lea because, of the three, she was the good girl. However, she had to break the bond between them.

“You know why you are here,” Sister Anne said. “Don’t speak. Just listen.” Her eyes flickered with irritation. “You have hurt us, damaged our Order with your words and deeds. You cannot defame the Lord, go against His will.” She wondered if the penitents were paying attention. Of the three, she judged Monica to be the most attentive, but that was only because she was angry. Why did these girls try her so?

“You will lie here, in the position of the Cross, until you learn your lesson,” the Mother Superior said. “You must understand what Jesus suffered. You will not eat, nor drink, nor soil yourself.” She rose to her feet. “When the evil has been removed from your spirit, you’ll be able to join us. I do this out of love, so you will know Christ and His ways.”

Teresa didn’t speak. Lea muttered silent prayer. Monica spat at the Mother Superior. The spittle fell on the hem of her habit. The nuns gasped. Sister Anne called for a towel. One of the obedient Sisters ran to her side and wiped away the offensive fluid.

“You have much to learn,” Sister Anne’s jaws clenched. She knelt by Monica’s extended arm and withdrew a straight pin from her sash. The girl’s eyes flashed in terror as the metallic sliver descended toward her palm.

Monica sat up. “Don’t you dare!”

The Mother Superior called to Sister Mary-Elizabeth, who came to her aid. “Hold her hands against the floor.”

Monica struggled, but the nun was as stout as the granite that made up the convent. She gave up, exhausted by her fight.

The Mother Superior ran the pin over Monica’s palms, tracing the outline of the cross with its sharp point. “If I hated you, I would drive this into your flesh to show you what Christ knew,” she said. “His persecutors reviled him. They wanted Him to suffer, and suffer He did. I don’t want you to die a sinner. I want you to be resurrected into heaven.” She clasped her crucifix. “Sister, stay with them. It’s almost time for prayers.”

The nuns in the doorway dispersed. Sister Mary-Elizabeth sat in a chair near the window and watched over her three charges. Sister Anne called out, “Remember what I told you. I love you.” She turned and disappeared down the hall, her heels clicking against the stone tiles.


The red rose pinned to Teagan Tiernan’s dress looked out of place. She fussed with the closed bud, avoiding the thorny stubs her mother had clipped off the stem, and repositioned it on her left shoulder. It hung there for a moment, giving off its soft fragrance, but then drooped above her breast. After an hour at Father Matthew’s, the rose would be as wilted as her perspiring body, and it wasn’t even three o’clock yet.

She was tempted to throw it on the bed with the sweater her mother wanted her to bring to the reception. There was no need for it on this unseasonably hot day.

Teagan thought of a million things she’d rather be doing on a Sunday afternoon than gathering at the parish house to welcome a new priest. She could be taking a spin on Cullen Kirby’s motorbike, or spending the afternoon with him at the River Liffey, enjoying the cool breeze off the water.

Her mother had picked out the white satin dress. Teagan protested, saying it made her look like a school girl, too immature for a sixteen-year-old, but her mother insisted it was appropriate for a church gathering.

“Come on, all of you, or we’ll be late.” Her father’s anxious footsteps echoed downstairs. His words were directed at Teagan, and at Shavon, her mother. “Me whiskey’s getting warm. The punch will be gone by the time we get there. When that crowd starts drinking it disappears fast.”

Teagan sighed. What did it matter? Her father always brought his own flask to social events, no matter the occasion. She grabbed her brush, swiped the bristles through her hair and glanced in the mirror over her dresser. She fluffed the hair behind her ears.

Outside, thick clouds drifted near the sun. Teagan squinted at the bright dot that hung like an incandescent bulb in the surrounding blue. If only she could to turn it off and extinguish the heat—but she had no more power over the sun than she did getting out of this meeting. She gathered her sweater from the bed and opened the door.

Her mother caught her by the arm in the hall. “Turn ‘round and let me take a look.”

Teagan swiveled on her low white heels and rolled her eyes.

“No exasperated looks,” her mother cautioned, while brushing imaginary lint from her daughter’s shoulders. She inspected her from head to toe. “You look like a princess, love. Your father will be proud.”

She wrested herself away from her mother. “I look like a fancy girl. Do I have to go? We went to mass this morning. I’d rather take a walk by the river.”

“No getting out of this one.” Her mother smoothed the lapels on her new dark suit. “And I know why you want to walk by the river. I imagine it has something to do with Cullen Kirby. He’ll just have to wait. Come on, now. It’s important to meet the new priest, and we don’t want to make your father mad.”

Teagan looked down at her dress. She would die of embarrassment if Cullen or any of her school friends saw her in it. It looked as if she was off to a formal dance. There was only one good thing about it—it showed off her breasts. They were too small, she felt, and the tight fabric lifted them into pointed cones that accented her slim figure.

She never felt she could compete with her mother, who always looked feminine, neat and composed, whether she was going to the market or off to play bridge. Today was no exception. The suit fitted her mother’s form perfectly, contrasting with her fair skin. Her mother had pulled her black hair into a tight bun at the base of the neck to accommodate her hat.

“For Christ’s sake!” Her father’s voice bleated up the stairs. “Do I have to come up there and drag you two to the car?”

They started down the steps, Teagan first, her mother following. Cormac stared up, turning his fedora in circles. He took out a handkerchief and swiped at the sweat beading on his forehead. “I’m sick of this heat wave. It’s hot as hell itself and now we’ll be late. I can understand my daughter having no respect for manners, the way children are these days, but you, Mother, should know better.” He wore a blue suit, a bit too heavy for the day; however, it was his favorite, the one he wore most to work and church.

Her mother looked sour. “There’ll be plenty of booze, don’t you worry. You’ll get your fill. Father Matthew makes sure it doesn’t run out. You could compliment your daughter.”

Cormac grunted, then ushered his wife and Teagan out of the house with an agitated wave. He locked the door. They followed him to the small space where their black sedan sat in front of the row house. The car windows were rolled up, the seats baking in the sun.

She climbed into the back, punched by the stifling heat. Her father seemed more than irritated by the hot day. She wondered if her mother and father were happy, but quickly brushed the thought aside. She was lucky to live on the south side of Dublin, away from the poverty and tenements of the north side. Ballsbridge didn’t suit her mother, however. She always lamented that they lived too close to Donnybrook and its working class neighborhoods.

She didn’t have much contact with the outside world. Her father forbade most everything that was fun. He was a bureaucrat, a pencil pusher, and although Teagan had an idea what he did as an aide at Leinster House, the parliament, she had never been to his office. She always pictured his as an exciting life, dealing with important people, but he constantly complained about the job and how little money he made. But the nuns at parochial school always told her to count her blessings. A tidy home, food on the table and a car awaited her, when many in Dublin had few luxuries.

The car jerked away from the curb and turned north toward St. Eusebius Church. It was only a five minute drive. The warm air streamed into the car, tugging at her hair. The elms lining the road provided patchy shade as they drove. Shavon fussed in the front seat, arranging her new pillbox hat, while her father lit a cigarette with a free hand.

“Shit!” Her father pounded the steering wheel as they neared the church. “We have to park a field away—and in this heat. That’s what we get for being late. Who the hell holds a reception in July?”

Teagan protected her hair with her hands and peered out the window. A row of vehicles, shimmering in the sun, lined the road. The church’s car park was already filled.

“Watch your language, Cormac,” Shavon said as they pulled curbside, a few blocks from the church. “Teagan, take your jumper.”

She scowled at her sweater. “It’s so hot. I’ll look like a dunce.”

“Hang it over your arm. A lady should carry it just in case. Manners you know.”

Cormac snickered. “Oh, let it stay in the car. Manners won’t get you into heaven.”

Her father rarely took her side, but in deference to her mother she would carry the sweater; after all, they had an understanding. It wasn’t that she hated her father, but, for as long as she could remember, she and her mother had forged a bond. They kept each other afloat when her father was drunk, or when he made strict demands that strained the household. She picked up the sweater and placed it over her arm.

Her stomach knotted as she stepped out of the car. She didn’t want to be here—few social situations with her parents were pleasant. She already knew how the afternoon would go. Her father would drink too much; her mother would criticize his drinking and throw disapproving looks his way. Teagan would have to make small talk with lots of people she hardly knew and really didn’t care about.

Too bad Cullen wasn’t Catholic. As a protestant, he wouldn’t be at this reception. Her parents didn’t approve of her boyfriend, but Teagan didn’t care. She saw him when she could, mostly on the sly. Cullen was her business and not her mother’s. If she could get through this excruciating gathering maybe she could call him. They might be able to go for that walk after all.

Two times at St. Eusebius in one day was enough—mass and now this. The parish church loomed in the distance like a granite prison. Teagan had always thought it didn’t have much going for it, except for the tall belfry tower. In the afternoon sun, the church seemed forbidding and hot.

Her father walked ahead of them, eager to get to the punchbowl. Teagan and her mother followed, fanning the heat away. He led them down a path on the north side of the church, through a garden sheltered by tall trees. Laughter spilled out of the open parish house door. Teagan took a deep breath before diving into the crowd. The room was so tightly packed she could barely move. Body heat washed over her like warm bathwater. Cormac waved to a group of men standing across the room and pushed his way to the drinks table. Her mother joined a group of ladies standing near the door.

Teagan spotted Father Matthew, the parish priest, standing near a table holding the punchbowl and several open wine bottles. A framed photograph of Pope John the XXIII hung above it. The Pope, attired in a white skull cap and crimson robes, smiled upon the festivities. Father Matthew’s face reddened as he joked with the parish men who lined up for drinks. Teagan heard her father ask for punch. After getting a glass, he shuffled off, keeping his back to the crowd. Teagan knew what he was doing. She saw his elbow bend after he reached into his pocket.

Cathy, a girl she knew from school, shouted from across the room. Teagan thought of her satin dress and blushed, but waved back and took a glass of punch for herself. She had started to make her way through the throng when a man in the center of the room caught her attention. He had to be the new priest. He was dressed like one, wearing the clerical collar, dark shirt and pants; but, unlike Father Matthew, he was handsome and young, with solid arms and shoulders like some of the athletic boys at school. The parish women, young and old alike, circled around him like birds pecking at feed.

The women hung on his every word. When he smiled, his cheeks folded into dimples. He laughed and swept back his wavy black hair with his fingers. His sky-blue eyes stopped Teagan in her tracks. Had she imagined it or had he looked at her with more than an expression of interest? A few women eyed her. One in particular, Mrs. O’Brian, seemed to be taking notes on the new priest.

But, he was watching her walk toward him. She hadn’t imagined it.

Mrs. O’Brian studied them both, her hawk-like eyes beaded into dots.

Teagan pushed into the inner circle, ignoring Cathy for the moment. The priest grinned as she snaked her way through the crowd. Was he smiling at her? A tingle washed over her body. She liked the feeling, particularly coming from so handsome a man. Something about him—she couldn’t put her finger on it—excited her. Was it the thrill of meeting someone important and new? Or was it his good looks? She stopped short of introducing herself, but stood close enough to hear him answer questions about his new duties. Someone accidentally nudged her from behind. Her arms broke out in gooseflesh as she brushed against the priest.

“Excuse me,” she said, without looking directly at him. “Someone pushed me.”

The priest’s eyes twinkled. He was no stranger to adoring crowds. “No apology necessary,” he said, and resumed his conversation with the others.

She broke free of the circle as embarrassment rose in her chest. Cathy grabbed her by the arm when she came within reach. “Isn’t he gorgeous,” she gushed. “You got close to him! What did he say to you?” Cathy pushed back her glasses so she could focus on the priest. “Father Mark,” she said languorously. “I’d love to share my confessions with him.”

Teagan scoffed. “You can hardly get to him for all the swooning women. All we need are the other Apostles—Father Luke and Father John—to complete the set.”

Laughter erupted from the corner where her father had joined his pals. He was probably on his second whiskey by now.

“I think Father Mark fancies you,” Cathy said. “I saw the way he was looking at you.” Her friend stared at her. “My, you look dolled up today.”

“My mother made me wear this dress—and carry my jumper.” Teagan sighed. “I told her it was ridiculous, but she wouldn’t listen. And you’re daft. Father Mark is old enough to be my Da—at least thirty.” Her shoulders drooped at the thought. “And even if he did fancy me, what future is there with a priest? None.” She was happy Cathy thought she was attractive enough to capture a look from Father Mark.

Cathy squinted at the young priest. “Maybe you could convince him to give up his vows of celibacy.”

“Don’t be silly.” Teagan fanned her face with her hand. “My God, it’s hot. I wish we could get air conditioning here like my Aunt Florence has in America. She tells my mother about all the luxuries they have in New York City.”

“Let’s go to the table and stand by the stairs,” Cathy said.


“Father Matthew has a wine cellar. I helped him and Father Mark bring up some bottles. It’s cooler by the steps.” They made their way to the table and the stairs that led below.

Her mother walked to the group of ladies gathered around Father Mark. In the corner, her father leaned on one of his friends, sharing the contents of the flask.

They had only been at the stairs a few minutes when Father Mark broke through the crowd and started toward them. Cathy nudged Teagan in the ribs. “Get ready. Here he comes.”

Teagan slapped her friend’s hand. “Quit it! I don’t want him to look at me.”

He stopped in front of them and extended his hand to her. “I’ve met Cathy, but we haven’t had the pleasure.” He had no Irish accent and Teagan wondered where he was from. She took his hand, warm to the touch, and shook it. A thrill shot through her and she pulled her fingers away. She stared at the priest. He filled out his clothes like no other priest she had met. A question popped into her head: Why would such a good looking man become a priest?

“It’s very hot and I’m looking for a particular bottle of wine,” he said. “I think a drop or two would do me good.”

“Teagan will help you,” Cathy offered.

She shot her friend the evil eye. “I’m sure Father Mark can manage by himself.”

“No, go ahead,” Cathy said.

“I don’t mind company,” the priest said, as he breezed by Cathy. He started down the stairs. Cathy shoved Teagan after him.

She scowled at her friend, grasped her sweater and clung to the wall as she felt her way down. It was like being a child again, she thought, struggling against the feeling that she was doing something forbidden by following this handsome man. He was so different from Cullen. His maturity and charm captivated her.

Father Mark disappeared for a few moments. A flash of light flooded the stairs. She saw the priest half way across the room standing under the glare of a naked bulb. The room smelled of must and generations of damp walls. Several dilapidated chairs sat in a corner near a writing desk with a broken leg. A large travel trunk with old books piled upon it filled another. Father Mark scrutinized the wine bottles laid out in a wooden rack against the wall.

He lifted one, read the label, and without looking back, asked, “What’s your name?”

“Teagan Tiernan.”

“A pretty name.” He turned and studied her. His blue eyes bored through her in the close quarters. “Your parents are parish members?”

“Yes. They have been for many years.” The intensity of his gaze made her nervous, but she found it hard to look away.

Something like sorrow flitted across the priest’s face and then vanished. He flipped the wine bottle in the air and caught it in his hand. “This is what I’m looking for. A nice claret. It’s almost a sin to drink it on so warm a day.” He reached for her with his free hand.

Teagan instinctively raised her sweater.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I wanted to look at the red rose on your dress. I love roses. They’re symbols of purity you know, especially white ones.”

She nodded and cupped her hand over the flower, which had flopped forward. The rose was close to her left breast, which the dress accentuated. Her nerves got the better of her. “Maybe we should go upstairs.”

Father Mark smiled. “In a minute. I’m tired of shaking hands and answering questions. Let me ask a few.” He leaned against the wine rack. “It’s awfully hot to be carrying a jumper.”

“My mother made me bring it. She thinks a young lady should always carry one no matter how hot it is.”

“Do you know anything about wine?”

Teagan shook her head.

“My Da drinks it once in a while, but he prefers whiskey.”

“Take a look.” Father Mark held out the bottle.

She placed her sweater over the books on the trunk, took the bottle and examined it. “It doesn’t mean much to me.” She handed the wine back to him.

Raucous voices and laughter poured down the stairs. She wondered if her mother might be looking for her. The thought of being alone with the priest made her stomach flutter, although she wasn’t doing anything wrong. So what if she was caught in the wine cellar with him? He didn’t seem to be too concerned about their meeting.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Ballsbridge, near Donnybrook,” she replied, and found herself embarrassed to say so.

“I’m from Dublin—northside,” he replied matter-of-factly.

“You don’t sound it.” she said. “At least not like any northsider I’ve ever heard.”

“I was educated in London. I worked very hard to get rid of my accent and speech patterns. I was ashamed of where I grew up….” He leaned against the wine rack.

She had only met a few people who lived north of the River Liffey, but she knew life was different there. “You shouldn’t be. You’ve done well for yourself.”

He tilted his head. “I’ve learned you can’t erase the past no matter how hard you try.” He looked at her with a softness she hadn’t expected.

She lowered her gaze.

“You have beautiful hair,” he said. “It’s almost blonde, special in Ireland.”

Teagan fought back a blush. “My grandmother on my mother’s side was German. I don’t remember her. She died shortly after I was born—”

“Teagan…Teagan?” Their conversation was interrupted by the slurred speech of her father. He called her name successively, each “Teagan” louder than the next.

“Well, it’s been a pleasure, Miss Tiernan. I suppose we better go up.” Father Mark pulled the string hanging from the lamp and the cellar plunged into darkness.

Her father’s calls came in violent outbursts, sending a shiver through her.

“Let me go up first.” He brushed past her, the wine bottle in his hand. Teagan followed. The priest stopped in front of her father, who stood surrounded by his friends.

Her father’s eyes shone red in a drunken rage. He reached past the priest and grabbed her arm. The room grew quiet.

“I’ve been lookin’ for yeh,” her father said, his words slurred. She knew he was angry when his accent burst forth from too much drink.

Her mother put a hand on his shoulder. “Stop it, Cormac. Don’t make a scene.”

“A scene? I was looking for me daughter.” He knocked her mother’s hand away and bellowed, “What’s to be done when you can’t find your own flesh and blood?”

Father Mark put the bottle on the table and extended his hand to Cormac, but the friendly gesture wasn’t returned. Her father glared at the priest.

Father Mark lowered his hand. “I’m afraid I’m to blame, Mr. Tiernan. I asked Teagan to read the titles on some of the holy books in the cellar. I’m not much good without my glasses.”

Her father shook as the priest smiled at him. He pointed a finger at Teagan. “She’s good at reading, but slow at other things, such as learnin’ about life.”

“Da, please,” Teagan said. She used the only term of affection she knew that might cool her father’s anger.

“Yes, daughter, please your ‘Da.’” He spit out the words and then slumped against the table.

Father Mark caught him before he could knock over the punch bowl and the wine.

“Get your hands—” Her father shook the priest off and grabbed the edge of the table. Father Mark backed away.

Shavon clutched her purse and stared at her husband. “I think we should go.”

“It’s been a pleasure to meet you,” the young priest said to her mother. Father Matthew, who had been entertaining a group of older parishioners across the room, walked with wide eyes toward the new priest.

“Yes, let’s go,” her father said. “But not before I’ve had another spot of whiskey.” He held up his thumb and forefinger in a pinch.

Father Matthew’s cheeks turned a bright red. “I think you’ve had enough for one afternoon, Cormac.”

“All right, then.” He hiccupped and his feet shifted unsteadily beneath him.

“I’m sorry,” Teagan whispered to Father Mark. “Sometimes he drinks too much.”

“No, I must apologize,” he replied. “Get home safely.”

Her father muttered incoherently and leaned on her mother as they trudged toward the door.

Her mother offered to drive, but her father would have none of it, declaring that he was “sober as a church during mass.” The ride home was quiet except for a sniffle now and then from Teagan’s mother. Every time she blew her nose, her father pounded the steering wheel with his fist. He did seem remarkably sober despite the number of drinks he’d had. She had heard one of her friends talk about “functioning drunks.” He was one, on many occasions.

When they arrived home, her father exploded. “How dare you embarrass us like that—disappearing with a priest! In the name of all that is holy, what were you thinking?” He swaggered, red-faced and sputtering, toward her. The sour whiskey smell on his breath burned her nostrils and she wished she were anywhere but home. Why couldn’t she be with Cullen walking along the river? Her father was so angry she felt as if she would never get out of the house again.

His hand came up, as if he was going to strike her. He had spanked her when she was a child, but had never threatened anything as brutal as a slap.

Her mother shivered on the couch.

“It wasn’t my fault, Da,” Teagan pleaded. “It was like Father Mark said.” But she knew the priest had lied about the holy books and wondered why. Perhaps he didn’t want her father to know they had gone to the cellar to pick out wine; after all, she wasn’t old enough to drink. She suspected he was covering for her so she wouldn’t get in trouble.

Her father leaned toward her, the saliva from his angry words splashing across her cheek. “Don’t lie to me. I know what you were thinking. Your slutty behavior will get you into trouble, mark my words. Do you hear me?”

She nodded her head in shame and tears welled in her eyes. “I didn’t do anything wrong. Ma, tell him!”

He raised his hand again.

Her mother screamed. “Stop!”

The shrill sound startled her father. Teagan raced up the stairs to her bedroom.

“And don’t come down until you can apologize,” he shouted after her. “For Christ’s sake, me own daughter tempting a man of God.”

She collapsed on her bed, crushed a pillow against her and cried until she gasped for breath. The room, hot from the sun, swam around her. She hadn’t done anything but be nice to a priest. What was so wrong about that? She threw the pillow across the room, sat up and looked out the window. If only she were with Cullen, instead of banished to her room. The floral curtains barely moved in the heat.

After about an hour of thinking about what she should do, she decided an apology to her father was in order—not because she was wrong, but to keep peace in the family. To give in was easier than fighting. His drinking seemed to be getting worse each year, his thinking more irrational under the influence of alcohol. She knew how much there was to lose. A few vague memories came back to her—ones she didn’t care to remember—shouting matches that ended with her mother in tears. She had been aware of it when she was young, but had managed to shove the hurt aside. Her mother had never been able to stand up to her father when he was drunk. At least today she had screamed rather than sit like a lump on the couch. Her mother was as frightened as she was that a confrontation might tear the family apart.

She also thought about Father Mark. Was he thinking about her?

She got up and looked in the mirror. Her eyes were red and puffy, her coiffed hair a frazzled mess. The rose had withered, the stem broken. She reached behind her neck to unclasp the hooks of her white dress and then sank again on the bed. Her jumper! She had left it in Father Matthew’s cellar. Her mother would be furious about her carelessness, not to mention the expense of replacing it. How could she get it back? She’d have to ask Father Mark to return it, and that would require a phone call. She would have to be cautious about approaching the priest. But she wanted to see him again, if only to find out why he lied to her father. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

The book is set in Dublin in 1962. What political, cultural and musical changes occurring at that time would have affected the characters?

How does Teagan Tiernan’s relationship with her parents affect the outcome of the story?

Do you think Father Mark should have entered the priesthood considering his background and thoughts about Teagan?

Do you think Teagan left her sweater in the parish house basement on purpose?

How would you describe the differences in home life between Teagan and Nora Craven?

Why would Sister Anne base her punishment of the Magdalens on “love?”

Each of the nuns portrayed in the book has a different set of characteristics. Which one did you find to be most sympathetic to the Magdalens? Besides Sister Anne, which was least sympathetic?

Why do you think Nora’s and Teagan’s escapes from the laundries were doomed to failure?

Father Mark tries to make amends with Teagan. Do you think his apology and offer went far enough?

Teagan leaves Ireland with her Aunt Florence. What do you see in her future?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

“Filled with authentic details… Alexander methodically builds the details of the dreary and demanding existence that has become daily life for these girls who had dreams and ambitions like other 16-year-olds. As the girls' friendship progresses and their desperation to escape grows, the story quickens, racing toward an ending that is both incredibly sad and hopeful. Because the novel is historically accurate (the last Magdalen laundry closed in 1996), the events depicted are particularly distressing, forcing readers to be engrossed and horrified by what the Catholic Church and other secular and religious entities did to rehabilitate "fallen" women, who needed the grace of God to be saved from their sinful lives, no matter how true or untrue.” – Shelf Awareness

“Using the pen name Alexander, author Michael Meeske has clearly done his homework. Chilling in its realism, his work depicts the improprieties long abandoned by the Catholic Church and only recently acknowledged. Fans of the book and film Philomena will want to read this.” – Library Journal

“Set in early 1960s Dublin, Alexander’s first novel chronicles the lives of three teenagers who are sent to live indefinitely as penitents under the watch of occasionally sadistic Catholic Nuns…The Magdalen laundries where Teagan works were infamous for their severe conditions and the inhuman way their girls were treated.” - Publishers Weekly

"A haunting novel that takes the reader into the cruel world of Ireland’s Magdalene laundries and shines a light on yet another notorious institution that somehow survived into the late twentieth century. A real page-turner!” – Ellen Marie Wiseman, author of What She Left Behind

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by pegt57 (see profile) 02/08/20

  "Boring"by [email protected] (see profile) 05/09/17

Most of the club members found this book informative but boring. A catholic member of the group found the subject matter offensive by using a catholic nunnery as an example but stating at the end of... (read more)

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