HomeEntertainmentCillian Murphy says Magdalene Laundries remains ‘collective trauma’ still being dealt with...

Cillian Murphy says Magdalene Laundries remains ‘collective trauma’ still being dealt with by Irish public


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The Oscar and Bafta nominee, 47, is starring in Small Things Like These, based on Irish writer Claire Keegan’s Booker-shortlisted novel of the same name, which explores a father finding out how mothers and babies are being treated by a convent in New Ross, County Wexford.

The Cork man, also known for crime period drama Peaky Blinders and epic Christopher Nolan-directed Oppenheimer, attended a press conference for the new film at the 74th Berlin International Film Festival on Thursday.

When asked how he thinks Ireland is still grappling with the shame of a time – when women say they were detained by the Catholic Church against their will and forced to give up their children – he said: “I don’t know if I’m qualified enough to… speak for the nation, really.

“But I do think that it was a collective trauma, particularly for people of a certain age, and I think that we’re still processing that.

“And I also think that art can be a really useful band for that wound and I think the book certainly was, and it was a huge seller in Ireland, it seemed like everybody read it.

“And I think, the sort of irony of the book is that it’s a Christian man trying to do a Christian act in a dysfunctional Christian society.

“And it asked a lot of questions about complicity and silence and shame and all of those things.

“But I really don’t think the duty of art is to answer those questions (but) is to kind of provoke them, and maybe it’s kind of easier to absorb than an academic report, or a government report.”

Murphy, who plays Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, who in December 1985 discovers the secrets of his local community, has been vocal in the past about women’s issues in Ireland.

The Cork-born actor has previously backed the repeal of the Irish constitution’s eighth amendment ahead of the 2018 referendum, where the public voted yes to changes making abortion legal.

He also narrated a podcast series about the survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby homes in 2020 and is listed as a patron of the Unesco Child and Family Research Centre at the University of Galway, who have run projects on the issue.

Producer and Hollywood star Matt Damon also told the press conference that it was a “very easy decision” for him and Ben Affleck’s production company Artists Equity to make the Keegan adaptation.

He said: “Just to echo what Cillian said, that was one of the one of the things that attracted us to it, were these great artists grappling with… this trauma.

“And so I mean, for us, just as you know, on on our side of it, it was a very easy proposition. It was about facilitating an environment where they could do this, work and explore these things, and really getting out of their way.”

Damon and Murphy previously starred together in 2023’s Oppenheimer, which explores the rise and downfall of the so-called father of the atomic bomb, J Robert Oppenheimer.

The cast of Small Things Like These reportedly also includes Belfast-born Ciaran Hinds, English actress and Angela’s Ashes star Emily Watson, Northern Ireland actress and Game Of Thrones star Michelle Fairley, and The Magdalene Sisters star and Cork actress Eileen Walsh.

Since the 18th Century, nuns operated laundries across Ireland until the final institution in Sean McDermott Street in Dublin closed in 1996.

Originally aimed at “fallen women”, the laundries’ use was expanded during the 20th century to also include women who had not been pregnant or had entered from children’s homes.

The Irish institutions became notorious for the abuse many women suffered there, with unmarked graves being discovered at one site in the 1990s. The issue prompted a formal state apology in 2013.

The Good Shepherd Magdalene Laundry in New Ross closed its doors in 1967 and a memorial for the women has been placed near the area at St Stephen’s Cemetery, Irishtown, according to Justice for Magdalenes Research organisation.

The subject was previously examined on the big screen in 2002, with Peter Mullan’s award-winning The Magdalene Sisters.

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