Magdalene asylums were institutions in 19th- and 20th-century Ireland for so-called "fallen women", a euphemism for women who became pregnant outside of wedlock
, but often young women were simply put in the institutions because of spurious reasons. Asylums for "fallen women" operated throughout Europe, Britain, Ireland, Canada and the United States for much of the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century.

The first asylum in Ireland opened on Leeson Street in Dublin in 1767, founded by Lady Arabella Denny. In Belfast there was a Church of Ireland run Ulster Magdalene Asylum (founded in 1839) on Donegall Pass, while parallel institutions were run by Catholics on Ormeau Road and Presbyterians on Whitehall Parade.

The Magdalene movement in Ireland was quickly appropriated by the Catholic Church, and the homes, which were initially intended to be short-term refuges, increasingly turned into long-term institutions. Penitents were required to work, primarily in laundries since the facilities were self-supporting and not funded by the Catholic Church.

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