Although the practice of strip searching of female prisoners in Northern Ireland was used in the1970s, it reached its height in Armagh Jail between 1980 and 1986. Based on in-depth interviews and extensive archival research, the article brings together two different perspectives on strip-searching. It first examines the personal narratives of strip searching by republican women, who interpreted the practice as a violation of the female body, a form of systematic oppression, and a ‘gendered weapon’ deliberately used to demoralise and humiliate republican women, and by extension, the wider republican and nationalist community. The article explores how republican women gained an unlikely advocate in denouncing strip searching and the State in the form of some members of the Irish Catholic Church. While the Irish Catholic Church had regularly condemned republican violence, some within the Church viewed strip searching as a moral issue and a clear violation of basic human rights. The article demonstrates how more radical, nationalist members of the Catholic clergy and hierarchy walked a fine line between taking a pastoral concern for their parishioners and making political statements against the British government, leading to questions about the Catholic Church and its role in the Northern Irish conflict.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors would like to thank Alison Garden, Andrew Harrison, and Tim White for their feedback on earlier drafts of this article, in addition to the insightful feedback of the two anonymous reviewers and WHR deputy editor, Carmen Mangion. Furthermore, the authors would like to acknowledge the Irish Research Council for generously funding their respective postdoctoral fellowships.
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- strip searching
- Catholic Church
- Republican Women
- Northern Ireland
- the ‘Troubles’