A Blot on Ireland’s Past, Facing Demolition

New York Times

January 15, 2018

Leer en español: Irlanda se pregunta si es mejor borrar el pasado o conmemorarlo

By Ed O’Loughlinjan

[See also Gary Gannon, The Last Laundry, Broadsheet (10/25/17). The literature on the Magdalene Laundries is voluminous. Among the online resources:
Justice for Magdalenes Research
• Irish Human Rights Commission, Assessment of the Human Rights Issues Arising in Relation to the “Magdalen Laundries” (11/2010)
• Maeve O’Rourke, Submission to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, 46th Session, prepared by Justice for Magdalenes (5/2011)
State involvement in the Magdalene Laundries (Justice for Magdalenes’ principal submissions to the Inter-departmental Committee; submitted 9/18/2012; released in this redacted form 2/16/13)
• Senator Martin McAlese et al., Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries (2/5/2013)
• Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Statement before the Dáil on the McAleese Report (2/19/13; see also the video)
• Justice John Quirke, The Magdalen Commission Report (dated 5/2013; released 6/26/2013)
Restorative Justice Scheme (6/26/2013)
• Irish Human Rights Commission, Submission to the UN Human Rights Committee (6/2014)
• United Nations, Committee Against Torture, Concluding observations on the second periodic report of Ireland (8/10/2017)
• Peter Tyndall, Opportunity Lost, an investigation by the Ombudsman into the administration of the Magdalen Restorative Justice Scheme (11/23/2017)]

The General Post Office in Dublin, center of the 1916 rebellion against British rule, is today a shrine to Irish freedom. Three blocks to the east, on a quiet, run-down side street, stands a monument to a very different side of Irish history — though maybe not for long.

The old Gloucester Street laundry, the last of Ireland’s infamous Magdalene Laundries to shut its doors, will soon be demolished and replaced by a budget hotel and a student residence — if the City Council has its way.

Founded in the 19th century, the Gloucester Street laundry was one of around a dozen such businesses run by Roman Catholic nuns and staffed by unpaid inmates — mostly orphan girls or young women who had become pregnant outside marriage or whose families could not or would not support them — who were given to the nuns to hide them away.

Owned most recently by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, the Gloucester Street laundry usually had around 100 workers at any one time. It took in its last new inmate — transferred from a psychiatric hospital — as recently as 1995, then closed the following year.

The Magdalene women endured many of the same hardships as the inmates of the brutal church-run “industrial schools” for delinquent or unwanted children, and the “mother and baby homes,” where unmarried pregnant women were warehoused until their children were born (and then often taken for adoption). Poor nutrition and hygiene, cold and damp lodgings and little or no medical supervision were the norm.

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