In case you're wondering what these women are fighting for, here's an article I wrote for Disinformation back in 2006.
It took a chance discovery to set in motion the chain of events that led to the unravelling of the mystery of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries.
In 1993 a mass grave was discovered in the grounds of a Catholic nunnery in the north of Dublin. The grave was found on land that The Good Shepherd nuns from High Park Convent had sold to a developer, to build the kind of brash new development that has characterised Ireland’s economic miracle during the past 15 years. At first it was thought that there were 133 bodies. They were all female.
Extraordinarily, even though most of these women had died as recently as the 1960s and 1970s, the nuns were unable to name 45 of them, or to provide death certificates for 80. Since the nineteenth century, it’s been illegal in Ireland not to register any death that occurs on your premises, but even so the Irish government did nothing. Nor was any investigation made. Instead, the Department of the Environment quickly granted the nuns an exhumation certificate so that the bodies could be removed and the building work could go on. No action was taken, even when the grave was exhumation was carried out and a further 22 bodies were found. It was a flagrant avoidance of the legal requirements, but no more than typical in a country where until very recently the Roman Catholic Church had been at least as powerful as the state.
However, while the Church may have escaped the law, history at least was catching up with it. When it became known that the bodies had been discovered, Dublin families streamed to the convent hoping to identify long-lost daughters, sisters and mothers. Their personal tragedy soon became a public scandal as the press began to wander aloud about what had happened to all those women – and why. The answers to their questions were shocking. A country already reeling from the revelation that up to a quarter of its population had been physically and sexually abused by members of the Roman Catholic priesthood now had to contend with yet another dark secret.
The back-story and purpose of the Magdalene Laundries at least was fairly easily discovered1. Taking their name from the biblical figure Mary Magdalene (who was supposed to have been a prostitute turned penitent in Christian mythology), they were first established as a refuge for “fallen women”, intended to take prostitutes from the streets and to “reform” them using the twin persuasions of hard work and religious instruction.
Originally, these holy washhouses hadn’t just been an Irish phenomenon. Indeed, the first was built in France by the Catholic order of The Sisters Of Our Lady Of Charity of the Good Shepherd of Angers (known more simply as “The Good Shepherds”) in 1641. That was more than 100 years before the first Irish institution, the Dublin Magdalene Asylum, opened in1767 (some ten years after a similar building had opened in London). Other institutions were built all over Europe and the United States.
Nor were the laundries an exclusively Roman Catholic. Protestant orders ran almost as many of the institutions in the early years of the nineteenth century as Catholic. However, there were crucial theological differences and these started to affect the running of the asylums as time wore on.
Because of the Catholic belief in grace and the need to be in a state free from sin before death, the two orders of nuns who controlled the institutions in Ireland - The Good Shepherds and The Sisters Of Mercy - began to steer a new course. It became less and less of a priority to reform the “penitents” (as the women were branded) or to send them back out into the world. After all, the best way to keep them away from temptation and the presence of sin was to keep them under the careful supervision of the nuns in the laundries.2
Further inducement to keep the women prisoners for life came as the laundries grew increasingly profitable. The fact that they were functioning washhouses was no accident. The women were told that they were literally washing away the stain of their “sins” – as well as, usefully enough, earning money to provide for their own upkeep and for the enrichment of the convents that presided over them. The longer that women stayed in the institutions – any youthful independent spirit broken by a life of drudgery – the more useful they generally became as workers.
This money-making potential of the laundries, when combined with the peculiarly anti-sex zeal of their Catholic managers, also encouraged mission creep. At first the nuns had only housed prostitutes, but they began to expand their remit, taking charge of many other kinds of women who they labelled as “fallen”. In this task they could count on the easy compliance of the local population whose fiercely traditional brand of local Catholicism was quick to see sin and eager to condemn it and sex outside of marriage was seen in the same category as murder as a “mortal sin”.
Victims of rape and incest were sent to the laundries, as were women who had children out of wedlock (and there were plenty of those since the Church had banned sex education as well as contraception). Even virgins were taken in; “pretty” girls denied their freedom on the basis that they had the potential to be “temptresses” or, most absurdly of all, because of a “love of dress”. 3
Attempts have been made to justify the Magdalene Laundries on the grounds that they were symptomatic of their times. The desire to reform prostitutes in the 19th century was a common one, and the nuns did at least provide the women a place to live and a shelter from the frequent horrors of the streets during the period.
However, even in the late 1800s, the hypocrisy inherent in the system was easy to see. No one ever suggested, for instance, that the love of dress displayed by female members of the British Royal family (who then had sovereignty over Ireland) was sinful. Fortunately, as time went on, most of the world realised that the laundries were out of step– and most were closed down.
The sad exception was Ireland. There, in the 1920s, under De Valera’s newly independent Roman Catholic dominated government, the Magdalene asylums actually began to expand. They continued to take in women up until the 1970s. So, while the rest of the developed world was celebrating the Summer Of Love, women in Ireland were having their freedom taken away for looking too pretty.
This very existence of Magdalene Laundries within living memory is unsettling enough. Many people in Ireland even were shocked to hear that they existed. Certainly, the majority of people I’ve spoken to who weren’t involved with the laundries tell me that they didn’t know anything about them until the scandal broke in the 1990s.
Other writers, however, have argued persuasively that more people were aware of the institutions existence than like to admit it now. Dr Frances Finnegan, the author of the first major history of the Magdalene Asylums, Do Penance Or Perish, states explicitly that “the idea that society is blameless – that the Magdalene Asylums were so shrouded in secrecy that the public was unaware of what was taking place – is a myth.”4 She says that the phrase “be Good or I’ll send you to the laundries” was common threat to badly behaved children. Furthermore while many of the families who did send their daughters away claimed that the girls had “emigrated”, the truth can’t have been hard to work out.
Whether people knew about the laundries before the scandal broke or not, what is beyond doubt is the fact that the revelation of went on inside the buildings horrified Irish society – not to mention the world. They were in short, and in the words of so many survivors, “hell on earth”.
Discovering this inside story was a slow process. By the time the story hit the news in 1993 with the discovery of the mass grave at High Park, most of the women who had been through the Laundries were old and frail. Few were able to properly express themselves anyway - one of the most upsetting consequences of their life inside the Magdalene Asylums was that they had received very little education. Most importantly, they were afraid: afraid of the stigma attached to publicly declaring themselves to have been “fallen women”, afraid of the continuing power of the church in their communities (or indeed, afraid of the nuns, since they still housed many of the women). Also, thanks to years of religious indoctrination, they were afraid of the consequences in the next life of criticising the church.
“The shame of being a Magdalene still runs so deep in Ireland nobody would [talk],” explained Steve Humphries, the maker of the documentary Sex In A Cold Climate, and the man who perhaps did the most to eventually uncover the story. His film, first shown in British television in 1998, was instrumental in finally changing the atmosphere sufficiently so that some women felt able to tell their stories.
Humphries was so successful because he managed to track down four women who had escaped the Laundries and since fled to the UK. Their testimony is devastating.
One of these women, Martha Cooney, was put away by the local priest and her family after she’d complained to a cousin that she’d been raped. “They got rid of me very quickly,” she said. She’d broken a cardinal rule, as she discovered to her cost: “the biggest sin in Ireland was to talk.” She was made to work so hard in the laundries that she got varicose veins in her hands aged just 15. If she ever did anything the nuns perceived as wrong, she was made to bow down before them and beg for forgiveness. She spent 4 years inside an asylum until a family member came and rescued her in 1945. She has never felt able to marry. “I never wanted anybody to have power over me, or chain me ever again,” she explains.
Phyllis Valentine, an orphan, was judged a danger because of her good looks, and transferred direct from her orphanage to an asylum. It was years before she found out that this was the reason for her detainment. She recalls punishments and girls being “punched” “slapped” and beaten with a leather belt. “They were very vicious, some of them nuns,” she says. “They were really cruel to us. And we never did anything wrong.” In 1964 after 8 years incarceration at the Sisters Of Mercy asylum in Galway, and months of determined rebellion, self-starvation and trouble-making the nuns found her so much of a handful that she was released. She married at 25, but her sex life was ruined from an overhanging conviction that the act was “wrong,” a hang up from the laundry. “I felt ashamed every time he touched me,” she says. The nuns had taught us that it was wrong to let a man touch you. They never prepared us for the outside world.
Christiana Mulcahey went to the same Galway asylum ten years before Phyllis Valentine. Her perceived crime was to have given birth outside of wedlock. She agreed to talk to the program makers only because a recent diagnosis of terminal cancer had freed her from any consequences. Like many other Magdalenes, she had been forcibly separated from her baby while still breast-feeding. She was informed that the baby would be placed for adoption with a "good Catholic family" (many hundreds of babies were sent over to Catholic families in the United States, who were almost entirely ignorant of their original circumstances). When she arrived in the Asylum, she still had milk in her breasts. She went, in her words, “absolutely berserk” when she discovered one day that her baby had been adopted.
Phyllis Valentine explains that there was nothing unusual about Mulcahey’s story. It happened often and it was always heartbreaking. The mothers, she says, were “desperate to find out where their children were—absolutely desperate.” But they rarely did. “It was really very sad, but all the girl could do was to cry. There was nothing else to do but cry.”
The worst of it all was that Mulcahey had been hoping that she could still have a life with the baby’s father. “I lost out on him,” she says. “I would have married him. I loved him." During her time inside, a priest sexually abused her. After three years in the asylum she became one of the few people who successfully escaped, slipping out a side gate when a cowherd was taking cows into the asylum. She fled to Northern Ireland and became a nurse. She never saw her lover again, although she was finally reunited with her baby shortly before her death in 1997, having kept his existence a secret from the new family she started for more than 50 years.
The fourth woman to talk to Humphries, Brigid Young, managed to avoid entering a laundry directly, but not its influence. She grew up in an orphanage attached to the Magdalene Asylum in Limerick. One say “just for talking to a Magdalene” (she had spoken to a “penitent” at the laundry door and agreed to help her see her baby, who was in the orphanage with her), she was given “a severe beating.” The Mother Superior of the convent beat her with a purpose made black rubber baton and forcibly cut her hair off. Afterwards, she forced Brigid to look in a mirror, in spite of the blood flowing into her eyes. “I’ll never forget what looked back at me,” she says. “Totally devastating. My face all swelled up. Under my chin, all cut up where she had stuck the scissors...” The Mother Superior was triumphant. “And you’re not so pretty now!” she is said to have exclaimed. Later, when a priest masturbated on her dress, Young was so afraid of being sent to the Magdalene asylum that she told no one. In 1956 she left the nuns’ charge. Her later marriage collapsed as a result of the abuse she had suffered. “It haunts you,” she says.
Alongside these stories of personal tragedy, Sex In A Cold Climate also helped to build up an image of everyday life inside the Magdalene Laundries – an image that gradually became clearer as more people started talking to the press in the documentary’s wake.
As well as denying them their freedom, the nuns took away the women’s right to their very individuality. When they arrived their clothes were taken away and replaced with drab, heavy Victorian smocks (even in the latter half of the twentieth century) made from course material. They were also given new names (generally taken from Catholic saints, although some, bizarrely, were given masculine titles). This renaming of the girls had the incidental effect of making it harder for their families to track them down – especially because they were frequently moved without anyone being informed. Since a request from a family member was just about the only recognized way of getting out of the asylums, these measures often resulted in the girls being prisoner for life – with no trial, no judgment and often not understanding what they were supposed to have done wrong.
Strictly speaking, according to Irish law, the nuns had no legal right to imprison their charges. Women were supposed to have entered the asylums voluntarily, but most were sent to them by priests, their families or directly from Industrial Schools (where they were supposed to have been under the protection of the Church and so kept away from the kind of “sin” they were being punished for in the laundries). Even a report commissioned by the Irish government, the 1970 Kennedy report, questioned the validity of the “voluntary” placements and noted that girls were kept unaware of their true rights.
Escape, meanwhile, was extremely difficult. The residents were kept inside high walls (more than 20ft in many of the institutions), topped with glass and barbed wire. If they did manage to get outside, the girls were often forcibly returned to the asylums by the local police. And even if they did get back to their homes, they were generally rejected and then returned by outraged family members. The only real escape came in leaving Ireland completely.
“I would rather have been down the women’s jail,” Mary Norris (one of the survivors who came forward after the scandal broke) told the Irish Independent. “At least I would have got a sentence and would know when I was leaving.”
Meals were eaten wordlessly to the sound of biblical readings, the “penitents” stationed away from the Sisters, whose food was invariably better.
Until the 1970s, the women, regardless of age, were referred to as “children”. They had to call the nuns “mother”. A priest writing in 1931 neatly summed up the contempt inherent in this patronizing relationship:
"It may be only a white-veiled novice with no vows as yet; and it may be an old white-haired penitent giving back to God but the dregs of a life spent in sin. It matters not. In the Home of the Good Shepherd the one is ever the 'Mother' while the other is always the 'Child'."5
This quote further highlights one of the greatest tragedies of the whole system: the way the women were indoctrinated with the idea that they were “sinners” and “penitents”. They were taught that they were outcasts, that their natural desires were disgusting and that any sexual abuse they might have suffered was their own fault. The hardship of their lives was said to be no more than they deserved. They were also told that if they tried to leave the asylums they were literally taking the road to hell. Indeed, if they wanted to avoid the fiery Catholic underworld the best course of action was to debase themselves completely, obey the nuns in everything and pray for their souls constantly. They also had to – quite literally in some cases – work themselves to the bone.
“You’d have to hand wash—scrub,” Josephine McCarthy - who was in a Magdalene Asylum in the 1960s - explained to the makers of a documentary for CBS in 1999. “You’d have no knuckles left. Ironing—you would be burnt. It was just hard work.”
It was a real slog, with hours of scrubbing (often of bloody sheets - and worse - from the hospitals that made up a large part of the laundries’ custom), hours of hanging and hours ironing (work which gave Martha Cooney varicose veins aged 15). The days were strictly time-tabled with several hours of prayer on top of around 10 hours physical work in the washing rooms, six days a week.6 For most of the day the women were forbidden to speak or even communicate with each other. Nuns were stationed around the work areas to watch for any transgressions. Punishments were frequent and, by all accounts, brutal.
“Those places were the Irish gulags for women,” said Mary Norris. “When you went inside their doors you left behind your dignity, identity and humanity. We were locked up, had no outside contacts and got no wages although we worked 10 hours a day, six days a week, 52 weeks a year. What else is that but slavery? And to think that they were doing all this in the name of a loving God! I used to tell God I hated him.”
Phyllis Valentine too recalled how she had asked to be paid after her first week in the laundry. “They just laughed at me,” she said.
This failure to pay the women for their labours is thrown into stark relief by the huge profits that the Asylums used to make. The accounts of the Sunday’s Well Good Shepherd asylum in Cork alone show that the laundry was making a profit of hundreds of thousands of dollars in today’s money each year between the 1950s and 1960s7. The books also show that nearly all this money was spent on the nuns, and their increasingly fancy internal chapel, rather than on their imprisoned work force. The Laundries only stopped making such vast profits from the 1970s onwards, thanks to the advent of cheaply available automatic washing machines and driers. Indeed, many commentators, not to mention survivors, have attributed the Magdalene Asylums’ eventual decline to the arrival of the washing machine. It was money that closed them down, rather than to any ideological objections to their existence, or any realisation of their injustice on the part of the nuns.
In spite of the horror of the revelations about life inside the Catholic Church’s Magdalene Laundries, next to nothing was said or done by the Vatican. At first, there wasn’t even an apology. Journalists hunting for comment were met with silence. Only Ireland’s outspoken liberal prelate Bishop Willie Walsh of Killaloe publicly recognized the wrong that had been done, telling ABC News “the Magdalene Laundries were in some instances a form of slavery … a source of pain and shame.”
Even now, if you look on the huge online Catholic Encyclopedia the only reference to anything that might have been awry in the Magdalene Asylums is the comment “this order is no longer in existence.”8 My own attempts to get a statement from the Vatican or the Conference of Religious in Ireland (the umbrella organization for all monastic orders in the country) came to nothing.
The Vatican was moved to speak, however, in 2003 when the director Peter Mullan released The Magdalene Sisters. This film, inspired by the documentary Sex In A Cold Climate, and made in consultation with a number of survivors, as well as a former nun (who had left the Church in dismay at what she saw in the Laundries), provided a predictably harrowing depiction of the life its young subjects had to endure. It won the best film award at the Venice Film Festival and was watched by a third of the Irish adult population. The Roman Catholic Church was unable to ignore it, so they denounced it. The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano declared it an “angry and rancorous provocation” that misrepresented religious leaders. The Catholic League in America labeled the film “anti-Catholic propaganda” and barracked Miramax for distributing it. Elsewhere, the old canard was reeled out that the film was biased because it didn’t do anything to promote the good work that the Catholic clergy do around the world.
One scene in particular, where a group of nuns mock their charges’ naked bodies, was heavily criticized as exploitation. In fact, the filmmakers and many survivors were adamant that if anything, the film understated the reality. In The Magdalene Sisters, the nude parade is presented as a one off, but according to many survivors, that kind of thing happened to them weekly. Every Saturday night, according to Brigid Young, who also recalls how the nuns mocked the girls lined up before them, laughed at them for being fat and shouted abuse at them. “They enjoyed us stripped naked,” she adds.
In fact, if the survivors themselves had any criticisms of the film it was the extent to which the reality of their lives had to be watered down to make it bearable for cinema audiences.
"Plenty of people will think the events in the film have been exaggerated to make it more dramatic," Mary Norris explained to the Irish Independent. "But I tell you, the reality of those places was a thousand times worse. There's a scene in which a girl is crying in the dormitory and another goes over to her bed to comfort her. That could never have happened. You weren't allowed any private conversation. Again, in the film the girls get glimpses of the outside world and even ordinary people who don't live in the laundries. In reality, we were totally incarcerated. You could see nothing except sky.”
Meanwhile, Mary-Jo McDonagh, who spent five years in a Magdalene asylum in Galway (after being molested by a neighbour) told The Guardian: "It was worse in the Magdalenes, much worse than what you see. I don't like to say it, but the film is soft on the nuns. "
Director Peter Mullan openly admits that he left out some of the most harrowing material for the sake of the audience, and tells the story of how one 65-year-old woman said to him: “It’s not nearly bad enough. You didn’t show it as it really was. We were only babies. It was a lot worse. It was horrendous.”
In the aftermath of the film The Magdalene Sisters, the survivors did at least get something of an apology, not from the Vatican or the perpetrators themselves, but better than nothing. It came from the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – the US branch of the organisation that ran the asylums in Ireland not run by the Good Shepherds. “It's not proper to hide from anything," said a spokeswoman for the organisation. "We're all human, we've all made mistakes. We do reach out and apologize to anyone who may have been abused at the hands of our sisters, or any sisters."
For a while it even seemed as if the remaining survivors were going to get some compensation for their years of slave labour. In 2002, following on from the numerous Catholic sexual abuse scandals that emerged in Ireland in the 1990s (including the exposure of the systematic mistreatment of thousands of children in the country’s Catholic-run Industrial Schools and hundreds of cases of priestly paedophilia as well as the stories from the Magdalene Laundries) an independent Redress Board was set up with the stated intention to: “make fair and reasonable awards to persons who, as children, were abused while resident in industrial schools, reformatories and other institutions subject to state regulation or inspection.”
Surprisingly, however, very few of the Magdalene survivors fell within the ambit of this board (the main exceptions being those who were transferred direct from the Industrial Schools).
“They were completely ignored,” explains Mari Steed, a spokeswoman for the Justice For Magdalenes group, whose own biological mother spent a number of years in the Sunday’s Well asylum in Cork. “Basically, in 2002, it came down to a decision from a chief justice [The Honourable Mr. Justice Sean Ryan] who determined that the Magdalene women were, in fact women” – i.e., they were too old – “and were 'voluntarily’ sent to these institutions. As such, he felt that they were not entitled to the redress given to other victims of institutional abuse.”
Not surprisingly Steed and the survivors were unimpressed by this decision. “If these women 'voluntarily' submitted to a life doing industrial laundry,” she asks “why when some tried to leave or escape were they dragged back by the gardai?”
“Many were not legal adults when they entered,” she adds, noting that none of the various scenarios for which women were sent to the laundries (being the victims of rape, having babies out of wedlock, being too pretty or deemed “flirtatious”) “seem very voluntary, either.”
In addition to this injustice, the women have lately had to contend with further setbacks. Perhaps the most damaging is the controversy following on from the publication of the book Kathy’s Story by Kathy O’Beirne. A misery memoir in the mould of James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces full of painful stories and horrific accounts of abuse within the Magdalene system, the book was an international best seller.
Unfortunately, claims have been made that Kathy’s Story resembles Frey’s work in more than just its explicit storytelling. The “Good Shepherd” nuns, who ran the High Park asylum in Dublin in which O’Beirne says she spent several years, have claimed that many of the stories O’Beirne tells are untrue and that she did not spend any time in any of their institutions. Although they had kept an undignified silence when the first attempts had been made to uncover the story of the Magdalene Asylums, and declined all press interviews when their laundries first hit the headlines, The Sisters seized this opportunity to put the boot in:
"We are very careful about confidentiality as people's reputations are sacred to us whether they are dead or alive. Our girls came to us because they needed help,” High Park’s senior archivist told the Irish Sunday Independent. "Kathy should produce evidence of where she was and when. Where is the child's birth certificate? Why has it taken 30 years to find? I am very sorry, the girl is clearly very traumatised."
The Sunday Independent was happy to report the story almost entirely from the nun’s viewpoint, portraying them as victims “appalled” by the allegations being made against them, not even mentioning the verifiable suffering about which they have been silent for so many years.
“It has been very difficult distancing ourselves from the media hype surrounding Kathy,” says Mari Steed, and it’s plain that the controversy has had a negative effect on other survivors and their supporters. When I spoke to Kathy O'Beirne, she did at least make the point that her book has kept the issue of the Magdalene Laundries firmly in the public eye, and like James Frey she pointed out how helpful it has been to many of her readers who have themselves suffered abuse. She is also able to defend herself on the grounds that plenty of other people with complicated upbringings in Industrial Schools and Laundries are unable to produce their correct birth certificates and documentation. O'Beirne also claims that many of her records were destroyed in a fire. Sadly, however, there are several aspects of the book that other more neutral observers have declared, “do not pass the smell test.”
“It’s all the truth,” protests O’Beirne. “We know it’s the truth. They [the Church] know it’s the truth.” At the time of writing, she faces an uphill struggle to prove her case. It seems likely that the case will go to court. There is, however, no doubting that O’Beirne carries a lasting trauma from whatever it was that happened to her in her youth, and an enduring hatred for the abusive members of the Roman Catholic clergy. “They’re just sick. They’re the disciples of the devil,” she kept repeating when I spoke to her. “They should be ashamed.”
As it is, the nuns have shown no sign of repentance, although, unsurprisingly, the asylums they ran still cast a long shadow over many lives today. The survivors, will of course, never forget. Indeed, many of them are so institutionalised by their time in the laundries that they are unable to fend for themselves and still live in the care of the same orders of nuns who used to hold them enslaved. There are also the hundreds (or possibly even thousands) of children who were forcibly separated from their mothers. Most of these will never find them – or even find out who they were.
There have at least been some happier stories, however. There are the women like Christina Mulcahey who managed to escape the system and went on to lead a fulfilling life and raise a family of her own – not to mention telling her story to a wide and sympathetic public and eventually tracking down her long lost son.
Others too have been reunited with their lost babies. Mari Steed from Justice For Magdalenes, for instance, eventually found her mother after a ten-year search.
“I am one of the very lucky ones who met with absolute joy in my reunion,” she says. “My mother had been eagerly awaiting my 'return' one of these days, and was not at all put out by my finding her.”
She insists that there is still hope for those still looking and encourages them to persevere, albeit with the following warning: “ guard yourself against unrealistic expectations, because sometimes you're not always met with a warm welcome. The shame and stigma of unwed pregnancy in Ireland was so heavy back then that many women have never outed themselves to subsequent husbands or children.”
So it is that most of the women who passed through the Magdalene Laundries never have, or never will tell their story. As Mary Norris told the Irish Independent:
"Many survivors refuse to talk about what they went through but I've never been ashamed to have been in one of those places. The shame is not mine; the church should be ashamed. They say now they're sorry — what they mean is, sorry they were found out."
An estimated 30,000 women went through the Magdalene Asylums (estimated because no proper records were kept). The last one closed as recently 1996. There has been no apology. No state enquiry. Most of the 155 women found in the mass grave at the High Park Laundry still have no death certificate. More graves, still uncovered, are said to be scattered around Ireland.
Justice for Magdalenes can be found at: http://www.Magdalenelaundries.com/ . They are running an e-card campaign to express outrage to the Irish government that no official inquiry has been made into the Laundries and that most of the women in the mass grave found in High Park Laundry still have no death certificate.
1 Not least because before the scandal broke several of the institutions had handed over their records to the historian Dr Frances Finnegan who made it her mission to bring this shadowy history into the light, talking to journalists, helping to inform the TV programmes that would eventually explain the Laundries to the world and eventually publishing the definitive history “Do Penance Or Perish” in 2001.
2 This was all explained in the hand-book of the Good Shepherds: “The greater number of our children we know desire to return to the world. The thought that they will be once more exposed to the danger of going astray… is a sorrow for a Religious. We should then, make every effort to induce them to remain in the asylum opened to them by Divine Providence, where they are assured the grace of a happy death…” (Practical Rules for the Use of the Religious of the Good Shepherd for the Direction of the Classes, Mother St Euphrasia Pelletier, 1898 pp 182-3, cited in Frances Finnegan Do Penance Or Perish. Oxford University Press 2001)
3 As shown in the records investigated by Frances Finnegan, Op Ed, p195
4 Finnegan, Op Ed. p46.
6 Sundays were given over to yet more religious contemplation.
7 Suffer The Little Children by Mary Raferty and Eoin O’Sullivan, p290