This was the recent headline news from the RTE online news- 'Burn it to the ground': What should be done with Magdalene laundry buildings? by a group of Survivors and their families gathered at the back of a Dublin Magdalene Laundry recently to share their stories.
Do we as a society —“Forgive but never forget.”—That these Magdalene Laundry buildings are no longer in use, yet they hold a pyramid of memories, unsilenced voices of the past, protesting, continuing to speak out in their silence, unmasking the true horrors perpetrated within. Do we burn them down? or do we reuse them within the community in which they sit? like abandoned oversize mausoleums to a darker past. These dilapidated Magdalene Laundry buildings constructed as monuments to the glory of the Irish Catholic Church’s failed social policy, now enclose the pain, suffering, deaths and horrors of a bygone era, a hidden, dark secret era, seeped deep into Irish history. These charnel houses operating as Magdalene Laundries, by the powerful Irish Catholic Church, acted as burial chambers for thousands of living, brutalised women slaves and their children, and later acted as their monuments or tombs to their demise.
Echo of its gruesome past, many if not all the Magdalene Laundry buildings hold lingering memories of the brutal slave-labour and horrendous viciousness, committed within there secret walls. The Magdalene Laundry buildings haunt their local communities not as a solemn place of meditation but a place, a reminder of continuous mourning, and suffering by both the living and dead Survivors and their families. Many withered flowers adorn the faded photos of the lost loved ones, unknown women and their children, left by fellow slave worker colleagues that survived the brutal lives as slaves in these Magdalene Laundry buildings. These poignant black and white photos of young ghostly girls and unsmiling, dickensian children, now, fading and frayed in yellow, through exposure of sunlight and age, lying on inch thick dusty windowsills of cobwebs and dead bluebottle flies, or hanging, twisted in broken frames with strings of trailing, tangled three-dimensional spider's web, dangling off paint peeling discoloured walls, as seen through cracked filthy glass panes of the rotten wooden frame windows of many Magdalene Laundry buildings throughout Ireland.
Other wretched photos of children are hidden in forgotten hollows of trees, in and around concealed overgrown cemeteries at the back of these grey, damp carbuncle monsters of now abandoned buildings. In these now closed dilapidated Magdalene Laundry buildings, you will find yourself in an distorted gallery of misery and grief, resting on a foundation built on brutal slave labour, abuse, sexual exploitation and greed, to enrich a corrupt Catholic Church. We must "Never Forget.” Retracing the steep and treacherous steps of the frail slave women and their malnourished children, through the hollow hallways of childhood slavery and chattel mother’s death. The expectations of the unwed mother’s children, once confined in these Religious Institutions were they were either stolen or sold into slavery, for profit by a merciless power hungry Irish Catholic Church.
The conditions of slavery for pregnant unwed women at the Magdalene Laundries varied regionally. In most cases, the unwed women worked in the Magdalene Laundry, up until childbirth performing many tasks. “ a few days appears to have been the average confinement period, or ‘lying-in period’ in the Irish Mother and Baby Homes for unwed mothers, following delivery in the Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland. Then the new mothers were forced back to work.” in the Magdalene Laundry buildings. The responsibility of raising and tending to the children then became the task of other children and older elderly slave women, or to the Nuns or other Religious Orders. In all the Religious Institutions in Ireland the children then became the sole property of their new owners, the slave-masters, the Irish Catholic Church. This created a constant supply of ready slave women and children to perform hard labour in the Magdalene Laundries, and the Industrial Schools and other religious properties up and down this green land of Ireland, in which the Irish Catholic Church, owned and operated solely for profit. In many cases, children were graded and sold on for greater profit, to be illegally adopted and enslaved abroad or forced to work in other Magdalene Laundries, or the Industrial Schools throughout Ireland, far away from the reach of their mothers.
You walk through the now derelict rooms of the Magdalene Laundry buildings and discover more rooms, in which hundreds of slave women and their children trotted through as they worked, slept or were beaten to death, if you listen, just above the silence, you can sometimes faintly hear the despairing screams floating high above the dilapidated buildings. Each woman, each child has a demoralising story to tell, of the insidious Magdalene Laundry buildings and the fiends, a plague of Nuns who ran them. The buildings are a living library, etched with vivid memories turned inside-out to remind the world that each Victim, each Survivor had a story to tell of unimaginable horrors and cruelties, committed by the holy men and women of the Religious Orders, the hysterical Clerics that ran the Magdalene Laundries and the Industrial Schools in the name of the Irish Catholic Church.
We mustn’t forget that all the Magdalene Laundries have camouflaged, mass graves of suffering women and children covered under a silent blanket of shame. In the poignant ruins of many of the Magdalene Laundry buildings, lie scorched sewing machines, blacken pots and pans, rust iron single beds, naked children's cots, rotten clothing and piles of useless debris, smashed against windows and piled high against the unhinged doors, death had arrived with preternatural speed. The decaying Religious Institutions ran afoul with detritus, organic matter produced by the leftover decomposition of human fears and organisms, soaked in tears of despair. The stench of decay and creeping dampness, can never be unseen, a reminder or an eternal reminder of the reality of distorted, brutal Catholic life in these god forsaken Religious Institutions, the Magdalene Laundries, the Industrial Schools of Ireland. Walking through these evocative Religious Institutions, anywhere in Ireland is like entering a forbidden world of ludicrous and repulsive characters, reminiscent of any of the great novels of Charles Dickens, the poor unfortunate unwed women, their frightened and abused children, and most of all the over the top do-gooders the fearsome unrealistic or interfering reformer, called clerics, with their repugnant odour of righteousness.
Walk down or up the claustrophobic stairs or stroll down the bleak haunting corridors of any of these empty Magdalene Laundry buildings or Industrial Schools in Ireland and enter into a world of fallen masonry and overgrown weeds that latched onto the concrete high walls, rusty iron bars, the stench embedded forever in the rotten wooden window frames, putrid water, gathers, flowing into reek filled cesspools of disgusting waste and sewage, corrupting other life forms. Fallen grey rain filters through the multi-leak roofs, covered in layers of loathsome pigeon shit, streaming down the blacken, repugnant walls. Inside these insufferable Religious Institutions, the abandoned Magdalene Laundry buildings and Industrial Schools, lie eternal flames, of anger, despair, human misery, great sadness and millions of lost tears, spilled, of forgotten oppressive memories of many brutal lives, snuffed out with the cruelties and tyrannical slavery of religious ignorance.
Each brick each stone of these despicable Institutions is etched with the name of each woman or child who lived and perished there. Also remember each stone, each brick is also etched with repressive memories that harbour the fears, the tears, the despair of each Survivor that survived.
Since the closing of these Magdalene Laundry buildings and Industrial Schools, in Ireland, in the mid 90s, time, sadly passes. Today's Irish people are increasingly aware of the need to forget the horrors and brutality that began in these secret Religious Institutions. I often hear the cry of
“ let bygones be bygones” or another “why dig up the past”
Because keeping some of these buildings alive, gives a powerful look at how these Magdalene Laundry buildings and Industrial Schools worked. The Magdalene Laundry buildings and Industrial Schools, in Ireland, offers a compelling voice from our recent grisly past, and our savage history, a warning a pleading— “Please, Never Again" — should be the memorial's theme of the Magdalene Laundry buildings and Industrial Schools, in Ireland. A few Magdalene Laundry buildings and Industrial Schools, in Ireland should be kept as chilling museums, as reminders of how life was for hundreds of thousands of women and children abused, beaten, raped and murdered by the Irish Catholic Church. The Magdalene Laundry buildings and Industrial Schools, should be memorial shrines chiseled into Irish and international memories of the hidden meaning of Irish Catholic Church fascism, a Catholic Church system led by a powerful Catholic Church Hierarchy, a few unelected clerics having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, and emphasising an aggressive nationalism and often racist polices. On one of the walls of the Magdalene Laundry buildings, should be etched and recorded the name of every single woman and child killed and buried in the many mass graves in all the Magdalene Laundry buildings and Industrial Schools in Ireland. The topography of terror, on display in these Religious Institutions should be seen as a main attraction, a sort of remembrance in a not to distance past when the slavery of unwed Irish women and their children was the norm in Ireland, and how the women and their children were forced into these Religious Institutions as slaves, betrayed and raped by family and friends, the Irish secular Institutions, too afraid to act against the power of the Church. The Magdalene Laundry buildings and Industrial Schools, in Ireland, were run by the powerful Irish Catholic Church, the women and children of these Religious Institutions were to be worked for profit, beaten, raped and murdered. That sadly was the true Ireland, that few want to face up to. The real horrors of the Irish Catholic Church experience, should be on full display, forever, for all the world to see, but never, ever, forgotten. Please never let —-“ let bygones be bygones” or “why dig up the past” be spoken again, by the few ignorant people who want to hid and pretend that Catholic Ireland was a beneficent land of rosy cheek clerics, beneficent saviours, with their milk of human kindness, care and compassion for others, humane, humanitarian, public-spirited and generous, lavishing god’s grace on the holy green land of Ireland. Spare me that dribble please, because that my friends was an Ireland that never existed, except in the feeble minds of many corrupt religious bigots which includes all the Religious Orders that operated in Ireland and a few Hollywood movies and of course Mr. William Shakespeare From Shakespeare's Macbeth,"Yet doe I feare thy Nature, It is too full o' th' Milke of humane kindnesse." and I say “The milk must have curdled”.
Owen Felix O’Neill
Owen Felix O'Neill
Author of Child Laundering Secrets, 2017