An essential read from Deirdre Falvey over at the Irish Times – The last of the Magdalenes: ‘The nuns took my childhood’.
When you hear about Magdalene laundries I am probably not the only one to have visions of 1950’s Ireland, so I was shocked to read the harrowing tale of a lady inmate of a similar age to me. The last laundry only closed in 1996. It’s a strange thought that while I was knocking down pints in the Queens Students Union, down the road in Dublin people where being imprisoned as virtual slaves.
One chore was to bring a bucket of food slops out to two pigs outside, going down a back stairs. “The first time I did slops I was absolutely horrified. There were old people, 50, 60, 70 year olds, what I’d describe as mad” – she makes a rocking back and forth motion – “at the end of the stairs.”
“They were always there. They frightened the b****x out of me. There must have been hundreds of old people there, scattered. I would run down the stairs and f**k the slops over the pigs, to run back and get the door shut.
“I had no idea who they were and never asked. Years later I realised there was a laundry, with those old people who had been working there a long, long time.”
They wore “old people’s clothes”, like “inner-city, Mrs Brown style”.
She recalls the senior nun saying, “You’ll end up next door should you don’t stop sinning and behave yourself.”
One day in High Park, a nun called Jenny out of class and took her out by car. “She said I was bold, I was uncontrollable, the devil had me.” She was being moved to Sean McDermott Street.
At 13 she was by far the youngest person in the laundry. “They were all ancient.”
She slept in a separate unit. There were eight swings in the grounds, mysteriously, as no one ever used them. “No one spoke to one another, they’d nod heads as if to say hello.”
Some of the women were in their 30s or so; older ones, over 60, gave the impression of being there a long time.
It is tragic and scary how recent a lot of these cases are. Nor can we put the blame entirely on the Catholic Church, as a society we turned a blind eye to this stuff and we still do. Right now in Northern Ireland, we lock up thousands of people with serious mental illness, from a previous post of mine:
From a past report by the Detail:
in October 2011 the trust’s director of Adult Services, Desmond Bannon, told the Health Committee at Stormont that of 5,000 prisoners treated in jail over the course of a year, some 1,000 would have a personality disorder, 130 a psychosis, 750 a neurosis, 712 an addiction, and that a further 12 prisoners would have attempted suicide in the previous seven days;
in September 2011 the Health Minister, Edwin Poots MLA, told the Assembly that “90% of prisoners have a diagnosable mental health problem, substance misuse problem, or both”.
What is going on right now in our society that will be a scandal in 10-20 years time?