Ireland has suffered a great many tragedies in her long history. There are those we hear of every day — the "Troubles," the great Famine — Irish sorrows and issues we are all familiar with. But hidden beneath the surface, lies a tragedy just as great, just as terrible and just as unimaginable. And it is only just beginning to break through to the light of truth.
It is the story of thousands of Ireland's women...judged "sinners" by the cruel Church-driven society of the 1800's through present day. Their crime? Bearing children out of wedlock...leaving abusive husbands or home situations. The punishment? A lifetime of "penitence" spent in the service of the Sisters of Charity, Mercy, Good Shepherd or other orders, performing domestic chores...harsh, thankless chores such as laundering prison uniforms, cooking, cleaning and caring for elderly nuns or their aging peers, still trapped behind the walls of Ireland's numerous convent laundries, industrial schools and the like.
They are "The Magdalenes," ironically called after Mary the Magdalene, who served her Jesus loyally and was rewarded with his forgiveness and love. No such rewards exist for these "penitents." They were told to forever hide their shame inside these walls, work under harsh, spartan conditions, driven unmercifully by the sisters and often abused by them as well. It is a story Ireland has every right to be ashamed of, which is perhaps why it has only come to light recently.
In 1993, church property held by the Sisters of Charity in Dublin which once served as a convent laundry was to be sold back to the Republic for public use. It was discovered at that time that some 133 graves existed, unmarked, in a cemetery on the convent grounds. The graves belonged to women who had worked in the service of the convent all their lives, buried without notification to possible family...unmarked, unremembered. When the discovery was made, a cry arose in the streets of Dublin...families came forth to identify and claim some of the women as their long-lost daughters, mothers, grandmothers, and sisters. Yet many remained unidentified. At the time of the 1993 discovery, a memorial was established and the remaining, unclaimed bodies were to be cremated and reinterred in the Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin. But a problem arose: an initial exhumation order was given for 133 bodies, yet at time of exhumation, another 22 bodies were discovered. No additional exhumation order was obtained or given, and the 155 bodies were cremated and moved with little fanfare.
In 2003, Irish Times journalist Joe Humphrey revealed there were no death certificates extant for many of these women (and their children, some of whom were also found buried on the High Park grounds). It is and has been illegal in many countries, including Ireland, to fail to report a death. One must wonder why — what has the Church to hide regarding these deaths? The media has been awash with the subject in Ireland. And thanks to Peter Mullan's excellent The Magdalene Sisters, the story of the women has spread worldwide.
In addition to graves gone unmarked, so too, living women go "unmarked," languishing still inside the convent walls — unclaimed by their respective families as many were given false names upon admittance, making their true identification enormously difficult. Even in death these women suffered callous, inhumane treatment and were robbed of their dignity.
This page is dedicated to the tragedy imposed upon these women by an exceedingly judgmental and harsh Church and society. My own mother spent ten years in the facility at Waterford run by the Good Shepherd order.
In a Church and society that seems to hold life as sacred and cherished, I cannot help but wonder what monstrous idealism could spurn fallen women and their fallen daughters for the "crime" of becoming pregnant or of being poor, or for no reason at all? And, in its basest form, has the system perpetuated itself? As a birth mother of a relinquished daughter, now a third generation "Magdalene," I feel compelled to find out. This demeaning treatment of women — of any human — should not be tolerated nor go unpunished itself.
I urge you, gentle reader, to explore the links I've supplied here...they will tell you the tale of the Magdalene women better than I ever could. Some link to support and resources that I hope will assist those in need of healing or education. While few at present, I hope to add more as this tragedy reaches the ears of more and more people, igniting a spark of outrage directed toward any government or church that would treat human beings in such a manner.
© 2015 culchie.works