Protect me, I am the Donnybrook laundry

 

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Side laundry room, Donnybrook

 

Structure as witness

Deep in the heartland of Donnybrook, hidden in a crescent, surrounded by apartments, houses and leafy trees there sits, intact, a building which embodied part of our cruel social history.  Known locally as the laundry or Donnybrook laundry, but more widely known in sub-cultures and State reports as the Magdalene laundry of the Sisters of Charity.

 

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Site for sale.  Our only completely intact Magdalene Laundry.

It is for sale now as in investment property at Donnybrook crescent. No mention in the brochure of its former use and its past.  No mention of the many women who toiled there, scrubbing shirts, washing socks, endless ironing, endless starching, endless washing; no let up, just let down.  No mention of the clients that came from the affluent families in the surrounding areas, nor that Áras an Úachtaráin was a client too.  The basket that carried the laundry – pressed, starched, immaculate spotless – now lies discarded with a pile of others, rotting and abandoned.

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Áras an Uachtaráin laundry box, Donnybrook Laundry

What would the nuns think of such disrespect, of such irreverance for such an important basket.  Back in the day these baskets were sacred. Revenue.  Handle with care.  These baskets, these boxes for laundry were very important. The people who worked, the women, the young girls, were never as important as these baskets.

Memory is something that fights an eternal battle with the passage of time and forgetfulness.  Time is a great healer for those who can heal and those who are offered healing.  There is no healing here. Time stands still like a festering wound in a well-to-do suburb as somebody attempts to erase a grave and mortal wrong. The McAleese report, the Justice for the Magdalenes, the hundreds of women still alive and their families should know of this place.  Should be present here to witness what can only be witnessed by them.  So that they can understand what’s lost, what cannot be given.  What was taken from them for generations.

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Granite staircase leading from laundry room to upstairs dormitory

The world and its mother should be brought through these doors to see for themselves, to feel for themselves what it was like, that this actually happened.  That this place exists.  All around it the religious lands are being sold for development.  Somebody somewhere pocketed the money for profit.  The laundry is and its history is othered , cut off by walls, sliced away from the well-manicured, well -kept, well-preserved and well-managed convent that remains on the site in the heart of Donnybrook, respected, revered.

This is private property  now and people use the local dry cleaners or their Zanussi washing machine or a launderette in town.  The sound of hand scrubbed collars if you listen you can still hear it. The vast drums of the washing machines , the slushing of the water, the mangle of the manglers, the rinsing of the dirty laundry.  Nobody in Donnybrook wore dirty clothes in those days, they all turned up spic and span spotless, scrubbed by ‘sinners’.

The chimney stack of the laundry is a defiant hand of a female inmate.  Screaming out ‘we were here’, ‘we were treated badly’, ‘you wronged us’, ‘you took all from us’.  The tall mast of RTE broadcasting strange half-truths to the Nation doesn’t hear this.  The world passes by here unbeknownst. The presence of presence is something all of us should never miss.  Our bones give us a sense of place, a sense of now.  Like Caesar, like Brutus, like Marc Antony the good is in the bone, the memory is in the marrow, living.

The Magdalene laundry is still intact and this State and its people need to ensure it stays intact and all the paraphernalia there within, the ledgers, the industrial machines, the woven baskets, the statues, the cupboards, the stairways, the furniture, the windows the atmosphere remain intact.  This place should not be turned into an artificial artefact.  This is the real thing. If ever there was to be a monument, a memorial, a gesture, an acknowledgment – this is it.  This is a place of anger and atonement.  A place of rage and fury.  A place of loss and maybe a place to be found.

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Baskets and suitcases once precious, now discarded

Thousands upon thousands of women and young girls suffered in the Magdalene Laundry system.  Thousands of children suffered in the Industrial school system, they were by and large the children of the poor.  The children that this State regarded as surplus to need and that the Catholic Church and the religious congregations enslaved, exploited and abused as their sexual playthings.

The uniqueness of this site and this location is that its not separated from the surrounding community in their fine Victorian redbrick houses.  Not separated entirely from their history.  The Sisters of Charity have an obligation to preserve this building as a testament to their own past and as some sort of atonement to the many women who feel gravely wronged.  It is also important to preserve it as an educational centre to inform future generations of just what way we treated those who were not strong.

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Upstairs dormitory, Magdalene laundry, Donnybrook

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Discarded statues, Donnybrook Magdalene laundry

All across the country from the Good Shepherds in Limerick to the wood turning college in Letterfrack, Connemara they are trying to erase this landscape, this memory by turning these sites into Art Colleges, hostels, homeless accommodation etc None of them have yet to be made or let be what they are – sites of anguish, sites of suffering, which form a vital part of our social, political and religious history.

With all we know about what happened to individuals in this country, with all we know about this State and the Irish Catholic Church and its congregations, with the continuous ongoing injustice to the Magdalene women and the Mother and Baby home (women and children) it would be an absolute disgrace and a further insult and injury if this site was not preserved, exactly as it is.  In many ways, this site in my view, is as important as any of the battle sites of 1916 that are getting so much attention.  Indeed, the men and women of 1916 laid down their lives for the women of the Magdalene laundries and the children of the institutions.

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Interior laundry room, Donnybrook

People of Donnybrook, people of Dublin lets do the right thing here and own our past.  All of it.  Let’s not try smooth it out with a bit of cash, a bit of compensation or an inappropriate architectural monument. We have the real thing and all its uncomfortability for us all. It is high time we stopped running from it. Stand still and face it.

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Hand wash garment sinks

These institutions and their memories are among us, were always among us, but we have chosen to deny them, to make them invisible, to make them secret to shove them into a past, into a history.  But they are not done with us yet. Time to embrace our own unpalatable truth.

Kate O’Connell TD, Jim O Callaghan TD, Eoghan Murphy TD, Eamon Ryan TD make this your first task.

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Sisters of Charity, Donnybrook.  Founder, Mary Aikenhead.  Purveyor’s of Magdalene Laundry services.

 

Please sign the petition and pass it on Protect Donnybrook Magdalene Laundry Petition

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suggestions for those engaging in Mother and Baby home inquiry.


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To all of those who are thinking of engaging in this process.  Keep a record of all phone calls and conversations that you have with the inquiry and its staff.

Keep the original copy of all correspondence or statements that you wish to submit to the inquiry examination. If you are posting, make sure to register and send the copy.

Ensure, if you are going to give witness testimony that you have good counsel and good support mechanisms as this process can be very traumatic and stressful.

It would be also important to inquire now whether there is a fund available for people to avail of counseling etc.

The past is a good learner and the past has show that they never cared for us.  Didn’t nurture us and didn’t love us.  We were ‘surplus to need’ and thrown away.  There is nothing to suggest now that this practice and belief has truly changed.

It is important that people care for themselves and nurture each other and invest in themselves for their own truth rather than this inquiry which will take many years to complete its work.  While it is very welcome – similar public inquiries and examinations into institutions in this country have further alienated many, caused further harm and avoided truth, consequences for perpetrators and has not led to any meaningful recovery, healing or reconciliation.

Try not to give or invest too much in this inquiry process at this particular point.  Easy does it.  It didn’t happen to them it happened to us.  We are the owners of it and they’d be only too delighted if we handed it over willy nilly for them to do what they like with.

So be prudent, be cautious and be aware of false nurture and don’t get  into the world of expectation or transference.

This is just another part of the journey where we will find ourselves challenging the State in an inquiry that they have set up.

It would be far better to email than to phone I think.  It gives you more control and boundary and is easier to manage how one feels and you then also have the paper trail to prove what you have sent.  The freephone is manned from 10am-1pm and 2pm-4.30pm Monday to Friday.   

Children born in the listed institutions are welcome to call and they will be issued with an information leaflet and application form which they can return to the commission should they be interested in telling their story to the Confidential Committee.

We’re not looking for sympathy.  We’re looking for justice and truth and the right to have access to our families and documents etc. When I say we, I include myself, because i’ve been on this journey – similar in every way to the Ryan report for decades. We can hold them accountable but we are ultimately responsible for how we are going to engage with this process.

It would be also wise to set up a good national support group with trusted individuals who people have confidence in as there are many groups out there purporting to represent individuals and groups – perhaps a new steering committee with good independent professionals might be good.

Bear in mind that we were the trafficked, the banished, the forsaken.  For those of us who have had this experience and lived to fight for truth and tell the story there are twice as many who lie in pits for graves from Tuam to Letterfrack, Passage West to Castlepollard.

These are but suggestions – they are not advise and you are the one who has to make the decisions and take the responsibilities.

Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation – Info

TraffickedA Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby homes and a select few County homes has been established.

If you were in – resident, worked in or had connections with any of the Mother and Baby homes on the list below between 1922 and 1998  the commission would like you to get in contact with them.

You can write to their confidential committee or meet with them in person.  They are looking to hear from former residents, employees and others with relevant information to hear about their experiences.

List of Institutions under Investigation

(1) Mother and Baby Homes as follows:
1) Ard Mhuire, Dunboyne, Co Meath;
2) Belmont (Flatlets), Belmont Ave, Dublin 4;
3) Bessboro House, Blackrock, Cork;
4) Bethany Home, originally Blackhall Place, Dublin 7 and from 1934 Orwell Road, Rathgar, Dublin 6;
5) Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, Tuam, Co. Galway;
6) Denny House, Eglinton Rd, Dublin 4, originally Magdalen Home, 8 Lower Leeson St, Dublin 2;
7) Kilrush, Cooraclare Rd, Co. Clare;
8) Manor House, Castlepollard, Co Westmeath;
9) Ms. Carr’s (Flatlets), 16 Northbrook Rd, Dublin 6;
10) Regina Coeli Hostel, North Brunswick Street, Dublin 7, and
11) Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Co Tipperary;
12) St. Gerard’s, originally 39, Mountjoy Square, Dublin 1.
13) St. Patrick’s, Navan Road, Dublin 7, originally known as Pelletstown; and subsequent transfer to Eglinton House, Eglinton Rd, Dublin 4, and
14) The Castle, Newtowncunningham, Co. Donegal.

(2) County Homes
A representative sample of those County Homes selected by the Commission as both fulfilling a function with regard to single women and their children similar to the institutions at (1) above and where the extent of the operation of this function is considered to merit their inclusion for the purposes of the investigations set out at Article 1(I) to (VIII) above having regard to factors such as the number of relevant births, the duration of such operations and the typical length of accommodation period of these mothers and children.
1Historical and official sources may refer to these institutions by various names, and in some cases the Homes may have moved premises during their period of operation.

AmericaForsaken site1
CONTACT
FREEPHONE: 1800 806 688
EMAIL:  info@mbhcoi.ie
POST:   Mother and Baby homes
       Commission of Investigation,
        73 Lower Baggot St, Dublin 2
or
P.O. Box 12626, Dublin 2
All identities will be held in confidence.  
For more detailed information please see www.mbhcoi.ie

The Politics of Philomena

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The most startling thing to emerge from the premiere last night of Philomena was the lack of any questioning around accountability for the theft of a child, in this instance Anthony Lee from his mother Philomena, who was incarcerated in Sean Ross Abbey for 4 yrs in the 1950s.  The whole issue of criminality was avoided throughout the entire film and there was an uncomfortability in the Q & A emanating mostly from Steve Coogan, who was making every effort to be inoffensive in his efforts to appease Catholic sensibilities.  It would seem to me that Mr Coogan, producer, co-writer and star of the movie, didn’t really understand the politics of the issue of the banished babies and the criminal trafficking of children for profit out of Ireland and other countries that was perpetrated by the Catholic Church and religious congregations.

What happened here was that like many other children, Anthony Lee was taken from his mother without informed consent and for over fifty odd years the Irish Catholic Church, Religious congregation and indeed the State itself, concealed the whereabouts of mother and son from each other.  Yet, what we watched at the IFI premiere last night completely avoided the global issue of the “banished babies” of Ireland.  Nobody so far has been held to account for this practice; there have been no Garda investigations or Interpol investigations; nobody from the national Airlines (Aer Lingus) or Pan Am airlines that actually trafficked the children out of Ireland have been confronted. Indeed, this whole issue has been slightly saccarined and turned into a warm human interest story rather than a story of organised, joint-venture criminality.

The whole reality of this film is sentimentalised through a naive catholic spiritualism.  A lot of it is cliched and it never really deals with the horrendous tragedy and evil of what was perpetrated on thousands of mothers and their abducted children to this day.

The story of Philomena is based on true events.  True events that happened to generations of people and, while this abduction of children was going on in so-called Mother and Baby homes, there was also the rape torture and inhumane treatment of tens of thousands in what are now known as Ireland’s residential institutions.  The Mother and Baby homes like Sean Ross Abbey, Bessborough, Castle Pollard etc. formed part of a network of compounds where individual citizens were incarcerated and exploited till they died, made good their escape or somehow found themselves miraculously released.

The trauma of what took place in these institutions still permeates this society through the suffering of the individuals who were incarcerated there.  That suffering continues as many mothers seeking to find their children and many children seeking to find their parents are still not being given access to their personal records, to their authenticity, to their origins. There is an indifference, a disregard and a continuous punishment in the way Religious Congregations and indeed the State continue to behave around this issue, which borders on contempt.  There was an opportunity in Philomena to address these issues but the writers of the script chose not to do so.

This undermines the credibility of the movie and does a great disservice to this single story and to the big story because after all this tale is one of thousands of similar tales that are now emerging as part of Ireland’s social and criminal history.

Despite the warmth of the film and the good reception that it received at all the film festivals so far (Toronto, London, Venice) somewhere, the real issues that are at the centre of this story, the hard cruel facts, that unheard story, that brutality, uncomfortable as it is, has to be heard, has to be owned has to be accounted for.  It is not just the story of Philomena and Anthony Lee, it is the story of a society and as such the secret history of Ireland and the Irish State and religious institutions cannot be so simply packaged in a feel-good, heartfelt portrayal of real events that have not been dealt with so far.

We had to drag the apology from the Taoiseach in relation to the Magdalene Laundries and large parts of the truth have still been avoided in the massive whitewash of the Ryan and McAleese Report. The complete indifference and lack of consequences for all those that were involved in the criminality and abuses that were described in the Ferns, Murphy, Cloyne reports etc. There is a great danger here of assuming that we have dealt with these issues and that there is some measure of closure on them, but still the Church and State continue to deny wrong going and the myth that everybody was just trying their best in very difficult times continues to be perpetrated.

Judy Dench gives a fantastic performance as does Steve Coogan, the whole cast excelled themselves and it is a good movie, but that’s all it is –  a good movie, an entertainment, a night out in the cinema.  It doesn’t ask anything of us, it merely brings us along in a sad-warm way.  It’s a road movie that is very satisfying.  The danger here is, is that it smothers the ongoing issue of what’s happening in Irish society and elsewhere and can give further credence to the school of thought that wishes to put this whole issue behind us and let us get on with it.

Adoption Rights Alliance and other such organizations and individuals are desperately seeking information and the rights today for open access to all of their paperwork, their birth certificates, medical records etc.  They are seeking their truth that has been held from them all their lives as it was for Philomena Lee and her son Anthony Lee.

The film will certainly throw light on all of the issues that I’ve mentioned above and it will find its place in the cultural representation of Ireland’s social history, albeit from a British perspective and sensibility. This is a British movie, but what’s not uniquely British about it and what came across last night in the Q & A and in the movie itself, was its unwillingness to ‘go there’.  While I welcome the film, I note its lack of responsibility to the overall story, its insistence on the sensibility of the human story at the cost of the politics and the truth of the issue.   When, in actual fact what you have here is organized criminality on such a scale that it should really warrant a massive European, if not global investigation or tribunal, not dissimilar to that which is conducted by the United Nations into crimes against humanity because that is what this is.

With due respects to all of those who were involved and with deep respect to Anthony Lee who died searching for his mother – who died being told a lie by the very people who thieved him from his mother and continued that thievery by robbing him of his mother’s whereabouts – this story is not just theirs; it is all our stories. And unless you deal with this story in the way you would deal with any fascist of dictatorial regime, like the institutional Catholic Church, like the institutionalized Irish State,   all you are doing here is facilitating and enabling the closing down of the story, the othering of the story and the perpetration of further suffering.

There were comparisons made last night with the Magdalene Laundries so on so forth, but you can’t compare ongoing trauma and truth with films that are by-and-large commercial enterprises to the story of institutional tragedy.  The story of Philomena Lee is essentially a political one involving a sovereign state and its inactions to protect its citizens and a global church that professes Christianity love, truth and respect, but is engaged, in this instance, in joint venture acts of appalling inhumanity and cruelty.  It is up to us, the cinemagoers to inform ourselves to the highest degree on all of the issues that are missing from this film.  That said I would urge you to see the film because some truth in all its horrors still manages to reach out and touch us. Perhaps because of what we already know in relation to the culture that still exists in our country.

It will take some time for society to extract the truth on this whole issue.  Memorials at the Garden of Remembrance, Magdalene Sisters films, and films like Philomena can never be a substitute for the truth the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in fact sometimes such films can damage truth and authenticity as they can perpetrate the lie that it was ‘all done in good faith’. This film will now be promoted by Harvey Weinstein and may possibly even win an Oscar, however there is always the possibility that it could damage the ongoing advocacy for truth and accountability.

With all that in mind – please go.  And when you come out of the cinema, get involved, demand answers.  Seek accountability.  Don’t let the Church or the State off the hook. What happened here was on an enormous scale and that enormity has not been reduced, but has been added to by the continuous refusal of the congregations of nuns at the centre of the Mother and Baby homes who were willfully engaged with the theft, trafficking and sale of children to be held accountable, to hand over the many documents and files that they have in their possession.  These documents need to be given to their rightful owners without any hindrance whatsoever. Everybody has the right to their own information. The lie that is about that these documents were lost through fire damage or floods etc. needs to stop.  People have memory. The congregations duplicated many of its documents. Every child had a passport forged.  People know.  Including Aer lingus, Pan Am and emigration.

In essence the film is about secrecy which forms an unbroken web. That secrecy is never challenged.  And even the cinema goer is asked to accept that secrecy.  It is this very secrecy that gives rise to gross abuse in society, from the institutions of the state, the institutions of the church and the very institution of the family and here right before us in the IFI that secrecy is well maintained by the cultural industry and the film community.  This is far too serious an issue to be turned into mere entertainment.  Philomena the film is not Rabbit Proof Fence, or Los Ninos Robados.  It is a vehicle for the desires of Steve Coogan and the advancement of his career at the expense of a real truth, a real politic.  Mr Coogan needs to be aware of this, that in doing what he did he places himself firmly on the side of those oppressive regimes that wish to keep us all silent, all stunted and childlike and all contained.

This story and the thousands of stories like it will one day escape from this place and find a place where their truth will be heard, understood and accepted.  To avoid is to deny.  To deny is further injustice.  The struggle and the search for truth continues. Mr Coogan had an opportunity to inform the public.  He chose instead to protect the wrong doers – the Irish State and the Catholic church.  He needs now to correct this if he is to have any credibility.   He needs to inform himself of the reality by speaking with those many people who are desperately seeking their children, desperately seeking their mothers.  Its important to note that Philomena Lee didn’t write the book. Didn’t make the movie.  And the problem now is that the story is in the hands of unscrupulous, unprincipled Tinseltown merchants.  And we all have an obligation here to ensure the right thing is done and that the truth is told. Only then can a society grow. Only then can true faith be meaningful.