The Magdalene Laundries touched women all over Clare, changing hundreds of young lives forever. One such woman was Mary*, who claims to have been cornered by a group of nuns in St Joseph’s Hospital in Ennis, stuffed into a car and brought away to a Magdalene Laundry. Andrew Hamilton reports.
MARY was just 15 when she was brought to St Joseph’s Hospital in Ennis in 1959. She was brought there to join her sister, who worked there as a nurse at the time, but Mary wasn’t a nurse. Mary was a ward maid, and while working on the wards she was often told that her pay was being “looked after” for her. She never received any money.
But money was the furthest thing from her mind one Sunday morning in the early 1960s. On that day, she says she was cornered by a number of nuns in the chapel of St Joseph’s, bundled into a car and brought away to a Magdalene Laundry.
The following is Mary’s story, as submitted to the United Nations Committee Against Torture.
“On the day of my leaving of the [industrial] school, my sister who worked in Ennis, at St Joseph’s Hospital, picked me up to take me to that same hospital as a wards maid. So down I went and I worked there. But I never saw any money. I was always told ‘If you want anything, let us know. And we’ll keep your money safe for you, because we know you’re not very good at handling money’,” said Mary.
“I worked on the wards and I worked helping the nurses. And I could be asked to go down to the chapel and clean out the chapel, or I could be asked to do little jobs here and there. I was supposed to be 16 but I wasn’t 16 – that September I was just 15. Because they didn’t have my birth certificate.
“Then one Sunday morning, it was after mass and mass used to be about 12 o’clock, I was asked to change the flowers on the altar afterwards. I loved that job. So I was up, and the chapel that was up there – say that’s the altar, there were two side doors here and one at the very end. It was in the shape of a cross. So I’m up here and I’m changing the flowers. And one nun came in this side entrance and she calls out to me. And I could see the other nun coming in the other door. And I felt strange – somehow I felt, something within me, something was going to happen to me. They were going to grab me or something. Something was going to happen.
“And I made a run for it, and they grabbed me. And they bundled me into this car outside the chapel. And I remember being driven away there. And I was saying to them – because there was a nun on either side of me in the car, and a man that was driving the car – and I was saying ‘where are you taking me to? What are you doing to me?’. I was crying. And I remember them saying to me, ‘you’re going to the Magdalene Laundry.’
“So we got there anyway, and they took me in this green side door. I can’t remember too much of the first day. I was given this kind of uniform to wear and I fell into a pattern, the same as the rest of the girls. And I’d learned, I’m there for life. So I had to accept it, get on with it.”
Mary believes that she was taken to the laundry for the crime of talking to one of the male porters in the hospital.
“The day before was Saturday, and I went into one end of the chapel, there was a morgue outside it. And when a patient died, we’d put them on a trolley and take them up here, and I’d put them in the morgue and lay them out. And the doors were always unlocked. It was a Saturday, and I’ll never forget it,” she said.
“I went in there, and this old man was dead on the slab. And this porter that worked there, he came in and he was talking to me, silly talk. I didn’t know him but I knew him to see. And the next thing, the nun came in. She must have seen the man going in there – there was no harm in me going in because I was used to going in – and the next thing she saw the porter coming in and she came in and says ‘You, out!’ to me.
“And that was it. Nothing. The next day was Sunday and the next day I was bundled into that car.”
Mary’s was one of three stories submitted by the Justice for Magdalene’s to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. In its judgement on the information, the committee said it was “gravely concerned at the failure by the State to protect girls and women who were involuntarily confined between 1922 and 1996 in the Magdalene Laundries”.
The Clare People contacted the Sisters of Mercy in relation to this story but no official comment was received at the time of going to press.
*The name Mary has been used to protect the identity of the woman interviewed.