A FEW years back, there was a debate on Clare FM’s ‘Morning Focus’ programme on the many incidents of abuse that were institutionalised and systemic within the Catholic Church down the years and decades and the cover-up of same.
In this regard, Bishop Willie Walsh was one of the most enlightened, just because he had, over the course of many years and statements, showed himself to have the courage to speak out about the Church’s failings and the systematic abuse that had taken place.
He was as open and frank as any Church leader, being honest enough to say “for the disastrously inadequate response of our Church to the heinous crime of child sex abuse, I will always carry a sense of sadness, regret and shame”.
However, on this ‘Morning Focus’ debate, the general tenor of the discussion was that amid all the abuse that was everywhere and anywhere, there was no laundry in Clare – at least the county had been spared that.
In Limerick and Galway, yes – on Clare Street and Foster Street respectively, but not Clare.
The ‘Morning Focus’ presenter didn’t know any different – how could he, because unless he had personally known someone who was holed up in a laundry in Clare and subjected to slave labour conditions, it’s not the kind of thing that was out there and talked about – openly, covertly or in any way.
It was more a case of airbrushing such facts, sweeping them under the thickest of carpets. See no evil, hear no evil and definitely speak no evil. It never happened.
It did, however. There was a laundry in Ennis – a Magdalene Laundry in everything but name and the Clare FM phones that hopped for a few minutes told this to be true.
There were Ennis townspeople and those from further afield for that matter who set the record straight and told the story of a laundry under their noses in Ennis.
Of course, there’s no mention of this laundry that was housed in the old Convent of Mercy grounds where the Temple Gate Hotel is located today.
We should get to know what happened there, because press reports from over 100 years ago help to debunk one theory that has been expounded in the report that was published last Tuesday.
That theory related to a claim that the laundries weren’t about profit – that they weren’t businesses, more about a service that nuns were providing, to the women who worked there and the public who availed of the service.
“The results of the financial analysis carried out tend to support a view that the Magdalene Laundries were operated on a subsistence or close to break-even basis rather than on a commercial or highly profitable basis,” the report says.
An article in The Saturday Record from June 6, 1907 paints a different picture – that it was about business, that it was about profits. The article had a headline of ‘A LOCAL INDUSTRY’ with a sub heading of ‘ST BRIGID’S HOME LAUNDRY, ENNIS’.
“The Sisters of Mercy of the Ennis Convent are carrying out some big improvements in their laundry, which are all found to have the effect of making it still more successful,” said The Saturday Record.
“They have procured the services of a Miss Hume, a most competent manageress, who has received training and a first-class diploma in the branch of laundry work in the colleges of Kildare Street, Dublin and South Kensington, London.
“In addition, Miss Hume has had the experience of nine years as manageress in the Kenilworth Square Laundry, Dublin, where she gave complete satisfaction to the public.
“At considerable expense, great improvements have been made in the laundry with a view to making the work a success. In the past, there have been drawbacks incidental to the fields of industry, but it is felt that all these are now overcome and there is every reason to anticipate a high standard of excellence in the work turned out in future.
“It is hoped that the public will recognise the good which is being done in the worthy cause of affording employment for deserving women by increased patronage. The manageress will be glad to submit terms and rules for intending customers on application,” the report added.
One wonders what the terms, conditions and rules for the women employed in the laundry were; one wonders were they there of their own free will; one wonders was it a case the women being sentenced to work in the laundry; one wonders if the only escape was by running away; one wonders was there was a link between St Brigid’s Home Laundry and the Industrial School and the Our Lady’s School Orphanage, also operated on the same convent grounds by the Sisters of Mercy.
These questions aren’t answered in Senator Martin McAleese’s report. This is why this report only scratches the surface of what went on behind closed walls.
It goes without saying that every diocese in Ireland should have its Murphy/Ferns Report – the one in Killaloe should look into clerical sex abuse and could also look into what went on in St Brigid’s Home Laundry.

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Joe Ó Muircheartaigh graduated from University College Dublin in 1989 with a degree in history and politics. After completing a Diploma in Journalism at The College of Commerce, Rathmines in 1991, he embarked on a career in journalism. Joe spent four years with Clare FM from 1992 and was with The Clare Champion from 1996 to 2005. He has won two McNamee Awards for GAA journalism and has published two books. Contact Joe on [email protected]

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