The front door and hallway of the now derelict Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Magdalen Laundry on Sean McDermott St in Dublin. Credit: Julien Behal/PA Wire.
I went to visit the Magdalen Laundry in Sean McDermott St., Dublin that is depicted in the video > Click on link to connect to video < when I was a teenager. Valerie – now deceased was sent there after her whole childhood incarceration period was up at Goldenbridge. Valerie had also spent her time prior to that in the Regina Coeli mother and baby unit. She had no luck at all from the time she was born. When she left the Magdalen Laundry she spent many years at the Regina Coeli hostel for downtrodden women. It was only in the latter part of her life that she got social housing. Nevertheless, by that time she had been a spent force. She lived, though, to tell her experiences to the commission to inquire into child institutional abuse. I was proud to help her out by way of writing a long statement to the CICA on her behalf. Valerie never lived to enjoy her compensation from the RIRB.
Women were locked up in Catholic-run workhouses known as Magdalen laundries between 1922 and 1996. Credit: Julien Behal/PA Wire
It’s also such a pity that she never saw the day when the Magdalen Laundry survivors would get the justice that they most rightly deserve.
In those days in the late sixties when Valerie was in Sean McDermott St. Magdalen Laundry working-class girls in general in the vicinity would have been in gainful employment at 14 years of age. They had no choice but to grow up fast, as starvation and hunger saw to that happening. So they too did not get off lightly. However, the difference between them and Valerie was that they had parents or guardians to go home to at the end of the day, and freedom to enjoy themselves at week-ends. There was none of that luxury afforded to the girls in the laundry.
Valerie never knew the meaning of a loving mother or a father throughout her life. She had a brother who once visited her from Artane when she was a child at Goldenbridge. She was clueless as to the meaning of a brother. She stood at a huge distance from him, with a blank face when they met each other in the main porch. That was to be expected, as she was none the wiser about her relationship to him. She had spent her whole childhood in Goldenbridge on her own, thinking that she was alone in the world. That was common with many Goldenbridge child inmates.
I talked with Valerie in later years about her background. As I knew nothing about her, despite growing up with her. It turned out that her mother was only 14 when Valerie was born. The mother went on to have four more children in straight succession. They too were either institutionalised in Industrial ‘Schools’ or adopted. Valerie discovered that her mother also went on to have another large family of eight after she had married, and they were all reared by the family. Her mother rejected her. She wanted to have nothing to do with Valerie. She had made a new life for herself and her husband.
Valerie never came to terms with the rejection of her mother. Even though she was a mere stranger. She became so embittered about the fact that the biological mother was able to look after the new family whilst ignoring the other family of five that she had out of wedlock.
One day a beautiful woman knocked on Valerie’s door. She told Val that she was her sister. Val nearly had a fit. She was gobsmacked. She could not comprehend why she was not also adopted. The newfound sister was very kind to Valerie, but the latter was beyond caring at that stage of her life. The rejection by the mother really got to her, despite inwardly not knowing any meaning of a mother’s role. It took every ounce of trust out of her. It was painful for the sister, who was successfully married with children to come to terms with a sister who had such a brutal past. There was simply no comparison with both their lives.
Valerie was a broken woman when she died, but then she had always been a broken child. Some people are given a raw deal in life, and Valerie was certainly one of those people. She never believed there was a God above, because if there was, she said, she would not have had to have suffered in the manner that she did in life. I so agree with her.
Valerie’s suffering was three dimensional from an institutional perspective. 1. Mother and Baby Home. 2. Goldenbridge. 3. Magdalen Laundry. That doesn’t include the homelessness that she had to endure after all that institutionalisation. It’s a sad story.
Incidentally – Valerie would have been on the lowest rung of the Goldenbridge ladder.
A host family that she went to on holidays as a child left much to be desired. She allegedly suffered serious sexual abuse there. That was commonplace with defenceless ‘orphan’ children from Industrial ‘Schools’.