Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Magdalene laundries

Magdalene laundry in Ireland
The report on the operation of the Magdalene laundries in the Irish Republic has been published and has been covered extensively in the media.  Around 10,000 women passed through the laundries between 1922 and 1996 and the conditions in them were extremely harsh.
The start date for the report is simply the start of the southern state but in fact Magdalene laundries were in operation long before 1922.  The first Roman Catholic home in Ireland for 'fallen women' opened in Cork in 1809 and the last asylum, which was in Waterford, closed on 25 Setpember 1996.
Former inmates have demanded an apology for the treatment they received and it has been a difficult day for the Roman Catholic orders that ran the laundries.
However this is not the first time that the Roman Catholic laundries have been the subject of comment and controversy. 
Indeed a century ago there were demands for the public inspection of the laundries.  Among those who campaigned for inspections was the South Belfast MP Thomas Sloan (1870-1941), an Independent Unionist, who was associated with the Belfast Protestant Association and the Protestant Alliance.
Convinced Protestants such as Sloan were to the fore in calling for the inspection of Roman Catholic laundries while the Roman Catholic Church argued that such inspections were interference and that they had the right to operate without 'interference'.

1 comment:

  1. The McAleese Report should have included (but didn't) the Bethany Homes which were associated with the Church of Ireland and Church of Ireland missionary society and the Irish Church Missions to Roman Catholics. It operated in Blackhall Place, Dublin, from 1921-34 and in Orwell Road, Rathgar, until it closed in 1972.
    The Bethany Home was a combined maternity home, children’s home and place of detention for women convicted of petty theft, prostitution, infanticide and birth concealment.
    In 1935-36 Bethany Home Dublin was required to register child mortality under the Maternity Act of 1934. Over 40 children were recorded as dying in a period when the home had 19 babies resident on average per month. The anonymous information was extracted from Bethany Home minutes, by Griffith College Dublin academic, Niall Meehan. The unnamed children were then independently traced by Meehan to Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold’s Cross, Dublin, most of whom are in adjoining unmarked common graves.
    Bethany Home exported many children to Northern Ireland and to England, including to Barnardos. Following on from its practice of sending children outside the state to Northern Ireland and to Britain, in the 1950s Bethany home participated in the export of children to the US, a trade in children that the author of Banished Babies, Mike Millotte wrote had a ‘racist subtext’ – the children were guaranteed white and, in the case of Bethany, also Protestant.
    Former resident, Derek Leinster, born in the Bethany Home in 1941, who was presented with the information on the unrecorded child deaths, organised a short meeting at the gravesite on Wednesday 26th May 2006.
    At the gravesite Leinster formally launched the BETHANY HOME SURVIVORS GROUP. He said,
    “This is the first Bethany Home gravesite to be discovered. It is typical in that it is unmarked, unnoticed and uncared for. This could have been me. I was not expected to live when I was hospitalised from 24 August 1944 to 7 January 1945, suffering, aged three, from Pertussis, Bronchial Pneumonia, Diphtheria and Enteritis”.
    “The Bethany Home was a dangerous place for a child”, said Leinster, who today requires regular treatment for Myeloproliferative disorder in the haematology Department of St Cross, hospital, Rugby. His continuing medical problems are common among former residents. Leinster was ‘adopted’ informally in 1945 by a dysfunctional family in County Wicklow, where he was unwanted, abused, starved and left to fend for himself.
    Leinster emigrated at age 18 to England illiterate and penniless. Leinster completed two volumes of autobiography, Hannah’s Shame (2005) and Destiny Unknown (2008), about his attempts to make a life, about his long and successful marriage to Carol, and his pioneering attempts to trace his birth parents in the 1960s. Leinster said,
    “I received no help in my efforts from the state and mainly indifference from my former Church, the Church of Ireland. That is why I want these children to be remembered. Former residents like Patrick Anderson-McQuoid and I are going to raise money for a proper memorial for the children and I hope the churches that were so keen to claim them spiritually but neglected them physically, emotionally and subsequently, will contribute generously”.