Friday, October 28, 2011

"Laundry" Performing The Story Of Ireland's Magdalene Laundries (Part 3)

My third and final account of experiencing the "Laundry" performance:

This is surely in total contrast to any confession box I've ever entered. The area is small and the light from the corner lamp guides my eyes to the smiling girl who begins to describe a dress which she seems very fond of. She explains in great detail, for example, the intricate stitching on the sleeve, that goes from the wrist all the way up to the shoulder and around and how soft the material is. I'm not sure what she's trying to tell me, perhaps she is a little disturbed. Unsure, I go along with her, telling her how beautiful it sounds.

She begins to whistle, saying how whistling makes Baby Jesus cry but that she doesn't mind. Again, I nod in agreement. Moving towards me and still smiling she begins to dance. She opens her arms as if inviting me to join her, I accept her invitation. Slowly we move around, she whistling a tune I know from way back, me humming along. For a brief few moments I forget the awful horror I witnessed earlier. As we finish our dance and the girl is once again describing her lovely dress the door opens and I'm shown out to a girl who leads me towards a room at the back of the church. While walking up the couple of alter steps leading to the door this young "Maggie" instructs me under her breath to "act natural".

Inside, bundles of crumpled sheets lie on the floor, a stark reminder of the building's line of business. The young "Maggie" tells me that the hardest thing for her to bear is the silence. I stare at the images of the actual laundry building imprinted on the red stain glass window, it sends a chill down my spine. This poor child wants out of here and begs me help her to escape. I whisper to her "OK, my life's nearing its end, yours is only beginning, let's go". I was by now so immersed in the story that I actually felt I would get into trouble if I was caught but I was willing to chance it. She suggests I pretend I'm helping her to bring out laundry and again whispers to me to "act natural".

Together we gather an armful of sheets each and head out the door, down the alter steps. Walking off the alter she whispers "genuflect" which we do together. As we turn to walk down the aisle "Matron" is coming towards us and asks where we're going. The girl tells her I'm just helping. We keep walking in silence. Again when we reach the front door she tells one of the girls standing nearby that she'll be back soon. The door closes behind us with a loud slam. Right outside a taxi is waiting, the girl bangs on the back door, it opens, I jump in, she hurriedly thanks me. I whisper "go" and she races across the road and disappears. I utter a silent "God be with you, child". The taximan asks where she's gone, I tell him she'll be back in a minute. He introduces himself as Den-den. We drive off, I've no idea where we're going.

Den-den takes me through unfamiliar streets. I'm in a state of shock from everything I've just experienced and this car ride is part of my nightmare. He points out the Foley Street area that was once Dublin's red light district known as, Monto. When the Government of the day closed this down, the women were taken into the Magdalene Laundries supposedly to be given shelter and to "repent" for their sins, hence they became known as "penitents". We arrive at the nearby Scrub-A-Dub Launderette where Den-den drops me off. Still carrying my bundle of sheets I enter this building.

Here I'm reunited with the other two "audience members", one is ironing, the other folding laundry. I'm told I can help with the folding. As we work, the couple in charge, Babs and Tony tell us how pregnant women who entered these laundries had their babies taken from them for adoption and never again heard a thing about them. Also they inform us about the non-profit, all-volunteer advocacy group, Justice For Magdalenes, who consistantly compaign for justice for survivors of Ireland's Magdalene Laundries. When our time is up we head back out across the road to where Den-den is waiting to return us to Sean McDermott Street. Just before we get out of the taxi, Den-den gives us each a souvenir of carbolic soap. The bar is wrapped in brown paper, tied with twine and has the Magdalene Laundry label on it complete with our hand-written names. While I normally love to receive a souvenir, this particular one leaves me feeling very uneasy indeed.

I sensed the three of us were in a very strange state of mind. We discussed our experiences for a little while then went our separate ways. Walking down a busy O'Connell Street I felt disorientated, like I almost needed to talk with somebody, anyone who would listen to my story of what it was like to move through the rooms and sense the horror of a Magdalene Laundry. Yet on the other hand I don't think I would have wanted to meet somebody I knew because I felt I just needed to be on my own. I headed up to the Irish Film Institute for a coffee and sat there for ages just thinking and writing.

My profound gratitude goes to Anu Productions and Director, Louise Lowe for opening up the Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott Street, Dublin and inviting us in to witness in part, through the art of performance, what life was like for the thousands of innocent women and children who suffered in these hellholes where evil truly resided.

My greatest wish is that those responsible are severely punished. I'll repeat again what I wrote in a post days following the publication of the Ryan Report in May 2009 relating to child abuse in industrial schools: Ireland's Shame - Someone Should Have Spoken Out "Justice is what these people need in the form of acknowledgement of and apology for the wrong doings directly, where possible, by those personally responsible followed up by appropriate financial assistance from the religious orders concerned. The men and women who carried out these atrocious acts should be named, shamed and brought to justice regardless of their seniority". I remain resolute in that belief.

Girl Carrying Sheets Image: Anu Productions and © Pat Redmond.
Laundry Image taken by me prior to attending the performance.
Carbolic Soap Souvenir Image taken by me next day.



  1. Hi Ann, your writing is just awesome. I have therefore given you a lovely blog award. Please pick it up at
    enjoy your day.

  2. Thank you so much Suzy, lovely to hear from you. Thanks a mil for the blog award, never had one of these before! Have a lovely week!

  3. Thanks for the words, Ann.
    It brought it all back, including the smell.
    It was an unreal experience for us, but all too real for the 'Maggies'.

  4. Thanks so much Joe for your comment. It really was a powerful experience. I still have the bar of soap in my utility room and the smell is almost as strong as ever, a constant reminder!

    I totally agree with you about how real it was for the "Maggies". I just hope these women receive the recognition they deserve from both the Catholic Church and the State.

  5. Hi Ann

    Your blog is very good, but, I think calling these unfortunates women "Maggies" is degrading. Maybe you could find another word, maybe ladies, women,

  6. Hi Anonymous, many thanks for your comment. Yes indeed, I wholeheartedly agree with you that the name "Maggies" is very degrading and to add insult to injury these poor women were also known as "penitents".

    It's most certainly not a term I would use hence my use of double quotes when referring to that dreadful nick-name and also the above link to the term.

    I pray that the day will soon come when justice for these innocent women and young girls is truly realised.