'Ireland's Dirty Laundry' reveals pain of so-called penitents....

The second part of RTÉ's Dirty Laundry airs tonight. Colette Sheridan reflects on the first episode
'Ireland's Dirty Laundry' reveals pain of so-called penitents....

Gabrielle O’Gorman was one of the Irish women who shared their memories in ‘Ireland’s Dirty Laundry’, on RTÉ.

THERE are no pockets in a shroud. You can’t take your money with you when you die.

Perhaps the nuns from the orders that ran the Magdalene laundries need to be reminded of this fact when they’re making money from their assets.

The Religious Sisters of Charity have applied to Dublin City Council for planning permission to facilitate residential development “and address housing need” at their site on Merrion Road in Dublin 4. It’s been reported that if the land is zoned for houses, it could sell for at least €50 million.

What will the nuns do if they make all that dosh? Will they contribute to the State fund to compensate women who slaved in the laundries? So far, the tight-fisted nuns have refused to contribute to this fund. Which has to be a sin.

The wrongs inflicted on the girls and young women working for nothing in the Magdalene laundries can never be righted with money. But it can sure as hell help as these women approach old age.

But the nuns, always renowned for being canny with money, don’t seem to be able to part with their wealth. To what end? What do they do with their cash?

If they had any bit of cop-on about public relations, they would contribute to the redress fund.

 That the State is coughing up is only right as it was hand in glove with the Catholic Church, oppressing females, locking them up, sometimes for the ‘sin’ of being too pretty and flirtatious and thereby a source of temptation for men.

Even typing these words makes my blood boil. Men, poor dears, couldn’t be expected to control their urges when in the presence of a good- looking girl.

Gabrielle O’Gorman, one of the women interviewed in RTÉ’s two-part documentary, Ireland’s Dirty Laundry, which concludes tonight, said she was considered “a bit too attractive.” There was a desire “to clip my wings.”

Now in her seventies with long silver hair, she is strikingly beautiful. Thankfully, she managed to run away from the laundry in which she was incarcerated.

Teresa Doyle O’Connor, who said she was at the Sunday’s Well Magdalene laundry (although her story seems to be about her time in the laundry in New Ross) was packed off to the nuns at 13, supposedly to get an education. Her father was a drinker. Maybe he couldn’t afford to feed his daughter?

In any case, Teresa tried to stand up the nuns. But she suffered for her independence and criticism of the laundry in her letters home, which never arrived. ‘Where is god now with all this going on?’ she would ask.

As UCD academic Katherine O’Donnell said in the documentary: “We managed to lock up 1% of our population within a whole network of related institutions - psychiatric institutions, mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries, industrial schools. And there’s not a family in Ireland that actually isn’t affected by this legacy.”

Politician Joan Burton contributed to the documentary. She expressed her gratitude that she was adopted by a loving family. Had she stayed in the orphanage system, she felt she wouldn’t have been strong enough to survive being in a Magdalene laundry.

As Joan pointed out, after independence, the State ceded a lot of state functions to the Catholic Church. And what an appalling legacy has been bestowed on this country as a result.

While it’s hard to have sympathy for the nuns, “bitter so-and-so’s” as they were described in the documentary, there weren’t any real avenues for ambitious and brainy girls in 19th century and 20th century Ireland. At least, there weren’t opportunities for women to exercise power and authority. And so, they donned habits and wimples and some of them behaved psychotically.

They would shear girls’ hair when they entered the laundries and in a further act of dehumanisation, they refused to use their names, giving them other names - ‘Joseph’ in the case of Teresa Doyle O’Connor. 

A boy’s name. What was it with the twisted sisters? They justified their cruel behaviour and stringent rules by calling the incarcerated girls ‘penitents’.

Apart from the humiliation that the girls and young women were subjected to, there was the backbreaking work of laundering dirty sheets and clothes of people who must have turned a blind eye to the source of the labour. Who did they think was doing the work? The laundry fairy that today’s working mothers half-jokingly describe themselves?

There were steam burns and boiling water burns. And of course, the work was unpaid.

Sister Jacinta Prunty tried to stand up for the nuns in the documentary saying the laundry work was “not unbroken slavery hours”. There were tea breaks, she said. Big deal. The work was slavery.

Shame on a ‘bride of Christ’ for blatant dissembling.

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