Mná na hEireann, Women of Ireland.

Today, the report into the church-run Magdalene laundries in the republic will be released. The journal.ie have a short and heartbreaking summary of one woman's life here - it makes for sad reading. I lived, for 5 years, on the same site where some women (at that point in their 70s) who had spent their whole lives institutionalised lived. At this stage in their lives, they were living in their own accommodation, with keys to their houses, and freedom. They were as warm and welcoming as you would expect - and their lives, despite the freedom so late given, were still devestatingly controlled by their relationship to a now fairly powerless power. The freedom they now had, coming so late, was undoubtedly limited in its effect on many of their lives.

statue to women of magdalene laundries galway
statue to women of magdalene laundries galway

One of them, Mary, was an extroverted, friendly, busy woman. I saw her most days for years - she would stop and say "How's it going me auld flower? Lovely to see you, I want you to know I'm praying for you. Praying for your conversion. I have to run, I have to do me polishin and dustin and cleanin. The sisters have the feet worked off me." Her enthusiasm for company was clear - she loved to chat. I am sure that her outgoing nature was a part of her all of her life and I have often wondered what the consequences of being a young woman with a  cheerful disposition were in the derelict grey laundry building which still stood nearby. With reflection, her words about the nuns working her hard are hard to remember - she who now no longer was under this authority externally was still under this authority in every way but the formal. She who prayed for my conversion regularly was in reality a living example of an enforced conversion that she never needed.

Mary is only one of the stories. I have thought about her a lot these days.

Finding the boat
Finding the boat

I am already saddened at the anticipation of some of the defences that may arise from today's inevitable findings. I am anticipating that some will say that it is evidence of a liberal bias against the church in Irish society. Here are some truths: this is not a liberal bias; this is not only a critique of the Catholic church; this is so overdue it is insulting; this never should have happened. Truths hurt and apologies are made weak by quantification or defensiveness. Today's report is a small part of what Shakespeare called 'giving sorrow words' so that the heart won't break. But here's a horrible truth: many hearts are long broken and this cannot be undone. In the absence of the possibility of undoing, what we must do then is work hard for an honest admission of the truth; a truth told with as much courage as we are able, and then some more. It is a sad indication that Irish society (and note, I'm not just talking about Irish Catholic Church society - many people inside and outside of the Catholic Church colluded in and 'benefitted' from these arrangements) has lived for so long in the sorrowful silencing of these women's stories.

There's an Irish phrase "Is olc liom do bhris" which one says to a grieving family. It can be translated into English as meaning "your breaking grieves me" or "I'm sorry for your brokenness/troubles".

Mná na heireann, is olc linn bhur bhris.

Women of Ireland, is olc linn bhur bhris.

Mná na heireann, is olc linn bhur bhris.

You will find more information on the stories of these women here: