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A ‘site of national conscience’ is set to open on the grounds of the last remaining Magdalene Laundry in Ireland


By Sarah Gill
02nd Apr 2022
A ‘site of national conscience’ is set to open on the grounds of the last remaining Magdalene Laundry in Ireland

The site will become a centre for research and remembrance, honouring survivors of mother and baby homes, industrial schools, reformatories, Magdalene laundries and related institutions.

Over 25 years since it was officially closed, Our Lady of Charity on Sean McDermott Street in Dublin will become a national site of memorial for the women and children who suffered institutional abuse within the walls of Catholic institutions across Ireland.

The centre will be made up of a museum and exhibition space, and a research centre and repository of records related to 20th century institutional trauma, which will form part of the National Archives. This repository will contain personal testimonies from survivors, allowing for their true lived experiences to become part of the official record.

It has also been confirmed that the site will include social housing and local community facilities, as well as an educational and early learning facility. While the National Centre will be physically located in Dublin, records and exhibits will be made available digitally to ensure global reach, as well as local benefits.

A space for reflection and remembrance

Roderic O’Gorman — Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth — has said that the space will provide the footing for future generations to fully understand the “appalling impact of those institutions.” He believes that the project is a step in the right direction “in our journey of recognising and learning from the failures of the past and acknowledging the hurt which continues to be felt by survivors and their families”.

Speaking with The New York Times, co-director of activist group Open Heart City Professor Katherine O’Donnell said, “This will be a place where we can reflect on all the other parts of what we call our dark heritage, the places where our country failed its citizens.”

A centre which, once established, will allow people to attempt to process the immense trauma brought about by these institutions, it aims to promote justice and human rights while highlighting our country’s history of abuse.

Mary Lou McDonald described the proposed centre as “an important step forward in a long-fought battle by survivors and their advocates to secure an appropriate memorial to the women and children who endured horrific institutional abuse under the State’s watch.” Emphasising that the project would need to reflect the scale of the wrongdoing by the Church and State, the Sinn Féin leader believes that the memorial centre will allow the tens of thousands of wronged women and children to not only have their stories told, but to have them “protected and preserved for future generations.”

Long overdue

The doors of Ireland’s last remaining Magdalene Laundry, Our Lady of Charity on Sean McDermott Street, finally closed on September 25, 1996 and the site has lay dormant since. In 2017, Dublin City Council had planned to sell the site to Japanese hotel chain Toyoko Inn for the development of yet another hotel.

In 2013, the then Taoiseach Enda Kenny issued a State apology to the ‘Magdalene women’, promising to oversee the erection of a memorial. “I am also conscious that many of the women I met last week want to see a permanent memorial established to remind us all of this dark part of our history,” said Kenny.

“I agree that this should be done and intend to engage directly with the representative groups and of as many of the women as possible to agree on the creation of an appropriate memorial to be financed by the Government separately from the funds that are being set aside for the direct assistance for the women.”

Now, five years after the fact and over 25 years since the laundry was closed, the wheels have been set in motion. A spokesperson for The Department has said that the next steps in the centre’s development requires “comprehensive plans setting out detailed timeframes and cost estimates”. The centre will be “a major, multi-annual project, spanning a number of years.”