Rising from the North bank of Cork’s River Lee, is the massive ruin of the Good Shepherd Convent, one of Ireland’s infamous “Magdalene Laundries.” From the outside, the laundries were understood as safe havens for women with nowhere else to go—shelters. However, following the discovery of a mass grave at one of the laundries in 1993, and the subsequent findings of the Magdalene Name Project and Magdalene Oral History Project, these shelters are now known to have been prisons where battered and abused women, teenage and unwed mothers, and orphaned girls were hidden out of sight, forbidden from speaking, and forced to literally clean their society’s dirty laundry. As one of the Laundry Survivors explained in her 2013 interview, sexual and physical abuse at home was replaced by physical and emotional abuse in the laundry: “I was actually being used and abused in the Magdalene Laundries.”
This composition draws on texts from the “apocryphal” 5th-century Gospel of Mary (Magdalene), an interview from the Magdalene Oral History Project, and video footage from the ruin of the Good Shepherd Convent in Cork, Ireland. Though the Laundry Survivors were hidden and silenced, this composition seeks to provide a small measure of restorative justice by honoring their voices and amplifying their courage in speaking out against these false shelters.
A special note of thanks to Claire McGettrick and Katherine O’Donnell of the Magdalene Oral History Project.
Audio (in italics below) taken from Magdalene Oral History Project interview with a laundry survivor, “Kathleen.” Performed text (in bold below) taken from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene (2nd century).
* * *
All I can remember, Claire, is the, is the hard work, like. Hard, hard, hard work. We were hard worked. The same ding-dong every day, Claire. Get up at half-six for Mass. The same dingdong every day, Claire. Physical work. Hard, hard, hard work.
* * *
Will matter then be destroyed or not? He who has ears to hear, let him hear. There is no sin, but it is you who make sin. He who has a mind to understand, let him understand. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Peace be with you.
When He said this, He departed.
Peter said to Mary, “Sister tell us the words which you know but we have not heard.”
(Mary) I saw the Lord in a vision, and I said to Him, “Lord, how does one see the vision, through the soul or through the spirit?” The Savior answered, “Not through the soul, nor through the spirit, but the Mind that is between the two that sees the vision and it is. . .”
* * *
I was born in…uhm, in 1942, and I was put into the Good Shepherd in Waterford in the orphanage, and I was there until I was 17. And the nuns put me out to work, uh in Dungarvin, in a hospital with nuns, and it was very restricted. And I wasn’t allowed out to school at all. I wasn’t allowed to do anything, and I rebelled and they put me back into the, in with the nuns again, and they put me up to the Magdalenes, up in, uh, Sunday’s Well in Cork.
Sunday’s Well is a bit… Have you not been? So there’s a big avenue going up Sunday’s Well. There was a hurdy-gurdy out there and there was swings. Well, we were looking down onto that gaol. All you could see from the outside is the view of Cork from the top windows. I was uhm, I was uh, I was ironing priests, uhm, what do you call investments, you know them… Vestments, ironing them and…we drank our sweat…spray starching them and ironing them and all. Took me nearly two hours doing one of them.
We got up at half six for Mass. The nuns put on the mangles that you put the sheets…the arms would be nearly hanging off of me…hard, hard, hard work. The nuns put in, in, in the washing machine. I was on a big…spinner washing the men’s collars and uh, uh. You’re not talking about a small spinner. You’re talking about a big industrial machine. You’d have to scrub the collars…the mangles…and the sweat coming down. I wouldn’t go to work. I sat up on the stairs. I wouldn’t do nothing for them. I wouldn’t even go for the meals. And over the sink, washing the collars, you know those…? Spinning those… We drank our sweat in there.
* * *
Again it came to the third power which is called ignorance. The power questioned the soul, saying, “Where are you going? Do Not Judge.” And the soul said, “Why do you judge me though I have not judged? I was bound, though I have not bound. I was not recognized, but I have recognized that the All is being dissolved, both the earthly things and the heavenly.”
When the soul had overcome the third power it went upwards and saw the fourth power, which took seven forms. They asked the soul, “Whence do you come slayer of men? Where are you going conqueror of space?” The soul answered, “What binds me has been slain and what turns me about has been overcome and my desire has ended and my ignorance has died. In an Aeon I was released from a world and in a Type from a type. And from the fetter of oblivion which is transient.”
* * *
And I don’t like looking back on it, like because it makes me angry. I mean, I mean it’s very hard to forgive them, like, for doing it really. 23 years of age…my started then, like. And that was the start of my life in like…I don’t know…was it… That’s right, the 22nd of February And this will never leave my memory, the twenty-fourth of February, 1965. That’ll prove that all I ever wanted It was February, 1965 I went to ____. No! They are wrong, Claire! It wasn’t April, Claire. No, no, no, no. It was February, Claire, 1965. I didn’t go to a job from St. Dominics. St. Dominics is the orphanage school! St. Dominics is the orphanage! I stuck a fork in someone. It’s all in my memory, Claire. Absolutely (Claire). They probably know…[ ] How could I make up a date? I didn’t go from, um, um wasn’t April it was February. I mean, it’s very hard to forgive them, like for doing it. Sticking a fork in someone. Stick a fork in someone, I ask you. I wouldn’t do that to no one.
I don’t like looking back on it because it makes me angry. I don’t like looking back on it…I just don’t.
* * *
From this time on, Will I attain to the rest of time of the season of the Aeon in silence.
When Mary had said this, she fell silent. Andrew answered and said to the brethren, “Say what you wish about what she has said. I, at least do not believe that the Savior said this. Certainly these teachings are strange ideas.” (Peter) “Did he really speak privately with a woman and not with us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her?” (Mary) “My brother Peter, what are you imagining? What are you imagining? Do you think I’ve thought this up myself? Do you think I am lying? Do you think I am lying?!”
* * *
What would an apology mean to you? (Interviewer)
Well, it would mean an awful lot, Claire. Now that there is nobody else to apologize to us. The nuns are all dead. Now that there is no one else to apologize to us, I think it should come from the state. So, I think that an apology from the state would be…it wouldn’t block out the memories but it would go halfway towards healing us a bit. Give us a bit of relief before we die, like, you know what I mean. It isn’t the money I’m bothered about, like you know, but the denial of…the denial of having to listen to us. Oh, it would mean an awful lot, Claire.