Order refuses to offer explanation on burials

A religious order has refused to offer any explanation as to why four women who died in its care are named as being buried in two different locations.

The four women who were incarcerated in The Good Shepherd Sisters Magdalene laundry in Cork are listed on headstones at mass graves in two different locations in Cork.

Another woman with a distinctive first name is listed twice on the same headstone at another site but with different dates of death two months apart. The women died on dates ranging from as far back as 1882 right up until 1983.

The duplicated names appear on Magdalene graves on two separate graves at St Joseph’s Cemetery and on another headstone at a mass grave at the site of the laundry itself in Sunday’s Well.

One of the graves in St Joseph’s Cemetery was only discovered last summer by the Justice For Magdalenes (JFM) group. It also located a fourth grave at Kilcully Cemetery which appears to be later burials from the Good Shepherd and Peacock Lane laundries.

In total, some 188 women are buried at the four sites between 1875 and 2011. It is unclear whether death certificates exist for all of the women buried in the plots.

As well as the issue of the duplication of names on headstones, JFM has raised concerns about the condition of the mass grave at Sunday’s Well.

Containing the names of 30 women, it is inaccessible in an overgrown part of the complex while the large cross above the headstone has been vandalised and broken up into pieces.

The headstone and names were only placed on the grave by the order following a campaign by a former resident of the laundry Mary Norris in the late 1990s. The nuns are buried in a separate and well-kept area of the property.

Claire McGettrick of JFM said the Good Shepherd Sisters called on the order to provide accurate records for all the women who resided at Sunday’s Well laundry.

“It is disturbing that in 2013, there are 30 women and girls in Sunday’s Well who are afforded no dignity in death because there is no easy or safe way to access their final resting place. It is of serious concern that there are discrepancies and gaps in three of the four grave locations for the Good Shepherd in Sunday’s Well.

“The 188, or possibly more women and girls who died in their charge deserve to have adequate and accurate records of their life and death, as is afforded to any other citizen of Ireland,” she said.

JFM also raised concerns about the large gap in years, roughly between the early 1890s and early 1920s during which no names are recorded at any of the grave sites. It has called on the Good Shepherd Sisters to reveal if there are any other sites where women who were in its care are buried or if more women are buried at the current sites.

The Good Shepherd Convent operated a Magdalene laundry and orphanage on the Sunday’s Well site from 1874 until late 1977.

While there are no publicly available figures for the number of women and children who passed through the institution, newspaper records show courts sending women there well into the 1970s. The Irish Examiner sent a series of questions to the Good Shepherd Sisters, asking for clarity on the duplicated names and if it is in possession of records for the women who resided at the laundry, It declined to respond to any of the queries or issue any comment.

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