The Bishop of Cork and Ross has backed the calls of campaigners to make the vandalised mass grave of Magdalene women at Sunday’s Well accessible to the public.
Bishop John Buckley’s support comes following his call for the exhumation of the remains of Little Nellie — the “unofficial patron saint” of Cork — so people can pray at her grave.
Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR) and a number of Magdalene survivors had expressed concern that there was no mention of the mass grave on the site of the former Magdalene Laundry when making his call.
However, after a query from the Irish Examiner, Bishop Buckley said he fully supported calls for the grave to be made accessible.
“I would support calls to make the other graves there accessible to those who wished to visit and pray there and would also support calls that the graves would be maintained appropriately and reverentially,” he said.
Bishop Buckley also condemned the acts of vandalism at the grave and hoped that the matter had been reported to the Gardaí.
“Respect for the dead, their place of burial, and religious sites are fundamental to a civilised society and are fundamental aspects to our Christian belief,” he said.
The condition of the mass grave was first reported by the Irish Examiner in February 2013.
It contains the remains of 30 women who died in the care of the order between 1882 and 1983 and lies inaccessible in an overgrown part of the complex, outside the convent walls but behind a 3m-high wall covered in razor wire. The gate has been welded shut. The large cross above the headstone has destroyed.
Despite a the high-profile investigations into the desecration of WT Cosgrave’s grave and the felling of a cross on Carrauntoohill, no investigation was carried out into the vandalism at Sunday’s Well.
The Good Shepherd Sisters, who ran the laundry, previously refused to answer questions on why a number of names on the headstone are also listed as buried at St Joseph’s Cemetery in another part of Cork. The names now have asterisks attached with a footnote stating: “Interred in Residents’ Plot Sunday’s Well”.
Claire McGettrick of JFMR welcomed the intervention of Bishop Buckley, saying it was time the women buried had the dignity in death they were denied in life.
“We fervently agree that Nellie Organ’s final resting place should be accessible and we understand the place she holds in the hearts of the people of Cork,” said Ms McGettrick. “However, the Magdalene women also deserve consideration and not further marginalisation by the same church which enforced their incarceration and which benefited from their unpaid labour”.
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