Esther Harrington’s name was added to the headstone just this month despite having passed away in the care of the Order on Jul 6, 1987. She had spent 70 years in Sunday’s Well Magdalene Laundry in Cork, entering at age 14 and remaining there until her death at 84.
This correction was only carried out following pressure from the woman’s great niece, Rose Brien Harrington, from Cobh, who discovered the error.
“I assumed she was in St Joseph’s, but in a grave of her own. I was suffering from cancer when she died so I couldn’t get to the funeral. When the whole Magdalene apology came I discovered it was a mass grave in St Joseph’s and she wasn’t on the headstone.
“I contacted the order who confirmed she was buried there. They apologised for what they called an ‘oversight’ that she was not on the headstone. I was in such a temper about it. She was being treated with disdain in life by these people and here again in death.”
Last Saturday, friends and relatives held a small ceremony to mark of Esther’s resting place and to honour a life spent almost entirely in Sunday’s Well Magdalene Laundry.
Ms Brien Harrington said she had visited her great aunt in Sunday’s Well shor-tly before she died and described her as a gentle woman who was almost childlike after so many years behind the walls of the laundry.
“I remember she was bedridden by then in an old dormitory. It was covered in rosary beads and crucifixes, she had no personal belongings. It looked like she was on a hospital bed with worn sheets and rotten old blankets. There was another woman in the bed next to her and she looked after her. It was very sad.
“I gave some of the women pick and mix sweets and their eyes lit up, they couldn’t believe it. They loved my hair too and kept rubbing it, saying it was lovely. They were like children really. I cried coming out of there, it was desperately sad.”
According to the family, Esther had entered the laundry in 1918 at the age of 14, although the order disputes this and says she entered when she was 20. She worked as a seamstress and, according to Ms Brien Harrington, this may have ensured she remained there for life.
“She was a trained seamstress so they needed her in there. I know my grandparents tried to take her out at some point in 1930 and the local priest called round and told them that he would see to it that they would lose their shop and that their children would be out on the street.”
Ms Brien Harrington also expressed her anger at incorrect details supplied to her by the order. It issued her birth, death and baptismal certs for Esther. The baptismal cert lists Esther’s date of birth as being in 1902 when she was born the following year. Also, the death cert supplied by the order cites her as being 81 when she died when, in fact, she was 84.
This is the second time the Good Shepherd Order has amended the headstones of the mass Magdalene graves in St Joseph’s Cemetery. In February, it am-ended a headstone in the cemetery following an Irish Examiner article outlining how it listed four Magdalene women as being buried in two different locations.
Three of the names now have asterisks attached with a footnote stating: “Interred in Residents Plot Sunday’s Well”.
However, no explanation is offered for the woman listed twice on the headstone with two different dates of death.
The Sunday’s Well grave has been vandalised and is inaccessible to the public.