Unearth the cold burial practices of the nuns who ran Laundries

This week, I visited a grave at Glasnevin Cemetery, which is maintained by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the order that ran Magdalene Laundries at High Park and Gloucester/Sean McDermott St. For 11 years I have made this journey, but this occasion was different, because I witnessed the grave being opened by the grounds staff. This shock was followed by the realisation another former Magdalene woman had died while in the care of the nuns.

Unearth the cold burial practices of the nuns who ran Laundries

Remembering these deceased women is central to our ethos in Justice For Magdalenes Research. I looked up this woman’s death notice. It read: “The death has occurred of [name, location]. Peacefully. Reposing in [location] today, Monday, from 4pm. Funeral mass tomorrow, Tuesday, at 11.45am, followed by burial in Glasnevin Cemetery”. The notice is so devoid of emotion it begs the question of whether this woman mattered at all to the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the order of nuns responsible for her institutionalisation.

Comparing this announcement to previous death notices for the Sisters themselves, one cannot help but note the differences. Unlike the cold, factual piece above, the Sisters’ death notices stated how much the deceased would be missed, their work, their ages and — perhaps most tellingly — they reveal that the Sisters were buried in their “community cemetery”, while the former Magdalene women were buried in Glasnevin, separately.

Eleven years have passed since the late Mary Raftery drew our attention to the circumstances surrounding the exhumations at the former Magdalene Laundry at High Park.

On that occasion, 155 women were re-interred at Glasnevin, to make room for a property development, while the Sisters’ community cemetery was left intact. Incredibly, an entire chapter of the McAleese Report discusses the issue of deaths, burials and exhumations, yet questions remain about the burial practices of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity.

The Sisters’ testimony was accepted unquestioningly, while survivor testimony was completely ignored.

We may never know all the answers. However, if the manner in which death notices are composed is any indication, it seems certain that, for Magdalene women, being viewed as less-than in life also means being treated as less-than in death.

We urge the Irish public to remember this woman in their thoughts and prayers.

Claire McGettrick

Justice for Magdalenes Research

Crocknahattina

Bailieborough

Co Cavan

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