My mom took me out for an early birthday dinner last night. I don’t see her very often; I actually had a good time, though. She left me and my dad when I was 5. We don’t really get along, but it’s getting better these days [insert Ani DiFranco’s “Not Angry Anymore,” substitute “mom” for “dad” and you’re partly there—well, I’m partly there]. She’s Irish Catholic to the core and went to Catholic school growing up. (she told me some great stories I had never heard before, I’ll get to those later).
I was telling her about The Magdalene Sisters, a recent Netflix treasure I recently saw and sobbed to. (Powerful, knock-out acting and story-telling). It emotionally wiped me out. I had heard about the Magdalene Laundries for the first time just a few years ago. Here are the disturbing facts that haunt me, but that I think everyone should be aware of:
- *30,000 Irish women were sent to work in the laundries, over a 150-year time span.
- *The last laundry did not close until 1996!!!!!
- *According to an Associated Press report, “The system began as a means of rehabilitating prostitutes, but quickly expanded to become a dumping ground for any woman deemed to have committed a sexual wrong -- from giving birth out of wedlock to flirting. Each woman was given a new name and forbidden to use her old one. They were confined to the building and barred from receiving everyday news from the outside world.”
- *In the film and in reality, young women were “put in” for sickening reasons such as: being raped, being “too pretty,” and one woman from the 1950s (quoted from this CBS news report done several years ago) was put in because she was sneaking out of the orphanage she lived in to see movies and the nuns thought she was engaging in premarital sex acts. !?!?!
- *The “point” of sending the girls to the laundries, according to former inmates (at least that’s what I would refer to them as) was that “by scrubbing, they were supposed to wash away their sins along with the stains on the laundry of the orphanages, churches, prisons and even the local butcher shop.” But, as the documentary I saw (it accompanied the film on DVD) said, unlike Mary Magdalene herself who was finally forgiven for her sins after her repentance, these women were left to suffer and die in these bizarre religious prisons.
- *The horrors of these laundries finally gained public attention beginning in 1998 when 133 unmarked graves were uncovered in a Magdalene-affiliated convent in Dublin, near houses for women who died while working at the convent, due to illness, or old age.
*Not surprisingly, the Irish Catholic church still has not officially issued any sort of apology.
When I first started telling my mother about the film she had this hint of recognition in her eyes, even though she said she wasn’t sure if she’d heard of the laundries. After I had told her she told me something unbelievable. Two of her best friends, they’re twins, from high school were adopted from Ireland, from a woman who was sent to a Magdalene asylum. They never found out who their mother was, just that she was in one of the laundries in the 1950’s.
Coincidentally, I was in California (where my mom and dad are from) when the twins found out that they were adopted—they were 38 years old. Apparently (understandably) they are furious with their adoptive mother. It is fucked. But, it is amazing that these two women came out of that horrific situation and are now living in the Bay area, relatively happy and successful and independent.
I don’t really know why I have such a fascination with Irish Catholic culture. Obviously, it’s party due to my heritage. But, I am only about a quarter Irish and I never even knew my Irish grandfather (he died, an alcoholic, when my mother was 19).
I guess I’ve romanticized all out of proportion because I was never actually raised Catholic, myself, so I am intrigued by it. My mother told me these great little antecdotes after we got all sad about the Magdalene stories. We talked about her in Catholic school, how the nuns weren’t so bad, but she got into trouble all the fucking time. Ha. She said, “I would roll and hike my skirt above my knees and the nuns would puuuuuuull it down. Then I would puuuull it back up. I would put mascara on in the bathroom and the nuns would taaaaaaake it way. I had more, and I would but that on.” Fantastic. The Rebel O’Connell sister prize does not, however go to my mom, but rather to my rock ‘n’ roll-to-the-soul aunt Linnie, who apparently (I just found this out, too) smoked heroin in front of my (comparatively) innocent mother. She also saw the Stones at Altamont. Fucking-a-right. I know I really, really shouldn’t be proud of that, but I totally am.