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Friday, 22 February 2013

Killing Mary Magdalene. Ghosts..

"I want to hear them say it! To know I am believed . I never mattered....didn't exist  No one ever said it happened. No one ever said the words. No one ever said it!  Sorry" We  have been  ambushed for weeks and weeks now, blown away by a great outpouring of stories from women.  The McAleese Government sponsored  report on the Magdalene Laundry women  has been released. . Despite its sad and sorry preoccupation with selectively reporting to limit the legal liability of the State,   there may be  a reckoning at last. The haunting whispers from enslaved  Irish woman, first heard  two decades ago, has this week become an unstoppable roar. .Silenced  women speak and, always, behind them, you can  hear the implacable clamour of the dead .

The invisible made visible. My husband describes to me the "Clatties",  girls and women in the Poor Clare  Convent in  Cavan town, so known by the people if  they  worked in the convent laundry, and were orphaned, destitute, or otherwise condemned as inmates there. They were ambiguous presences in his  school life,  hired out by the nuns,  serving meals, dressed  uniformly, sexless.  They didn't speak. They didn't  look you in the eye. He remembers a pretty young  girl with a mole sprouting hairs  on her face, whom he tried to speak to , to see her eyes, but she never  looked up. They moved about almost soundless, taking up scant space.

He saw them peripherally every day in the Convent garden on a short cut home; young and full grown women, always the same, drab shadowy  presences.  They moved in and out of his  world . Everyone knew what they were. A tacit  pervasive  knowing. They served.  They filled him with a sense of ambivalent  unease, of wrong doing. Wrong doers or wronged,  this was never clear. There were so many convents in Ireland.

One night in that convent years before, thirty five girls, children and teenagers, died..  They  burned, or  fell     from the convent windows. They could not get out. The Laundry went on fire. The nuns corralled them in a dormitory at the top of the building, and refused to open the doors. The building was consumed. It stood in the centre of the town.  Finally, two men broke in, climbed in, overrode the nuns will, but brought out only a handful. .The nuns, reluctant it seems  to allow the people see the girls in their night clothes,  never expected to be and never were held to account. The stench from the scorched timbers befouled the town for years after.

The townspeople found the girls'  blackened  bodies, piled high behind the ruined doors, next day. They lie mingled, unnamed, in a mass grave now. They could have got out. Fifty years later, one hundred and fifty five bodies were exhumed from a mass grave in a Dublin convent, some without record or death certificate, many without a given name. Unearthed, because the nuns sold some convent ground to a developer for a tidy sum. They applied for an exhumation licence to clear this fine asset. They didn't anticipate any difficulties. There was none from the state. But someone saw, as the body count mounted, and an action group was born. There were so many convents in Ireland.

A century of silence, of tacit savagery. And now the weasel words. Well may you weep Taoiseach Kenny. Apologise. To start. Then pay what we owe in money and blood. To Begin. Say it.  Mea Culpa. Mea Culpa. Mea Culpa..