The former Donnybrook laundry compound in Dublin 4 (top) is currently up for sale (centre) and is expected to sell for around €3million.
The Sisters of Charity ran the laundry from 1883 until 1992 when the order sold it to a private owner who, in turn, ran it as a commercial laundry until 2006.
A former resident, who didn’t wish to disclose her name, spoke to RTÉ journalist Brian O’Connell about the year she spent in the former Donnybrook magdalene laundry in the 1970s. Independent Dublin City Councillor Mannix Flynn was also interview.
The woman returned to the laundry with Mr O’Connell – her first time back at the laundry in around 40 years.
As they walked, she explained how she was in the Navan Road mother and baby home until she was two and a half, before living in several different Catholic-run institutions before eventually being sent to Donnybrook in her late teens.
After she left Donnybrook she didn’t really speak about the magdalene laundry until the Residential Institutions Redress Board got in contact with her.
“I wasn’t allowed in to talk to them [the redress board]. The solicitor talked to the redress board for me, which I was annoyed [about] because I wanted to go in and tell my story. And the way I was treated in the magdalene laundries, and in industrial schools, do you know what I mean? In the orphanage it was very bad, very bad. We were starving and we never got proper food to eat, not proper clothes. I never had proper jumpers, I used to darn all the jumpers.
“And my hair used to be shaved to the scalp. We used to rob the orchards, do you see, you know? And if you were caught robbing in the nun’s orchard, your hair would be shaved. I was locked into a press for three or four days without a bit to eat. That’s the truth, I wouldn’t tell you a lie.”
The woman was locked in the press because she robbed apples out of hunger.
She then described what life was like in the Donnybrook laundry.
“[It was] torture, torture. The work in there, we were so tired at night going to bed, do you know what I mean? And then up at six or half six in the morning to scrub the floors… and then marched in to church for prayers. And then down to work again. You might get bread and dripping or bread and Stork margarine or a cup of cocoa for breakfast in the morning….They ruined our lives. On my deathbed I’ll be thinking about it. I’ll never forgive them [the orders].”
“We were never allowed to talk to each other, even in the dorms at night, we were never allowed to talk. We had no education, they took away my childhood, I was just traumatised. I got electric shock [treatment], I went to commit suicide when I came out, over the convents. I took an overdose of tablets and everything. Thinking back on all this, what had happened me: why my mother left me?”
The woman is still looking for her mother.
“I asked nuns where’s my mother. ‘Who’d have the likes of you’ – that’s what I was told.”
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[Buyers] might well have included businessman Denis O’Brien, who has already assembled a valuable development portfolio in Donnybrook…