From the newly published leaflet Remember, Respect and Record: The Magdalene Women of Galway
COPE Galway has launched a leaflet called Remember, Respect and Record: The Magdalen Women of Galway edited by John Tierney.
It focuses on the lives of women who lived and worked in a Magdelene Laundry on Foster Street in Galway from 1870 to 1984, which was taken over by the Sisters of Mercy in 1854, and records how several women escaped.
The publication of the leaflet comes as COPE Galway prepares to renovate the convent building on Foster Street into a centre for women and children who experience domestic abuse.
Maisie Kenny (not her real name), and who was known as number 105, was put in the laundry when she was aged 14 in 1948 and she escaped in 1952.
In the leaflet, she’s recorded as saying:
“I escaped out of it in 1952, the late Christmas of 1951. In a deluge [of rain]. Which left me well over 3.5 years there… I escaped out of it. I went over the roof. It’s as simple as that!
“It took some doing, and I think it was the one time in my life that I knew what real fear was.
“And the fear that was, up on the roof that night, if I fell, I could be killed, that wouldn’t bother me, If I was gone I’d be gone! But if I was caught I’d never get a chance again.”
“I’d get watched around the place, the hair cut, everything. But there was no way I’d get a second chance!”…
“The window sills were very low, you could put your foot on them. Well that window was right beside the drainpipe up to the roof, so I worked up that drainpipe, on to the roof, I had to negotiate a V shape on the top. I was afraid you see, the slates were wet, but, just in case, the Man Above wanted to make sure I succeeded so I did. That’s the way I look at it!”
“My immediate thought then when I came out was “I’m out! I’m out!”. But no time for anymore thoughts, “keep going”. But the sensation of being outside, looking in, was something! I’ve never forgotten it!”
Áine Hickey and her sister, who owned a shop on Foster Street, told how they saw a mass escape from the laundry at some point in the 1960s.
Aine is recorded as saying:
“I came home for lunch one day and there had been workmen with the ladders up to the windows and they had taken out the windows. Maybe it was the frames that had to be replaced but they had the windows taken out, and as I came in for lunch, which we did everyday, from school, we had time to run up and down, and my sister was going, ‘come in, come in quick, close the door and look out the window!’
“Well what was she talking about? So she says ‘look, just look!’ The workmen had gone off on their lunch break and they had left the ladders up to the top windows which had been removed and the girls had taken the opportunity. Aprons on, uniforms on and whatever.
“And she was saying ‘we don’t see them, we don’t see them, nobody sees what is happening. Don’t go out, don’t open the door, just watch and see how many’s going to get out like?’
“Well I think it was about 30 got out that day. To the best of my memory. And they were just literally running up the road, or running across Fair Green which was still a fair green at the time. Or it had just started to be turned into a car park.
“And we just were saying ‘Just go, go quick, go as far as ye can!’ Which they did. Now unfortunately some didn’t even know their way around, and might have been back that evening, or the guards had caught a few.
“A good few had made their escape and got helped by people around town who would have seen them and realised, and went ‘aw come on, just come in!’ I know I had a friend I worked with, she used to tell me a story about her house down in Woodquay where somebody came knocking on their door, literally knocking on the door.
“And she was only about my age at the time as well. And the mother had answered the door and immediately saw, realised, ‘Just come in!’ you know? And that person was given clothes and her fare to England. I know it bothers me too and there were several stories like that.
“I think somebody on Magdalen Terrace had taken somebody in as well, that day. If not more than one. Either tried to get them jobs someplace in Ireland, or even in town. They would have come back and say, that’s it, they are settled with that person, they are fine. Looked after, all that sort of thing.
“But I know that certainly a lot made their way to England or Dublin, they would have been given clothes and fare and just told ‘Just go!’ rather than go back inside, you know. It was high up. I remember, apron and skirt blowing in the breeze as they were coming down. I can still see them, but they went.”
“As I said, I don’t know whether the workmen accidentally or deliberately left the ladders up and vanished off for their lunch. I don’t know who they were, don’t know whether they were local. Or not. Never thought about that. Possibly locals at the time. But that was known by us as ‘The Great Escape’.
The leaflet can be read in full here
Pic: Cope Galway