Daniel Sammon – Katie’s Lost Years in Magdalene Laundry

Daniel Sammon lives in Renvyle, Co. Galway. In November 2011 he came up with the novel idea of publishing a book of 60 poems to celebrate his 60th birthday. Two years previously, in 2009 to commemorate the long struggle for Irish Independence and Freedom he walked across Ireland from Renvyle to the GPO in Dublin. He found that walk so interesting and wrote a book about it and called it ‘My Great Walk Across Ireland’. The book was launched by Minister Eamon O’Cuiv in May 2010.

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Katie’s Lost Years in Magdalene Laundry

By Daniel Sammon

As a teenager Katie was one of the most attractive-looking girls on the school bus.
Her father was a hardworking farmer who purchased an adjoining farm that came on the market.
Together with the farm he inherited, he was now a man of property and wealth and he expected people to know it!
Before Katie’s schooldays were over she was dismayed to find that she was pregnant.
Her personality changed and she spent more and more time in her bedroom.
Eventually she revealed her secret to her mother but father was kept in the dark.

Mother, not knowing how to handle this predicament, turned to her local priest.
He lectured the two of them, mother and daughter about the sanctity of the human body, the influences of the devil and the evils of fornication.
Nonetheless, through his contacts he arranged for a car to collect Katie at 9 am on Wednesday 19th February 1964 .
Her mother hugged and kissed Katie goodbye, though neither of them knew then, for the last time ever.
The soft Irish rain falling down hid the tears on both their faces.

After one and a half hours they reached an austere-looking building.
‘Come on this way’ said the nun who seemed to have anticipated her arrival.
Inside she was stripped of everything including her money, her name and her clothes.
She was made to wear what looked like a prison uniform.
Her name was taken from her and she was given the name Frances.
She was shown a dormitory she would share with about forty other girls and women ranging in age from about twelve to forty five.

Rules were strict, authoritarian and demanding with no talking allowed.
Hours were long and the work was hard, with not a kind word from the nuns.
When daily work was finished, it was time for ‘dinner’ then prayers and bedtime, with lights out, and no talking.
That’s when Mammy was missed! and the tears started flowing, under the blankets -silently- for fear the nuns might be listening in the dark.
Eventually for a short period before the birth she rested and when her baby was born, she saw her nameless son for a few brief moments before he was taken away to be adopted.
Back to work again, though her hands were sore from chemicals used in cleaning, where no gloves were supplied, even for hospital sheets having blood stains all over, as well as other kinds of stains.
This went on day after day, month after month ..
On Easter Sunday morning they were given an egg, but they were never paid wages.
In spite of the nuns, she became friendly with another lady named Marlyn, who had become an orphan at eight.

Marlyn was barely in her mid teens when she became a prostitute in Dublin.
One night as she got out of a customer’s car, after doing business, an envelope fell out the door.
As he drove away she picked up the envelope, with no letter inside, just a man’s name on it.
She wondered how her customer happened to have an envelope in his car with the name and address of a priest on it, as it was addressed to a reverend gentleman.
Katie and Marlyn weren’t long acquainted until they got to know where each other came from.
The address on the envelope was the same place Katie came from.
Marlyn asked Katie if she knew the reverend gent whose name was on the envelope.
Katie was stunned to learn the name on the envelope was her local priest’s name, but how did Marlyn’s customer get to have it in his car?
After further discussion the awful truth dawned on Katie the customer had in fact been her local priest, the same man that ranted and raved about the sanctity of the human body, the influences of the devil and the evils of fornication.
She realised then that the big sin she committed was breaking the 11th Commandment …
getting caught!
A well-heeled lady named Penelope, who was married to a solicitor, had a brother a priest named Martin, who was a decent and good-living man.
She wanted a reliable girl to help her rear her two children and clean her house.
Kate was now 21 and officially an adult.
Through Fr. Martin the nuns reluctantly let her go, gave her back her two pounds and ten shillings, and her ill-fitting clothes, which she wore as she had nothing else to wear.
As the years rolled on she often took a second look at boys and young men who would have been a similar age to her own son, whom she never found out what happened to him.
She was now 21, uneducated, with no friends and on her own.
She found life very tough going but struggled on though thick and thin.
After she acquired her own flat she met and married a man with a drink problem, but it didn’t last long.
She always kept her secret about working in the Magdalene Laundry, and not even her husband knew about it.
Eventually she heard other people on the radio talking about their similar experiences and she realised that she was one of many.
She never thought she’d see the day when the Taoiseach of Ireland would stand up in Dail Eireann and emotionally and genuinely apologise for the wrongs that were inflicted on Katie and many other such women who were shamefully treated in a similar fashion.
The public gallery was packed with elderly ladies who had worked tirelessly for no wages in Magdalene Laundries all across Ireland over many decades.
Katie was one of those elderly ladies in the public gallery on Tuesday 19th February 2013 when Enda Kenny stood up and delivered that generous apology forty nine years to the day she walked out her own front gate to be taken away to the mother & baby home.

Full version of this story will in be in my forth-coming book!

 

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