COPE Galway tribute to Magdalen women marks start of new era for laundry building

COPE Galway this week launched a booklet to Remember, Respect and Record stories of the women who lived and worked in the Magdalen Laundry in Galway. The local charity sees the booklet as a way of acknowledging this painful history while also looking to a new use for the convent building associated with the laundry – a state-of-the-art centre for women and children who experience domestic abuse in Galway.

The name of the new centre was also revealed — It will be known as “ModhEile” a name chosen by women who have experienced domestic abuse and who believe that this name, which is the Irish for “Another Way”, will give hope to others to find a way to rebuild their lives and create a better future for their families.

The booklet, produced by John Tierney of Eachtra, sets the historical and societal context for the Magdalen Laundry in Galway. It includes contributions from people in Galway and four personal accounts told by people associated with the Laundry. It also contains the records of 80 women who are buried either in graves at the site, or in the Bohermore cemetery. There are many more women who lived and worked in the Galway Laundry and this booklet is a memorial to all of these people.

The new, enhanced facility is urgently needed by the women and children of Galway as the Waterside House building used currently for COPE Galway’s Domestic Abuse Service has been unfit for purpose for many years now. In particular, there is not enough space for all who present for safe refuge – the local organisation was unable to accommodate 258 women and their 441 children who sought refuge there in 2017.

COPE Galway’s search for a new facility commenced over ten years ago. After five years of trying to source and secure a suitable alternative, the Mercy order offered the charity a gift of the convent building, right in the heart of Galway City and close to all amenities and services.

The Magdalen Laundry operated in Forster St from 1870 to 1984. As COPE Galway prepares to renovate the convent building associated with the Magdalen Laundry, the organisation seeks also to acknowledge its history, and the lives of the women associated with it.

Jacque Horan, COPE Galway CEO, said that this is a turning point for all involved.

“This is an opportunity to remember, respect and record some of the sad history and the experiences of the women who lived and worked in the Magdalen Laundry.

“The booklet we are launching serves as a collection of stories and historical information. It is our small and, we hope, sensitive contribution towards acknowledging the lived experiences of women who suffered enormous personal pain and loss. It is an opportunity for us to remember who these women were, to respect their lives and work, and to record their lives and deaths in the best way we can,” she said.

She added that COPE Galway has also been mindful of the history and the legacy of the site.

Protective of the history

“We have been very proactive from the start of our journey in terms of archaeological considerations also. We commissioned an archaeological and architectural risk assessment which was conducted in 2013 by Finn Delaney. We then contracted the services of John Tierney from Eachtra and the Historical Graves project to engage with the local community and produce a historical and memorial record of the Magdalen Laundry here in Galway and of the women who lived and worked here. That became the basis for our memorial booklet”.

Maisie Kenny’s Escape is one of the stories featured in the booklet (not her real name ). It recounts the experience of one woman who, at age 14, was put into the Laundry for four years from 1948 to 1952.

This woman said, “They are giving the Convent to COPE Galway. I see that as a little token of atonement. There will always be women or girls in need of shelter – but there must never again be a shelter where you go in and the door is locked behind you and the key thrown away!”

COPE Galway thanked everyone who contributed to the compilation of the booklet, with particular gratitude for those who recounted their personal stories associated with the Laundry, and for those who attended the various meetings towards the compilation of this memorial. Jacquie Horan also thanked John Tierney (Eachtra Historical Graves Project ) and Dr Paul McCotter, who contributed to the historical research; Finn Delaney who conducted an Archaeological and Architectural Risk Assessment; Proviz for their sensitive design work; the Galway City Museum; various other contributors and, especially to the Sisters of Mercy, who donated the building.

Jacquie Horan also revealed the new name for the building.

There are many in our communities who today are experiencing the trauma of domestic abuse in all its forms, and when they look to COPE Galway to protect them and their children, they deserve a facility that will meet their needs and help them to begin life anew. Today we officially named the new building “ModhEile” a name chosen by women who have experienced domestic abuse and who believe that this name, which is the Irish for “ Another Way”, will give hope to others to find a way to rebuild their lives and create a better future for their families”.

COPE Galway also announced the appointment of Carey Building Contractors to renovate the building, and work will commence in the coming weeks. They expect a 12-month build phase, with services expected to commence at the new site by the end of 2019.

Ms Horan also acknowledged Simon J Kelly design team for their generous giving of time and expertise during the development phase of the project. The COPE Galway CEO also made reference to how much the organisation appreciates the funding in place to date from the Department of Housing, Planning & Local Government, along with funding by private donors, including the new Lifes2good Foundation.

The project will cost €4m to deliver and to date 75% of this is in place. Jacquie Horan concluded, “We now need to raise the remaining €1m and we have every confidence that we will continue to benefit from the generosity of the people of Galway to bring this project to fruition”.

COPE Galway Domestic Abuse Service, currently based at Waterside House in Galway, is the only 24 hour accessible refuge in the Western region. It provides refuge accommodation, information, support and court accompaniment to women and their children experiencing domestic violence. There is an Outreach service for women in the city and county who are in abusive relationships and who need support and information on their options.

In 2017 COPE Galway Domestic Violence Services worked with 339 individual women and 214 individual children. We provided 615 outreach appointments to 210 individual women; provided 189 women with 225 court accompaniments and offered 212 play therapy sessions. We were unable to accommodate 258 women with their 441 children on 326 occasions due to lack of space. No woman who presents to our services is ever turned away.

COPE Galway is a Galway-based charity providing a range of services that address the needs of people who are homeless and at risk of homelessness; women and children who experience domestic violence and abuse and supports for older people living in the community. Their vision is for an “Improved Quality of Life in a Home of your Own” for people affected by homelessness, women and children experiencing domestic violence, and older people.

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