The laundry walls find a new purpose

Walls are powerful things. Some are built to keep something or someone out; others to keep people in.

But sometimes, I think that walls are there to show us just how badly we want something. We look at walls, real and imagined, and every day we wonder how they can be scaled or dismantled, brick by brick, driven by empathy and a genuine curiosity to know what is on the other side.

The walls of the former Magdalen Laundry at Forster Street have known only one role for many years. For a century and more, they acted as a barrier to the outside from within.

They played the role of overseer, a constant concrete reminder of the divisions between what lay outside and what lay within. They were the loyal foot soldiers of those who took advantage of the situations in which these west of Ireland women found themselves.

Through these walls and over these walls, the women of the Magdalen Laundry could see and hear life pass by; like the inmates of Alacatraz looking out across the blue bay of San Francisco longing to sample the outside, they acted as a reminder of what lay outside. The walls played their part in the psychological terror that was inflicted on those condemned to work inside them. For years after they left, many of the women who worked in the laundry spoke of the difficulty of becoming accustomed to a life without walls.

In a few weeks time, builders will enter that place and start to create for it a new purpose. A domestic abuse refuge. A new name. Modh Eile, literally meaning another way. The tear-soaked walls will soon be turning another way, as they will no longer be protecting something from within.

Instead the walls will act as the exact opposite of what they have been doing since they were constructed. They will provide succour to those who arrive into their fold. Instead of holding up their hands and saying no, they will act as open arms to gather and protect, doing in essence what they should have been doing for the entirety of the last century. The walls will be poachers turned gamekeeper.

They will welcome families who are in shock. People whose entire lives have been turned upside down by domestic dysfunction, by the shattering of hopes. Families who will arrive, sadly, in their hundreds and thousands in the coming years. In those walls the people who will avail of this service, and their children, will see a protector, a space to rest, and gather their shattered thoughts. It will be a place in which they will find people who will care for them, advise them, love them, watch over them while they try to gather a semblance of sleep on those torrid first few nights when they try to convince themselves that they have done the right thing, that they have taken the first step to a life away from abuse.

For the children who will arrive there, often in the dark of night with tear-stained faces, these walls will represent a new beginning. Let them be bright and welcoming, not dark and forboding. Let them shed their former purpose and care for those in distress.

COPE Galway does wonderful work and will do this for many many years to come. They are front line volunteers who face the reality of homelessness and domestic dysfunction every hour of every day. As you read this now, they are dealing with a dozen or more sad situations; they are comforting people who are shaking from shock at a complete turnabout of what they thought their lives would be.

Never miss an opportunity to help COPE Galway and the marvellous work they do in the darkest hours when the rest of us are asleep in comfort. This one million euro that they require to finish this job is a tangible investment in the future empathy of this city and county, an investment in which we should all take a share. Do what you can to make sure they hit that target, so that they can get on with the invaluable work they do.

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