John Gilligan - Abstracts

Councillor John Gilligan successfully campaigned to have the names of the women who died while in the care of the Good Shepherds recorded on the gravestones in Mount St. Lawrence Cemetery in Limerick City. Here he tells the story of his campaign and his childhood memories of the Good Shepherd Laundry.

There was this day I had been up there visiting a grave, I think it was a family grave. It was a lovely day so I went down just to look at tomb stones just the dates and things like that because its part of the social history of Limerick and I took the left hand path and I came across the biggest grave in the entire cemetery and there wasn't a single name on it. Now I know I'd passed it before, but I don't think it impacted on me until then. It said 'Here Lie the Residents of the Good Shepherd Convent' and it struck me as being rather odd. Why on earth it should have been remembered like that... All graveyards are full of the good, the bad and the highly indifferent – everything from mass murderers get their name on a headstone... Everybody gets their name on a headstone, including all of the religious orders - They have two very big graves up there as well and they were commemorated and I wondered why these people should be any different.

At this stage I was really angry by the way these women had been treated. I mean it was modern day fucking slavery. I know one woman who joined me in the campaign and she was literally kidnapped in Dublin. Her mother had died and she went to Dublin and she was working in Dublin in some house or something like that and the Legion of Mary literally kidnapped her and fucked her into an orphanage where she spent 5 or 6 years. She didn't know what she had done wrong. In fact she did nothing wrong. But you had these people who made decisions like that. That woman was literally kidnapped of the streets. And some of them had absolutely horrific stories to tell. From what I could gather subsequently they had little or no sunshine in their lives. They had nothing. Even when the some of them had babies, they weren't asked were the babies to be adopted. They were taken off them. Some of them were sold to Americans. It was a monstrous crime against humanity.

I recognised then that is why some people did not want the whole thing of the Magdalene laundry brought up. But I wasn't going to let it rest. So I ploughed away. I eventually wrote to the Bishop of Limerick. I must say he was supportive of it. It's never been official but when I started pushing at the bishop I do believe that he facilitated it. I wrote to him and the nuns wrote back to me but you could see...I think he told them that it was going to happen one way or another so you'd better be sure it's done properly. But I'm delighted to say that eventually when they did the job, they didn't do it half-heartedly. It is a very touching display.

I believe that society owes them an apology to begin with. Many of these people were taken away, were institutionalised, denigrated, fucking tortured, if you will. And of course society owes any of these people who are still alive. They have to get a safe protective environment to try and live the rest of their lives as best they possibly can. This must not be done as a favour. This is an obligation on society and we must recognise it as that. It's not that we are giving them anything. It is that we have taken so much from them. Many of these now would be would be old and infirmed. They must be looked after properly and must as much as possible be tried to integrated back into society or as much of it as they can handle.

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