Trevor Heaney - Abstracts

Trevor was employed in the Good Shepherds Laundry in the mid 1970s as a maintenance man. Through his work he got to know many of the women working in the laundry, the nuns and the building itself. Here Trevor shares memories and experiences of his time spent at the Good Shepherds.

When I first came in I couldn't get over the fact that women in their 60s and 70s would have to genuflect to people in cloth, a nun or a priest. I couldn't believe how people could be brow beat into submission like that.

Cora, Vera and Eithne - Those three ladies ran that boiler house for years… Back before oil came into the place they used to stoke the boilers by hand- shovel the coal, throw the blocks, all to keep the laundry going. How they persevered and got through, I just don't know.

They broke a lot of sweat in that laundry. The laundry was very hot. It was just basically a sweathouse just to provide Joe Public out there with nice clean sheets.

I used to go in to the Lace Room the odd time to have a look at some of the sewing machines…Some of them were up into their 80s maybe their 90s still sowing away at Limerick Lace. There would be twelve or fourteen working in there.

This lady in particular didn't know that after she gave birth, her daughter was brought up in the same complex and remained there until she was sixteen years old…When she was thirty-two years old, the daughter would come back to the Good Shepherds looking for her mother. And she didn't know her for all those years… that her mother was at the other end of the church and she was at the other end for sixteen years.

How the nuns could keep all this sheltered up and closed up I don't know…And then you see the other side of the nuns a good side. To me you know in ways they are like Jekyll and Hyde.

There was one nun that used to be outside the workshop at the laundry, where my workshop was, and when she got angry she thought nothing of pulling the strap out. She pulled the strap out and hit them to get them to speed up – physically hitting. Now she was old school. Another nun was coming past one day and told her to stop. She said 'you can't do that anymore.'

They were very gentle, lovely people just basically, I would say, brow beat into submission. They were not allowed to have a voice for themselves until later years when they started to get out. But there were only certain ones they would let out. They let them out around the town but there was only a certain few that you would consider them street wise...Some you just couldn't let out because they were too long institutionalised.

And there were punishment cells...And the reason I know there were punishment cells was because I had to give assistance to rip half of them out to put in toilets. When you walk in though the door, straight in front of you is the bed. It was strung up against the wall. When you wanted it you pulled it down from the wall and two straps would have held it and there was chains on the wall, you know like manacles…And then there was your lat and a heavy door with bars on it.

Download Trevor's Full Oral History