Two women given freedom of Galway city for work exposing Magdalene laundries

Ena McEntee and family helped 15 women escape from institution on city’s Forster Street

The freedom of Galway city was awarded to two women on Friday for their work relating to helping women in Magdalene laundries.

Patricia Burke Brogan was honoured due to her play Eclipsed, which shone a light on the terrible conditions the women in the laundries were forced to endure.

Ms Burke Brogan is an artist and writer, originally from Clare but she moved to Galway aged two. She worked in a laundry on Forster Street in Galway city while she was a novitiate nun.

The harrowing conditions shocked the young novice, and she left the order and decided against becoming a nun.

The play was one of the first to highlight the gruelling and inhumane treatment in Magdalene laundries. It is set in the 1960s and first premiered in 1992, winning multiple awards.

Galway local Ena McEntee was also honoured with the freedom of the city at the same ceremony.

Ms McEntee started working in the city’s laundry at the end of 1963. She and her family, aghast by the appalling conditions the women were working and living in, devised a plan to smuggle some of them to safety.

Ms McEntee, along with her husband and sons, helped 15 women escape by opening the door of the laundry and driving them away in a van.

The women stayed at the McEntee family home in Mervue until arrangements were made for them to move away from the city.

Ms McEntee died in 1986 but her award will be accepted by her three sons, Hugo, Andy and Declan.

The two women were honoured at a special meeting of Galway City Council in the Hardiman Hotel at 3.30pm on Friday.

A plaque in honour of both women was also unveiled on College Road.

“These women offered a small glimmer of hope to those who were otherwise possessed of none at the time,” said the Mayor of Galway city, Colette Connolly. “They stood for women’s rights and we are extremely proud of them.”