'Magdalen women' memorial unveiled

 

THE CARVED limestone figure of a woman lifting a veil from her head has been unveiled in Galway to commemorate the suffering of the city’s “Magdalen women”.

Artist and stone mason Mick Wilkins and poet and playwright Patricia Burke Brogan collaborated in the work, entitled Final Journey, depicting the lives of many unmarried women who were, as Ms Burke Brogan noted, “incarcerated” in the laundry until 1991 because they were pregnant.

The sculpture is located outside Anglo Irish Bank’s Galway branch which supported the project. The building was constructed on the former Convent of Mercy laundry site.

Ms Burke Brogan was a novitiate in the Galway laundry for a brief period before leaving the church, and is author of an award-winning play, Eclipsed, about the Magdalen women.

She paid tribute to the women, some of whom are still living in the city, and to fellow Galway residents Margaret Geraghty, Bridie Hogan and Orla Higgins who worked with her and Mr Wilkins on the project.

The sculpture was commissioned by Galway City Council, as part of “Dealbh” – a public art initiative by the local authority. Costs were also borne by Anglo Irish Bank and by Galway Chamber of Commerce’s Amicable Society.

At the unveiling by Mayor of Galway Cllr Pádraig Conneely, Ms Burke Brogan read her poem, Make Visible the Tree, written when the laundry was demolished in 1991, and spoke of the healing potential of the artwork.

“In the history of every people there are areas of great wounding, times when human beings inflicted great damage,”she said.

“I believe that this wonderful luminous limestone sculpture will heal our city, that the pain held in the earth here in this place of betrayal will be appeased.”

Cllr Billy Cameron (Lab) said that although the last Magdalen laundries were closed in 1996, the legacy was “ingrained in the psyche of Irish women” .