Welshman discovers ‘deep secret’ of family’s Magdalene laundry past

Glasnevin Cemetery memorial event commemorates women who died in laundries

March 6th, 2017: A number of people share their personal stories at ‘The ‘Flowers for Magdalenes’ memorial event in memory of the women who once lived and worked in the Magdalene laundry in Galway. Video: Joe O'Shaughnessy

 

The grandson of a woman incarcerated in a Magdalene laundry has spoken of his family’s pride as he attended an emotional commemoration in Dublin.

Frank Brehany, from Wales, discovered his family’s “deep secret” after promising his late father he would find his mother.

Mr Brehany’s grandmother Mary spent many years in High Park laundry in Dublin.

Roisín Keane (4), from Rush, with her aunt Aoife Downes, at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin for the eighth annual Flowers for Magdalenes memorial event. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Roisín Keane (4), from Rush, with her aunt Aoife Downes, at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin for the eighth annual Flowers for Magdalenes memorial event. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

From the 18th century up to the mid-1990s, tens of thousands of women were put to work in laundries run by Catholic orders of nuns. Unmarried mothers and girls from troubled backgrounds suffered years of abuse inside the grim facilities.

On Sunday, Mr Brehany attended a memorial event at Glasnevin Cemetery to commemorate the women who died inside the laundries. He embraced 88-year-old Mary Merritt, who says his grandmother looked after her during her 14 years in the laundry.

Visiting graves on a rain-drenched afternoon at Glasnevin Cemetery during the eighth annual Flowers for Magdalenes memorial event. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Visiting graves on a rain-drenched afternoon at Glasnevin Cemetery during the eighth annual Flowers for Magdalenes memorial event. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

“I am deeply moved and privileged to be standing here in the company of giants – it’s a cliche but it’s a true cliche,” Mr Brehany said. “My journey started in 2010 to uncover the secret, the deep secret of my family. Before my father died I promised I would find his family, that I would find his mother.

‘Luckier than most’

“The other part of that promise is, I would find justice for my family, justice for Mary and I am delighted to be able to tell you that I am luckier than most because my father had a birth certificate and, as a result of that, I have not only found my family history going back to the late 1700s, but I have surviving family in the Irish Republic, in Northern Ireland, in London, in Connecticut, in Chicago.

Visiting graves on a rain-drenched afternoon at Glasnevin Cemetery during the eighth annual Flowers for Magdalenes memorial event. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Visiting graves on a rain-drenched afternoon at Glasnevin Cemetery during the eighth annual Flowers for Magdalenes memorial event. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

“We are united as a family again and we are proud, we are not ashamed, we are not hiding away Mary’s past – she did no wrong, my father did no wrong.

“She was a Magdalene woman, he was a Magdalene child.”

Ms Merritt gave thanks that Ireland had been transformed since the days of the laundries.

Activist and researcher Claire McGettrick speaks at Glasnevin Cemetery during the eighth annual Flowers for Magdalenes event. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Activist and researcher Claire McGettrick speaks at Glasnevin Cemetery during the eighth annual Flowers for Magdalenes event. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

“I am 88 years of age now and I hope to be able to come every year until I am 100 or more to pay my respects to the Magdalene women, because I love each and every one of them, and I love all of you who come here and pay respects to them,” she said.

“It’s a great day for Ireland that it’s all changed.” – Press Association