Nuns say leave 'maggies' alone

Simon Brouder

The Sisters of Mercy are opposed to a proposal to re-inter the bodies of several women who died while incarcerated in Tralee's old Magdalene Asylum and Laundry.

In March Cllr Toireasa Ferris called for the women who died in the asylum - which operated in Balloonagh from 1856 to 1910 - to be exhumed and re-interred in a public graveyard, as was the case with boys who died while imprisoned at the CBS run St Joseph's Industrial School.

The sisters of Mercy subsequently wrote to Kerry County Council voicing their opposition and suggesting that the women would be happy where they are.

In the letter Sisters of Mercy Provincial Leader Sister Miriam Kerrisk said the order believed the women would be content with their place of rest.

"We hold the women that this request concerns in deep respect. When they died they were laid to rest in this cemetery in Balloonagh. A sense of belonging and a sense of place are important to all of us," said Sr Kerrisk.

"This grave is in a place with which the women would have been familiar. It is likely that their familiarity they may have been content with this burial place," she wrote

Sister Kerrisk said the graves have been cared for ever since by members of the order and provisions have been made to ensure the grave is maintained into the future. She added that anyone is free to visit the grave.

Is it reasonable then to suggest that the most respectable way of honour these women's dignity is to allow them rest in peace where they were first interred?" asked Sr Kerrisk.

According to the headstone five women are buried in the grave though it has been suggested there may be several more.

Sr Kerrisk said the order has no knowledge about any descendants of the five identified women and no descendant has ever approached the order suggesting that any of the women be exhumed and buried elsewhere.

"I have no knowledge of who may be the descendants of the five women and therefore of how the proposal to exhume and re-inter would impact upon family," Sr Kerrisk said.

Sister Kerrisk also pointed out that as the Sisters of Mercy no longer owns the site, the consent of St Brendan's Trust -which holds property on behalf of the Diocese of Kerry - and Baile Mhuire Ltd - which runs a nursing home on the site of the former asylum and laundry - would be required prior to any exhumation.

The Magdalene Laundry in Tralee shut its doors in 1910 and, according to information contained in the 1901 Census, 12 women were incarcerated there at the time of its closure.

The women were mainly aged from 22 to 60, though one young inmate was just 12. While it always remained a relatively small operation, hundreds of women passed through its doors - most pending around three years in the laundry.

Though it was called an asylum it did not cater for the mentally ill and it was operated as a refuge for prostitutes and 'fallen women'.

Kerryman

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