The Cult of Little Nellie of Holy God, and the Magdalenes who lie unmourned beside her

Little NellieLetter to the Editor, The Irish Examiner, Saturday, August 22, 2015

Dear Sir,

The Bishop of Cork and Ross, John Buckley, wants the body of “Little Nellie” to be exhumed from its grave at the now-derelict Good Shepherd Convent site in Sunday Well (Irish Examiner, 18 August).

Ellen Organ was a five year old girl who died in 1908. Her short life was marked by ill health and extreme religious devotion. After her death, she attained a certain celebrity as the “unofficial patron saint of Cork” and her grave became, for a time, a site of pilgrimage.

The Bishop told RTÉ News that he favours exhuming her remains and moving them to “a more public place”. It may have slipped the Bishop’s notice – and that of the locals – but Little Nellie is not alone in the Good Shepherd grounds. There are also two mass graves on the site, pits containing the bodies of unknown numbers of women who lived anonymous lives of suffering and shame, and who died in the service of the Good Shepherd Magdalene Laundry.

By all means, exhume Little Nellie. Exhume all of the bodies. That site should be declared a crime scene and the Catholic institutions responsible for those deaths should be held to account.

In the meantime, by all means, say a prayer for Little Nellie but don’t forget all of the women who died unloved and unmourned in the “care” of the Good Shepherd Convent.

Donal O’Keeffe

Fermoy

Co Cork

Letter to the Editor, The Irish Examiner, Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Dear Sir,

I refer to the letter by Donal O’Keeffe (‘Families sent their daughters to laundries’ – The Irish Examiner, August 24).

I expect him to answer a few questions with honesty and common sense. What exactly does he mean by saying that the nuns were responsible for their – the Magdalene girls’ – deaths?

Why didn’t the families claim their daughters’ remains?

Last but not least – no cliches, Donal – why did they let their daughters go there in the first place?

Sheila Griffin

Blennerville

Tralee

Co Kerry

Letter to the Editor, The Irish Examiner, Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dear Sir,

Sheila Griffin asks what I meant when I said (Letters, August 24) that Catholic institutions were responsible for the deaths of girls and women who died whilst incarcerated in Magdalene laundries.

Given that these girls and women lived lives (in some cases, whole lives) of brutality, drudgery, and shame, stripped of all basic human rights — even their names — while working for free for the financial benefit of those Catholic institutions, I think my meaning could hardly be clearer.

Ms Griffin asks why families sent their daughters to Magdalene laundries and why, at the end of their wasted lives, those families did not claim their bodies. Ms Griffin urges that I answer her with “honesty and common sense” and without resorting to clichés. I’ll do my best with the first two, but the last may present me with a difficulty.

Is it a cliché to say that girls and women were sent to the laundries for the sin of having had unsanctioned (and not always consensual) sex?

Is it a cliché to say that families behaved as they did because of the curtain-twitching Ireland in which they lived?

Is it a cliché to say that Ireland was corrupted from top to bottom by a sex-obsessed version of Catholicism which resulted in an Ireland where family bonds took second place to “respectability”, where girls and women identified only by their initials slaved their lives away and where 796 dead children lie unidentified in a mass grave in Tuam?

Donal O’Keeffe

Fermoy

Co Cork

Letter to the Editor, The Irish Examiner, Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Dear Sir,

My computer – ancient like myself – broke down, and I was unable to reply to Donal O’Keeffe’s letter in response to my letter of August 24.

I owe Donal an apology for goading him to rant and rave. I hold no brief for the Magdalene homes, but we mustn’t judge the past with bags over our heads.

And good heavens, how good we are at that!

He didn’ t answer my questions . He didn’t explain how the nuns were” criminally responsible” for the girls’ deaths, and he certainly glossed over the part played by the girls’ families.

I haven’t read the McAleese report but has anyone ever passed judgement on the behaviour of the families ?

It was the families who, after all, “gave” the girls to the nuns. Did these families ever visit them?

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how unmarried mothers were treated, in bygone days, in other jurisdictions where the Catholic Church had no influence.

Were they “sequestered from the world in a rural farmhouse” as Lydia Bennett might have been, if Mr Darcy hadn’t bribed Mr Wickham to marry her? (Pride and Prejudice)

Yes Donal, the Magdalene homes weren’t happy places, to put it mildly, but the reasons for that were complex indeed, so please take the proverbial bag off your head and stop judging the past by the present.

Sheila Griffin

Blennerville

Tralee

Letter to the Editor, The Irish Examiner, Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Dear Sir,

With regard to the Magdalene Laundries, (1st September,) I am urged by Ms Sheila Griffin to not judge the past by the standards of the present and, rather than question the Catholic institutions that owned the laundries and benefited financially from slave labour, I should look instead at the families of the girls and women incarcerated in the alleged care of the Church.

Ms Griffin claims she holds no brief to defend the Magdalene Laundries and then departs on such a lengthy flight of whataboutery that she wouldn’t look out of place on the Northern Executive.

Whataboutery is a common practice of those who wish to distract from the misdeeds of those they defend. Typically, this is done by whatabouting the crimes of others. Whatabout the families, asks Ms Griffin. Whatabout non-Catholic countries. Whatabout something about Pride and Prejudice (I confess I tuned out slightly once she started on the Jane Austin).

Invoking the behaviour of families who sent girls to the laundries can never excuse the inhumanity of the nuns who ran those institutions but this is a standard tactic of whataboutery.

Another great trick is to say “It was all a long time ago. Ireland was very different then. We are all responsible. Therefore, ultimately, no-one is responsible.”

I believe the nuns – and their orders – should be held criminally responsible for the deaths of those in their care, but Ms Griffin says we cannot judge the past by the standards of the present. Fair enough.

Could we instead, perhaps, measure the purveyors of Christianity by the standards of Christ?

Remember, Jesus advocated that those who would harm children should have a millstone tied to their necks and that they be flung into the deepest depths of the ocean.

Perhaps a criminal prosecution isn’t good enough after all.

Yours sincerely,

Donal O’Keeffe

Related: Please read my column in TheJournal.ie

The story of the Cork 4-year-old who is the reason First Communion age is now 7

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