The last Irish Magdalene Laundry owned by the State should be converted into a museum to commemorate the women and children who suffered there, a leading Irish academic has said.
Dr Gillian O’Brien, Reader in Modern Irish History at Liverpool’s John Moore’s University, said that women have been second class citizens for “a very long time in Ireland” and their stories and experiences in the laundries need to be heard.
Her comments come against the background of Japanese Hotel chain Toyoko Inn having offered Dublin City Council €14.5 million for the former Magdalene Laundry site on Sean McDermott Street, which closed in October 1996.
The chain plans to build a hotel with 350 rooms, 55 one-bedroom apartments for social housing, a supermarket and other retail outlets, and a cultural centre, as well as a laundry memorial.
Dr O’Brien, who has worked as historical adviser on projects at Nano Nagle Place in Cork City, Spike Island in Co Cork and Kilmainham Gaol and courthouse in Dublin, said she believes building a hotel on the site wouldn’t be appropriate, and that creating a museum to commemorate the sombre history of the laundries “would be better than a memorial”.
“Memorials often reflect the time in which they were erected rather than what they memorialise,” she told The Irish Catholic, adding that those who were in the laundries and mother-and-baby homes “deserve to be better treated by both State and Church”.
Although aware that not everyone had “bad experiences” in the laundries and that telling the complex range of stories connected with the laundries would be a challenge, she said that what happened there is “a damning indictment not just of Church and State but of society as a whole”.
“Women have been second class citizens for a very long time in Ireland and there is still much to be done. Telling the many stories of the laundries and the homes is vital. I think it’s important that those stories are told in a symbolically important location,” she said.
A petition calling on Dublin City Council not to sell the site gathered over 10,000 signatures last week, and a vote on the motion was postponed last week but is due to be put before the council on Thursday this week.