Saturday, July 26, 2014
This book by Marita Conlon-McKenna tells the story of Esther Doyle, a young girl growing up in Connemara, Ireland in the 1950s. Her father was killed at sea and her youngest sister is mentally disabled. The family is poor and they all work hard to sustain themselves. Esther is forced to leave school to look after her brothers, her challenged sister and her ailing mother, a difficult life. She falls in love with Conor, a young man from another part of Ireland but when she becomes pregnant he tells her he wants no part of her or the baby. The stigma of illegitimacy leads her family to reject her as well and, with the assistance of the local priest, she is sent to join the 'fallen women' of the Holy Saints Convent in Dublin where she works in the infamous Magdalen laundry while waiting for her baby to be born. The work was gruelling and the women poorly treated but they help one another.
When the baby is born Esther reluctantly respects the agreement she had made and places her for adoption although it breaks her heart to do so. She cannot return to the family who treated her so callously so with the newfound strength gained through her adverse experience she sets off to make her own life.
Approximately 10,000 women are known to have entered a Magdalen Laundry from 1922 until the closure of the last Laundry in 1996. On 19 February 2013, Taoiseach Enda Kenny officially issued a full state apology to the women of the Magdalene Laundries. He described the laundries as "the nation's shame" and said, "Therefore, I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the government and our citizens deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them, and for any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene Laundry."
This is a dark tale about an ugly time told in a matter of fact, unsensational way that leaves me grieving for all the Esthers who were subjected to brutality in the guise of religion.