Thursday 17 January 2019

Calls for new search of D4 Magdelene site over claims surrounding 312 burials

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald with Magdalene laundry survivor Mary Merritt during the sixth commemoration at Glasnevin Cemetery
Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald with Magdalene laundry survivor Mary Merritt during the sixth commemoration at Glasnevin Cemetery

More than 300 human burials may be associated with the Donnybrook Magdalene laundry, Dublin City Council's senior archaeologist believes.

Dr Ruth Johnson has reviewed two reports in estimating how many remains might be at the site, which is now the subject of a planning application for an apartment block.

The revelation comes as the Religious Sisters of Charity said that all those who died at the laundry were accounted for and there were no unmarked graves.

One report reviewed by Dr Johnson was from the Inter-Departmental Committee (IDC), chaired by Martin McAleese.

Its findings, published in 2013, reported 167 burials associated with the laundry between 1922 and 1992.


A Justice for Magdalenes Research report in 2015 said 312 burials took place at the site between 1835 and 2014.

The Herald revealed how Dr Johnson submitted an observation on the planning application in which she said the site might contain human remains because it was previously a Magdalene laundry.

She has also said the site is "one of archaeological potential". One reason identified for this was its proximity to a historic graveyard seven metres east of the Magdalene laundry.

Dr Johnson said the site's "proximity to the historic graveyard raises the potential for the discovery of human remains associated with the long use of this burial ground".

Before the application was lodged, the site was inspected by Dr Johnson along with the applicant's archaeological consultants to discuss the scope of the archaeological, social and industrial heritage investigation.

The council was unable to clarify yesterday whether the 312 burials reported in the Justice for Magdalenes Research findings were separate from those recorded in the existing cemetery, outside the site.

However, Dr Johnson has indicated that the site of the laundry itself should be searched for burials.

The Religious Sisters of Charity have said they are not concerned that former residents may be buried in unmarked graves.

In a statement to RTE, the order said that all who died during the operation of the laundry could be accounted for; there was a private cemetery on the grounds; and all records were checked by the McAleese Commission.


However, Steven O'Riordan, chairman of the Magdalene Survivors Together support group, said he "wouldn't be surprised at all if there were more bodies" than were accounted for.

Meanwhile, Social Democrat councillor Gary Gannon has called on Dublin City Council not to proceed with any sale of the Sean McDermott Street site after a motion was passed at a DCC meeting on Tuesday to prioritise survivors' needs.

"It is imperative that we uncover the whole truth of what happened to women and children in these institutions and answer questions that many of the women still have about what happened to them and their children," he said.

Mr Gannon called for a memorial to be erected at the former laundry as a priority and for consultations with survivors and other relevant groups.

Dublin City Council said it was in total agreement with the motion passed at the council meeting.

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