The Wise Woman

I am sitting here reading the latest letter from the ‘Survivors Support Group’ but we seem no further forward than we were 17 years ago.

11.05.1999 that is when the first apology came from Bertie Ahern; he said as children we were ‘gravely wronged.’ In London we were sent Noel Dempsey to deliver the apology in March 2003. What a stressful meeting that was. The anger in the room is something that I will never forget. You see as individuals; we were confused about how we were treated because I certainly felt that it was wrong but you were made to believe that you had a ‘normal childhood.’

I entered Golden Bridge at the age of 2. My mum had died of TB. There was nothing Golden about that place – let me tell you. I still wake up in the night fearful I have wet the bed and what will happen to me the next day. It never leaves you. That sense of panic until you know you are in your own bed and in London miles away from that place. What Human Rights did we have; we never received any love just clattered and told we were ‘dunces’ no good for nothing.

At 16 I was then packed off to the Good Shepherd Laundry in Waterford for 20 years apparently I was flighty. We talk of injustices and that is one because I had never been outside the doors of an institution, so how could I be ‘flighty’. My name was Maria but on entry to the laundry it was changed to Imelda – oh how I hate that name. I mean do I look like an Imelda to you.

Once I got my freedom at 36; I came to London and settled in Wembley where I have been ever since. Don’t get me wrong Bertie I am grateful for your apology and the Redress Monies that allowed me to give up my five cleanings jobs. Just look at my hands; I still have the use of my thumb and middle finger. I won’t show you my feet they are too disfigured and I don’t want to scare you but that is what 20 years in a laundry does to you. Working on those big machines, Ironing and folding laundry day in day out for 8 hours a day.

I have this candle next to me that I light every morning when I say my prayers. I bought it when Pope John Paul came to Wembley in May 1982. What a day that was. I kept my religion I don’t know how but I just knew it wasn’t God who told them to treat us in this way. I am still waiting for a Pope to visit Ireland and I have high hopes for Pope Francis. I hope he doesn’t let me down like Benedict.

Any disaster anywhere in the world and the religious leaders will visit those affected but we have been waiting 17 years. They keep saying we can go to counselling and put it behind us but my view is our healing cannot commence until the head of the Catholic Church steps onto Irish Soil and says ‘SORRY’.

Let me share my daily ritual with you- I light my candle and I pick up this piece of emerald next to me that represents Ireland and I hold it to my heart. There is a piece of black on the corner of my stone. The emerald like Ireland has granite in it and despite all my prayers and love it doesn’t seem to shift it. Ireland needs the love of all humanity to shift the darkness that came upon it.

Ireland also needs Pope Francis to show leadership and to start the healing process by walking onto the soil of Ireland. They say he is coming in the year of ‘The Family’ how Ironic that no one told me about my family when I left those places. Always on my own, that’s how it is and always will be until God calls for me.

The only thing that keeps me going is the hope he will come to Ireland one day and then perhaps we shall all be set free and the blackness of my stone and heart will be truly erased and healed.

Oh Father hear my prayers and please help me to be patient but my candle is nearly burning out and he still has not come.


She blows the candle out.

Eileen McMahon

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