Cobh Woman Seeks Forensic Examination of Magdalene Mass Grave

By Seamus Whelehan


The grandniece of a woman who spent most of her life in a mother and baby home, has called for a forensic examination of two mass graves linked to the Good Shepherd convent in Sunday’s Well in Cork City.
Rose Brien Harrington has also called for the establishment of a heritage centre on the site to assist those who wish to trace their relatives.
The Cobh woman made her comments after as some continue to oppose plans to develop the seven acre site of prime city centre land.
Developers were recently granted planning for 208 with 218 parking spaces on the lands.
Rose told live line “We have a housing crisis in this country, I have no objections in principal in building in Sunday’s Well. I would not stand by and say no, you can’t build houses that would be a ridiculous thing to do in the current climate.”
“I do believe the grounds should be forensically examined…. establish if people are buried there or not. If people are buried there the graves should be marked. There should be a proper memorial there. The names of the people buried there should be erected on it.”
Ms Brien Harrington said she believed her great aunt Esther Harrington was kept in the care of the Good Shepard Sister as she was seen as a “cash cow” for the order.
When Esther's mother died when she was 11-years-old, the family were put into the Ramparts in Kinsale (an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy). When Esther turned 14 she was transferred to the Magdalene laundry in Sunday's Well, where she worked as a seamstress.
The nuns soon discovered Esther's natural talent for dress making, selling her works in Harrods in London.
Esther died in the care of the Good Sheppard sisters in 1987 and was laid to rest in a mass grave, after spending 73 years in the laundry.
The headstone in St. Joseph's where she is buried did not contain her name, until Rose started asking questions. 30 Years after her death Esther's name was added to the headstone. The Good Sheppard Sister told Rose it was "an oversight."
It's believed almost 1,700 former Magdalene women are buried in cemeteries around the country, many of those are in unmarked graves.
The Sundays Well graveyard is inaccessible landlocked, surround by City Gaol, Private housing, the National School and the Community Centre on Strawberry Hill.
The site itself is contained inside 15 foot walls with a gate welded to the stone work.
Rose says "the nuns say there are at least 30 women are buried in the mass grave but records show evidence of more burials, we think there are other unmarked graves around the property but we are not sure."
Rose and her cousin Maureen Consenheim have started a campaign to turn the Good Sheppard graveyard into a memorial park. They want to transform the area into a place for nature and peace, in collaboration with a group of Magdalene survivors.