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Day Five In Galway: Magdalene Laundry, City and County Council, and Mill Street Garda

It’s now Monday, and I had originally planned to travel to the township of Letterfrack  to visit the site of the former reformatory school, St Joseph’s. The night before I stayed out later than anticipated, so decided to put the day trip off until Tuesday. Instead I decided to get a few things ticked off my to-do list in town.

My first stop was the County Council. I was seeking a list of halting sites and dates that they were established. It was late in the afternoon by the time I got into town, and the Housing office was just about to close. At the counter beside me, a woman with bleach blonde hair wearing a hooded jumper and activewear tights was arguing loudly with the woman serving her behind the counter. Meanwhile, her three children were waiting by the seats provided, one of them howling at the top of his lungs. another lady served me at the next counter, and seemed somewhat taken aback by my request for the list of halting sites. She took my name and phone number and told me she would have another woman who dealt more specifically with those details contact me.

After the county council, I thought there would be no use in going to the city council building, as they would most likely have been closed by now too. So I went onto the next item on the list. My AirBnB host Laura had suggested I visit the site of the Magdalene Laundry in the city.

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Memorial for the victims of the Magdalene Laundries, Galway City

The Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, also known as Magdalene asylums, were institutions of confinement, usually run by Roman Catholic orders, which operated from the 18th to the late 20th centuries. They were run ostensibly to house ‘fallen women’, an estimated 30,000 of whom were confined in these institutions in Ireland. In 1993, a mass grave containing 155 corpses was uncovered in the convent grounds of one of the laundries. This led to media revelations about the operations of the secretive institutions. A formal state apology was issued in 2013, and a £50 million compensation scheme for survivors was set up, to which the Catholic Church has refused to contribute. The site of the Magdalene Laundry in Galway is now a rape crisis centre for women.

By this time the evening was setting in, and the last item on my list was to visit the Mill Street Garda Station. By this time I was feeling fairly anxious about walking into a police station and asking to interview and officer. However I knew I would regret it if I didn’t at least try, and the worst they could do was say no. So I marched myself on inside. There was a small queue of people waiting to have official documents signed, and I let them go ahead of me as their matters were more urgent than mine. When it was finally my turn, I approached the garde at the counter. I introduced myself, telling him I was an author doing some research for a book, and was wondering if I might be able to ask one of the officers some questions. Unfortunately, he wasn’t allowed to answer any questions over the counter, but he gave me the number to call the District Office, telling me that they would be able to organise for me to meet with someone. I thanked him and was on my way, feeling very proud of myself indeed. Approaching the Garda had been the one task that had made me feel especially nervous, but I had overcome the discomfort and done it anyway.

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