Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Burning Away The Memory

Convents once dotted the landscape of Ireland, stone buildings that held much mystery.

Some knew, of course.

Some knew what went on behind those thick walls, where young women went in and many never came out.

Where children were taken if they had been convicted of the crime of being poor, of having a parent deemed unsuitable by the morality police.

Bit by bit, those convents that contained Ireland's darkest secrets have fallen into ruin. The nuns are gone and not replaced by a younger crop of women who have more options in life. Buildings lie empty, no longer filled with the evidence of a culture of containment.

The former convent of the Good Shepherd sisters in Cork has gone up in flames, and with it goes another piece of evidence.

The building has been empty for a long time, sold to a developer who was going to create hundreds of apartments for Ireland's growing population. Like so many other developments, this one too fell victim to the property bust.

Despite the concerns of the Cork City Council, the site was never secured. They may have been somewhat interested in preserving a listed building, but were they keen to preserve the memories of what went on in them? Does anyone in Cork truly regret the loss?

If all the Magdalene laundries and all the industrial schools would burn away, then the memories might disappear as well.

The women who were incarcerated against their will are asking for help in their old age, with no pensions given for the work they did as slave labor for the nuns. The State is stalling, in the hope that the last of the Maggies will die and take a memory with them, at no further cost to the government.

The convent at High Park is gone. Now the Good Shepherd convent in Cork is gone.

But when will the last memory of the industrial schools and the Magdalene laundries be gone?

The memory will remain, as long as there are books and films to remind us of what damage can be done by a government that sets itself up as the absolute authority over the citizens and the way in which they conduct their lives.

No comments: