The earliest parts of the current convent date from 1868 while it was operated by the Sisters of Mercy. After the Sisters of Charity took over the running of the site in 1887, there were several phases of expansion and building, which took the complex to its largest physical extent the mind-1960s [see our depiction below].
The convent building facing onto Sean MacDermott St is a handsome example of Victorian architecture, belying the dark nature of what went on deeper within the complex, and the difficult memories the Magdalene Women recall.
“I could tell you every top and bottom to the place…I could. Because when you walk into the convent you took a left, the door was there, then the door was into the women’s…the wom…the Magdalene Laundry into the convent part…and then you’d walk down…the kitchen was here…the pantry and…not the kitchen, the pantry and the dining room was there…then you walk…the chapel was there…no sorry, the little shop was there, then the chapel.
Then you walk down…the door to the yard was to the left…the door facing you at the end was the baths. There were three baths each side and that’s where you bathed yourself. But it was…I think six got…got the one bath…out of the one bath, so everyone would be fighting to get on queue first.”
O’Donnell, K., S. Pembroke and C. McGettrick. (2013) “Oral History of Martina Keogh”. Magdalene Institutions: Recording an Oral and Archival History. Government of Ireland Collaborative Research Project, Irish Research Council, pp.33- 34.
This building would have held the nuns’ bedrooms, as well as various reception rooms and the Kitchens for both the Nuns and the Magdalene Women.
The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage for Ireland appraises the front block as follows:
‘This imposing Victorian brick institution has a dominant presence on the streetscape. In addition, it has a highly charged emotive history as a Magdalen Laundry, which remained in use until the end of the twentieth century…the building is a good example of the typology employed in the establishment of Catholic institutions during the latter part of the nineteenth century following Catholic Emancipation. Decoratively detailed in polychromatic brick and various stone types, this building greatly contributes to the architectural variety of the area and the wider streetscape.’
Their full description of the architecture can be found [here]…
This front block was constructed in three phases. The first, dating from 1868-74 [while the site was still run by the Sisters of Mercy] consists of the central 5 bays of the front elevation. The second, from 1888, comprises the 6 bays directly in front of the Chapel which was also constructed at this time, and the final phases, between 1909-c.1926, added the westernmost 5 bays visible today.
See the different construction phases of the entire site [here].
“And (pause) we knocked on the door and she didn’t come in with me…was just taken in on my own……and it was a big creaky door, I’ll always remember it I can still hear the creak of the door, you know, and the door creaked and I turned around and she was gone.
…And they just took me into this room, and there was bars on the windows and there was a big long table…and a woman that was there and she interviewed me.
…She was…she was a social worker, yeah Áine, [pseudonym] can’t remember her surname but Áine was her name anyway and she interviewed me –she gave me a cup of tea and a sandwich…”
O’Donnell, K., S. Pembroke and C. McGettrick. (2013) “Oral History of Lucy”. Magdalene Institutions: Recording an Oral and Archival History. Government of Ireland Collaborative Research Project, Irish Research Council, pp.8-9.
“I was one of the young ones yeah…yeah. There was…when you go into Sean McDermott Street, in through the…the frightening door…as I called it, I used to call it the…the horrible corridor it was, when you go in there first there was big grounds then and there was all…there was a big huge garden and a big circle around it and the nuns used to walk around the circle but you…when you go in first, to the right was the laundry. I didn’t notice it was a laundry at first when I went in because I didn’t……see the laundry first. But then I went in through this door and it was…they called it a training centre for young girls like me.”
O’Donnell, K., S. Pembroke and C. McGettrick. (2013) “Oral History of Lucy”. Magdalene Institutions: Recording an Oral and Archival History. Government of Ireland Collaborative Research Project, Irish Research Council, p.18.