This small cloister was used as a recreation ground for the Magdalene Women.  It was separated from the outside world by tall walls on three sides and the Ironing Room on its fourth.

[To view reconstruction sources, click here]

“There was bars on the windows and over the walls there was barbed wire and it was kind of like…there was kind of bar…steel bars and in between all them steel bars there was barbed wire……so there was no way that you could actually climb up over the wall. The walls were too high anyway.”

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. 26.
Source: Shaffrey Associates Architects, Conservation Report: Covent [sic] Lands: Sean MacDermott Street Lower, Dublin,  2007. p.18.

It would certainly have been incredibly difficult to stage an escape from this area.  In addition to the tall walls (over 4m) reportedly capped with broken glass and/or barbed wire, the cloister’s ‘Covered Way’ noted on the 1954 survey by W.H. Byrne and Son Architects would have made an extremely effective impediment to climbing the walls.

The Cloister was paved over following the 2006 fire, although the perimeter walls still stands mostly intact.

Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive. W.H. Byrne & Son Architects 1954

The land which became this recreation ground was purchased by the Sisters of Charity in 1946.  Historian Jacinta Prunty writes:

‘After almost a decade of negotiations, a small plot of land adjoinging to Gloucester (Meehan’s) Lane is purchased and used as a recreation ground, ‘laid out with a flower bed and timber seating.’ 

Jacinta Prunty, The Monasteries, Magdalene Asylums and Reformatory Schools of Our Lady of Charity in Ireland 1853-1973, Dublin: Columba Press (2017) p. 503)
[Above] the wall of the recreation space today still stands on Railway Street.  Note the figure captured in the Google Street View – this gives some indication of the height of the walls.

Railway Street was once [in]famous for its brothels, indeed this area of Dublin, known as ‘the Monto’ was once a large red-light district, and it was the  intention of ministering to local prostitutes which first brought the Sisters of Mercy, and later the Sisters of Charity to set up the convent on what is now Sean MacDermott St in the 1800s. Historians Tadhg O’Keefe & Patrick Ryan note of the corner of the laundry shown above:

‘Railway Street, formerly Mecklinburgh Street, today. The wall in this image dates from the late 1930s. Street directories and the 1911 census allow us identify the missing buildings. The house that stood on the corner (left) was owned by Mrs Charles Meehan, a known madam, in the 1920s and into the 1930s. Her late husband, a contractor, had owned the property before her and had rented it out to families. She continued to rent out rooms, probably profitting from it as a brothel. The house that was next door to the right was occupied by Mrs Annie Mack, also a known madam, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. After a period as a tenement (its four rooms housed 25 people in nine families in 1911) it came into the possession of Mrs Meehan and was probably another brothel. The corrugated iron barrier marks the façade of a house that was occupied, if not owned, by a succession of women in the late 1800s but was in tenements and then in ruins during the early 1900s. To the right, and marked by a blank wall today, is the site of another house with a succession of women owners or occupiers in the late 1800s, one of whom, Meg Arnott, was a known madam; the house was also in tenements and then in ruins during the early 1900s. To the right again in the photograph are two house sites marked today by a plain wall with four windows (the remnants of a building that belonged to the convent on Gloucester Street to the north). The two windows on the left mark the site of Bella Cohen’s brothel, scene of most of Episode 15 in Ulysses; this was a brothel in the decades either side of 1900 but had only two people (unrelated to Bella) still living in it in 1911. It was in ruins by the time Monto was closed down over a decade later. Finally, the other windows mark the site of another probable brothel owned by Mrs Meehan in the 1920s and 1930s. Ironically, this particular house had been the headquarters of an anti-prostitution ‘purity movement’ called the White Cross Vigilance Association – the street directories of the period describe the property as a ‘midnight mission’ – in the late 1800s and early 1900s.’

Tadhg O’Keeffe & Patrick Ryan (2009) “At the World’s End: The Lost Landscape of Monto, Dublin’s Notorious Red-light District”, Landscapes, 10:1, 32
Please get in touch if you have any memories of this wall onto Railway St or if there is anything you would like us to know.