Woman’s grandson emotional at Magdalene laundries commemoration service

The grandson of a woman incarcerated in one of Ireland’s notorious Magdalene laundries has spoken of his family’s pride as he attended an emotional commemoration.

Frank Brehany, from Wales, discovered his family’s “deep secret” after promising his late father he would find his mother.

Mr Brehany’s grandmother Mary spent many years in High Park laundry in Dublin.

From the 18th century right up to the mid-1990s, tens of thousands of women were put to work in laundries run by Catholic orders of nuns. Unmarried mothers and girls from troubled backgrounds suffered years of abuse inside the grim facilities.

Magdalene laundries commemoration
Flowers laid at the grave for the residents of Our Lady Of Charity Residential Home in Sean McDermott Street (Niall Carson/PA)

On Sunday, Mr Brehany was at a memorial event in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin, to commemorate the women who died inside the walls of the laundries.

There, he embraced 88-year Mary Merritt, who credits his grandmother with looking after her during her 14 years in the laundry.

“I am deeply moved and privileged to be standing here in the company of giants – it’s a cliche but it’s a true cliche,” Mr Brehany said.

“My journey started in 2010 to uncover the secret, the deep secret of my family. Before my father died I promised I would find his family, that I would find his mother.

“The other part of that promise is I would find justice for my family, justice for Mary and I am delighted to be able to tell you that I am luckier than most because my father had a birth certificate and, as a result of that, I have not only found my family history going back to the late 1700s, but I have surviving family in the Irish Republic, in Northern Ireland, in London, in Connecticut, in Chicago.

Magdalene laundries
People make their way to the memorial plots (Niall Carson/PA)

“We are united as a family again and we are proud, we are not ashamed, we are not hiding away Mary’s past – she did no wrong, my father did no wrong.

“She was a Magdalene woman, he was a Magdalene child.”

Ms Merritt gave thanks that Ireland had been transformed since the days of the laundries.

“I am 88 years of age now and I hope to be able to come every year until I am 100 or more to pay my respects to the Magdalene women because I love each and every one of them, and I love all of you who come here and pay respects to them,” she said.

“It’s a great day for Ireland that it’s all changed.”

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