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    Arrow Magdalen Laundry, Asylum Cork

    The Good Shepherd Convent Asylum - Cork

    Built in 1881, the Good Shepherd Convent was the site of an orphanage and a Magdalene laundry until the late 1970s.

    Three main buildings - a home, convent, and orphanage - have been in a derelict condition since a serious fire in 2003.

    The laundry building was among a number of buildings that were destroyed in that fire.

    Magdalen Asylums grew out of the "rescue movement" in Britain and Ireland the 19th century, which had as its formal goal the rehabilitation of women who had worked as prostitutes. It has been estimated that around 30,000 women were admitted during the 150-year history of these institutions, often against their will. The last Magdalen Asylum in Ireland closed on September 25, 1996. In Ireland, the institutions were named for Mary Magdalene, a character in the Bible who repented her sins and became one of Jesus' closest followers.

    In receiving patients no discrimination is made in regard to religion, colour, or nationality. After their convalescence, those who desire to remain in the home are placed under a special sister and are known as "Daughters of St. Margaret". They follow a certain rule of life but contract no religious obligations. Should they desire to remain in the convent, after a period of probation, they are allowed to become Magdalens and eventually make the vows of the Magdalen order.

    Inmates were required until the 1970s to address all regardless of age, as "mother", and were called "children". As one priest wrote in 1931: "It may be only a white-veiled novice with no vows as yet; and it may be an old white-haired penitent giving back to God but the dregs of a life spent in sin. It matters not. In the Home of the Good Shepherd the one is ever the 'Mother' while the other is always the 'Child'."

    To enforce order and maintain a monastic atmosphere, the inmates were required to observe strict silence for much of the day. "The Rule of Silence was a major feature of the women's lives and continues well into the second half of the twentieth century. Corporal punishment was not uncommon.

    As the phenomenon became more widespread, it extended beyond prostitution, to unmarried mothers, developmentally challenged women and abused girls. Even young girls who were considered too promiscuous and flirtatious were sometimes sent to an Asylum. This paralleled the practice in State Run asylums in Britain and Ireland in the same period, where many people with "social dysfunction" were committed to asylums.

    The women were typically admitted to these institutions at the request of family members or priests. Without a family member on the outside who would vouch for them, some penitents would stay in the asylums for the rest of their lives, many of them taking religious vows.


    The Good Shepherd Convent and the adjoining cemetery in the convent grounds are known by many throughout the world because of a little four year old girl called Little Nellie of Holy God. Her real name is Nellie Organ and she was born in the family quarters of the Royal Garrison Barracks in Waterford in August 1903 since her father was working in the British army. It was just three weeks after Pius X was elected Pope. There were four children in the family. Nellie’s father, William, with his family, were transferred to the barracks on Spike Island in Cork Harbor and Nellie’s mother died there. William decided that he could not care for the children and the two girls were given to the care of the Good Shepherd Sisters at St. Finbarr’s Industrial School in Sunday’s Well, Cork and the two boys were sent to another location. Nellie spent only one year in Sunday’s Well before she died due to illness. She had whooping cough when she arrived and it was also discovered that she had a spinal injury which was later found out to have been caused when the family’s child-minder dropped her as a baby. She also had tuberculosis and caries, a rotting disease of the gums and jaws.

    Nellie is famous for her outstanding love of Jesus in the Eucharist. A Jesuit, Fr Bury was giving a retreat in the convent and visited Nellie’s bedside each day. He realized that Nellie, although only four years of age, had reached the age of reason. Fr Bury asked her, “What is Holy Communion?” She answered, “It is Holy God.” Fr Bury asked her what would happen when she would be allowed to receive Holy Communion. She answered, “Jesus will rest on my tongue and then he will do down into my heart.” One could scarcely find a more beautiful description for receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. One night when the Mother Superior was wishing Nellie good night Nellie asked her if she would bring Holy God up to her in the morning. Mother Francis said she would come to see her after Mass which Nellie misunderstood as meaning that she would bring her Holy Communion. When Mother Francis came without Holy Communion Nellie was devastated. Then Nellie asked people to come to her bedside for a moment after receiving Jesus in Holy Communion and then they could return to the chapel to finish their thanksgiving. That was the closest she could get to receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. During the retreat Fr Bury realized that Nellie, although only four years and three months, met all the criteria necessary to receive Holy Communion. And at that time children had to wait until the age of twelve to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. Fr Bury heard her confession and contacted the bishop of Cork for permission to give her Holy Communion. The bishop agreed. She was dressed in white and taken down to the convent chapel for her first Holy Communion. This is what Mother Francis said of Nellie receiving Holy Communion,

    At the moment of her First Communion, which she received in a transport of love, Nellie’s features shone as if the presence of the great light in her heart reflected itself in her face. Yes, those who saw Nellie then are well convinced that the child’s appearance was not at all ordinary. This phenomenon was seen more particularly at her other Communions because, after the first, she was taken almost immediately out of the chapel and there were only a chosen few who had the happiness to witness the transformation which took place. Then Nellie had not only a countenance more recollected, an attitude more pious than she customarily had, but an extraordinary radiance.”

    It is said that Nellie’s thanksgiving for receiving Holy Communion would continue until late in the afternoon. From the day of her First Holy Communion the odor from Nellie’s mouth caused by the rotting of her gums and jaws ceased. Less than two months after receiving her First Holy Communion Nellie died on Sunday 2nd February 1908 ages 4 years, 5 months and 8 days and was buried in St Joseph’s Cemetery in Cork. Eighteen months after her death permission was granted to have Nellie’s remains transferred to the Good Shepherd Convent Cemetery and upon opening her grave her body was found to be incorrupt. Her body was fresh with no sign of the wasting disease she had at her death.

    More images at
    Last edited by pixie; 06-02-2010 at 06:14 PM.
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