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UNDERTAKERS exhuming the bodies of 133 women at a notorious Sisters of Our Lady of Charity convent found 22 other remains, it was revealed yesterday.

And almost 60 of the deaths at one of the infamous Magdalene Laundries in Dublin were never registered.

The shocking revelations have prompted calls for a Garda probe into who these women were and how they died.

Campaigner Christine Buckley, who represents religious abuse victims, said yesterday: "I want an investigation into this. Why didn't the nuns account for their deaths?

"I have a terrible feeling their deaths were not registered for sinister reasons."

The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity sold off land at their High Park convent in Drumcondra, Dublin, to developers in 1993 hoping the money would help clear crippling debts.

Part of the land included a graveyard containing the remains of 133 women, many of whom had been locked away for years without pay in the laundry hellhole.

The Department of the Environment granted a licence for the removal and cremation of the bodies at nearby Glasnevin cemetery. But undertakers who began removing the coffins found an extra 22 remains, the find only revealed yesterday by a daily newspaper.

It is claimed that when they were discovered, the department simply issued an extra licence covering the other remains and did not launch an investigation into who they were.

Failing to register a death is a criminal offence. But of the 133 original bodies, just 75 death certificates existed.

All 155 bodies, buried over the past century, were removed and all but one of them cremated. They can now never be identified in the event of a investigation into their deaths.

Ms Buckley added: "There was very little fuss at the time this happened. Since then I would regard the behaviour in High Park to be highly secretive.

"Were these women receiving social benefits at the time of their deaths and at what stage did these benefits stop?

"Today we have investigations costing millions into property deals. In this case there were lives at stake but no record of these women exists.

"There must be an inquiry into how these people died. The state has ever taken responsibility for the women in these institutions." The Minister for Justice Michael McDowell was asked to initiate a criminal investigation into the unregistered and unexplained deaths. A spokeswoman said: "That's a matter for the gardai."

A Garda spokesman said: "There is no investigation into these unexplained deaths at the moment."

The Department of the Environment was reported as saying that "no trace" forms were issued for 34 of the dead women and it could not search for the identities of 24 others because of "insufficient details" .

In the case of the 34 women, the department added: "It appears that the statutory registration procedures were not complied with at the time of their deaths."

Of the 22 extra bodies, it said it only had details of 14 of them. The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity yesterday defended its actions.

Spokeswoman Sister Ann Marie Ryan told the newspaper which first reported the matter that the exhumation and re-interring of all 155 women was "approved by all relevant authorities".

She added: "We have had no queries from families about our decision in the intervening time.

"One family took the remains of a deceased relative to a family plot at the time. The remaining 154 were respectfully cremated and laid to rest at a public ceremony."

The secret of the unidentified women, and many others whose dignity was ignored both in life and death, lies in a double grave in Glasnevin. It may never be known who they were. A grey headstone marked "St Mary's High Park, In Loving Memory Of" features 175 names and dates of death, the first in 1858, the last December 1994.

But the names on the headstone bear little resemblance to the list supplied to the Department of the Environment by the nuns to secure the exhumation licence. Only 27 of the names and dates correctly match up.

The nuns' willingness to opt for cremation has also been questioned. They had been told it would be massively expensive to bury them.

The Catholic Church has always frowned upon the practice preferring burial instead. Canon law banning cremation was only lifted in the mid-1980s. Last year a new drama revealed the torment nuns inflicted on "disgraced" Irish teenagers.

BBC1's Sinners depicted the terrible tale of pregnant girls who were put in workhouses to have babies, then forced to give them up for adoption.

The women were sent to the nuns for committing such "sins" as getting pregnant outside marriage.

Some were even sent to the convents in the 1960s for being a "temptation to men" or for being slow learners.

They were forced to wash dirty clothes for the months and years they spent locked up like convicts.

Sinners told the story of a 17-year-old West of Ireland girl sent to the Magdalene laundry to have her baby.


RESTING PLACE; Most of the dead named can now never be identified if there is an investigation; By NIALL MOONAN; CONVENT: The bodies were taken for cremation from the nuns' cemetery which was sold to developers for flats 11 years ago; INQUIRY: Campaigner Christine Buckley
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 22, 2003
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