Little Nellie of Holy God
This vast edifice of a grand Victorian red-brick gothic horror, called the Good Shepherd Convent and Magdalene Laundry Asylum ruin looms, like a haunted sarcophagus over Cork’s north-side. A funeral receptacle for bad memories and the horror sustained within, the flesh-eating stones of red brick and grey corner stones fastened to the church like windows and exterior doors serve as a further indication of warped christian severity. The toxic religion that flourished within, served like limestone that was used to decompose the dignity of the flesh of living corpses, trapped and enslaved, forever within it. This columbarium building was a disrespectful place for holding the living cadavers of slave women and their children, compartmentalised in religious housing.
On the north-west corner of the three hectare site, above and away from the ruined gothic horror, of the Convent, lies a memorial, overgrown with hate and rage, sealed behind ten-foot high, razor-wired walls of death. The vandalised memorial marks a mass grave, containing hundreds and maybe thousands of women and their children, who lived despairing lives of divine religious drudgery in the Good Shepherd Magdalene Laundry, ignored in life, and now, it seems, determinedly forgotten in death. A little away across this stark mass gravel pit, lies an immaculately-maintained graveyard. Each grey stone cross beautifully records the individual life of one woman, a Nun, who lived, presumably, a life of confused prayer, which enabled beatings, slavery, sexual abuse, humiliation and finally death of fallen women and their children, dumped by the hundreds in mass, into the bleak gravel pits that lay but a few feet to her right, the contrast could not be clearer.
The centre-piece of the Nuns’ cemetery is a shrine to Cork’s unofficial patron saint, “Little Nellie of Holy God”. Little Nellie, was a little girl called Ellen Organ who was born in County Waterford in 1903. As a baby, already a delicate child, she displayed signs of severe disability, it seems a serious fall as a baby had left its mark, Her spine had become crooked, her hips and back, out of joint, caused her constant pain and as she grew up she became unable to sit up straight. Little Nellie suffered serious spinal injuries which left her in constant pain. When Nellie was two, she moved with her family to Spike Island in Cork, where her mother, Mary, became fatally ill with tuberculosis. In her delirium, Mary became fervently religious. When Mary died, the local Priest exploited the delirium Mary’s children and placed them in care of the Holy Nuns, of the Good Shepherd Convent and Magdalene Laundry Asylum. At the age of four, Little Nellie was in the Good Shepherd’s Convent infirmary, suffering from whooping cough and tooth decay so bad that her jaw disintegrated. Worse, she had contracted TB and had less than six months to live. Little Nellie, lived for eight months under the care of the Good Shepherd Sisters, who refused to give her any medical drugs to ease her pain and suffering. According to the Nuns, Little Nellie, referred to God as "Holy God", and the Nuns believed that she was having some form of religious experience. She loved to visit the Church which she called "the House of Holy God", and she was fascinated by the statues and images on display, and in particular by the Stations of the Cross. When the manipulative Nuns told Little Nellie, the story of the suffering and death of Jesus, Little Nellie burst into tears. The unscrupulous Nuns claimed that Little Nellie developed a mysterious awareness of the Blessed Sacraments. One story told by the Nuns, relates how Little Nellie knew a member of staff, a Nun had not been to Mass that day, even though the young Nun said she had. "You did not get Holy God today" Little Nellie said. Meanwhile, Little Nellie began to claim to have visions. She related how she saw Christ, usually as a little child, of four, like herself, and of course the Blessed Virgin Mary, all in white with a bright blue sash. On a number of occasions Little Nellie claimed to have also seen the Infant of Prague dancing for her. This wax coated wooden statue of baby Jesus, with wooden base and silver erector, the statue of Infant Jesus is ornate, studded with diamonds and crowned with gold, with his left hand holding a golden orb symbolising kingship and the right hand raised with the palm in a blessing posture. Little Nellie ’s already precocious faith was growing, and those who came to know her testified to her holiness.
Astonished at feeding Nellie’s ludicrous religiosity, the canny Nuns exploited the little girl’s naivety as an opportunity to make money by successfully petitioning the then-Bishop of Cork City, Bishop O’Callaghan, to grant Little Nellie, Holy Communion, then reserved for children over 12. When Little Nellie died from neglect, and hunger, the wily Nuns again petitioned Pope Pius X who in his stupidity declared Little Nellie a sign from God, the natural laws of nature were suspended yet again and Pope Pius X ordered the age of Communion be reduced to seven. A year after Little Nellie’s death, the astute Nuns had her re-buried on their property, in a grand grave, in their own private little cemetery. They foolishly claimed that when they opened Little Nellie’s coffin, her body was perfectly preserved. The deceitfully Nuns then and to this day exploited Little Nellie to further enrich their coffers while the rest of the women and children slaves of the Magdalene Laundry Asylum died from basic neglect, hunger, beatings, and human care, and the Merciful God allowed the little girl of 4 to suffer for the four years of her life. Holy God's forgiveness of his creatures' offences and who personally thrived on Little Nellie’s personal pain, never for once relieved her suffering. Little Nellie was known according to the Nuns for Piety, Mystical experiences, or her precocious spiritual awareness and alleged mystical life, particularly dedicated to the Eucharist. All at the under age of 4. The Nuns talked about Little Nellie’s strong faith, knowledge of Catholic doctrine, and holiness.
Now I ask, was Mercy coupled with other attributes of Holy God in “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” or Holy God’s mercy was rooted in His love for Little Nellie, by allowing her to suffer a most painful death. He is merciful, in large part, because He is love, itself, so explained the Nuns. As a sinner, Little Nellie deserved all the punishments inflicted on her, according to the Nuns, Little Nellie was a true sinner, even at the tender age of four. Again the Nuns explained, Holy God’s righteousness requires punishment for sin, even in a child of four or a child just born, Little Nellie wouldn’t be holy otherwise. Since God does love Little Nellie and is merciful, He sent His Son also to suffer for our sins. The fullness of His mercy, Jesus is brutally beaten and murdered on our behalf, just like Little Nellie was, Jesus received our just condemnation, and we received God’s mercy, and Little Nellie received our blessings, prayers and we allowed her pain and suffering to continue because it was Holy God’s preordained gift to humankind. This was the rational I learnt when I spoke to two Nuns a few weeks ago, incredible.
Little Nellie died in the Convent in 1908 and was buried in St Joseph’s Cemetery, some distance away, but when her body was exhumed by the Nuns for reburial in the convent grounds a year later, 1909, it was found by the Holy Nuns to be intact. For many years afterward, the gravy train of pilgrims from around the world visited Little Nellie’s grave, and the Nuns made buckets of money, while the other children slaves and their mothers, toiled in the backbreaking Laundry, hidden away from the all seeing eyes of the visiting pilgrims. As I pointed out that Little Nellie and the ingenious Nuns are not the only people buried in the Good Shepherd Laundry Asylum. It seems obscene that Little Nellie, a 4 year child, whose head was filled with nonsensical religious rubbish and who lived a short, painful life, is celebrated by the Irish Catholic Church, even as it does everything in its still considerable power to forget the approximately 60,000 women and children it enslaved, with many thousands dying in the Irish Magdalene Laundries between 1922 and 1996. In the 8 months that Little Nellie was in the Good Shepherd Laundry Asylum, 77 women and children died.
The Good Shepherd Laundry Asylum and the city of Cork was overflowing with poverty. With nutrition so poor in the city and with so many people living in poverty and poor housing, there was a great flu epidemic, widespread occurrence of this infectious disease in a community at that particular time in Cork City. Among the significant institutions in Cork were the Workhouses in Blackrock, in Cork city. There was also St. Patrick’s Hospital and the Good Shepherd Laundry Asylum in Cork city. On the evening the census of 1911 was taken, there were 5,408 persons in workhouses, and 2,457 people were recorded in the hospitals, and 4,750 in the different Mother and Baby Homes and Industrial Schools, and Magdalene Laundries which were recorded in the Census of 1911, this was out of a population of the Cork city of about 80,000. A grand total of about 12,615 people in the different Catholic Religious Institutions in Cork City alone, over 12.% of the population of Cork city were in Catholic Religious Institutions. Owen Felix O'Neill