Heritage and conscience: Waterford's former magdalene laundry and industrial school

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Cultural heritage and memory are essential mechanisms for the formation of individual and group identity, contributing to a sense of belonging in society. More specifically, built heritage (the buildings, structures and monuments associated with our cultural history) reflect our individual and collective decisions about what is important to preserve and remember into the future, further shaping our identities as citizens of Waterford. Thus, our relationship with heritage is just as much about looking forward into our social imagination for the future of Waterford city as it is about reflecting on our past. Sites of Conscience are a specific type of built heritage which signify a society's belief that by remembering difficult pasts we can interrogate our current lived realities and create meaningful change in the future (International Coalition for Sites of Consciousness, 2022). Sites of Conscience are akin to what French historian Pierre Nora (1989) referred to as 'les lieux de mémoire', or places of memory. These physical spaces can connect past traumas and struggles to our present lives. As places of memory which ask us to acknowledge the past, Sites of Conscience can prevent the erasure of historical traumas and stand as an act of restorative justice, providing safe spaces for citizens to engage with difficult memories. One such site of conscience in Waterford is the complex of buildings located at the College Street Campus of the South East Technological University. The site comprises the former convent of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd of Angers (commonly known as the Good Shepherd Sisters); the St Mary's Good Shepherd (Magdalene) Laundry; and St Dominick's Industrial School. The site was occupied in 1884 and the Laundry operated until its closure in 1982 (Department of Justice, 2013). This chapter will consider the former Magdalene Laundry and Industrial School's cultural and heritage significance to Waterford as a site of conscience, which encourages the citizens of Waterford not only to connect our past to our present, but to connect these memories to current actions to create a more just society into the future. The built heritage of this complex acts as a powerful memory aide of a shared local history, allowing citizens to connect this past to related contemporary human rights issues. In this way, the former Laundry and Industrial School can stimulate discussions on gendered violence today, or to interrogate modern forms of institutionalisation such as Direct Provision. The chapter will further consider how these connections are even more important when our need to remember and recognise past atrocities are met with social, political, economic or cultural pressure to forget. Sometimes the desire for erasure is understandable; we want to commit events to the past and move on. However, such erasure can further disempower survivors of these institutions; prevent current and future generations from learning critical lessons; and dismantle future opportunities for healing and reconciliation. In this context, Sites of Conscience offer an opportunity to connect a difficult past to visions of a more socially just city of the future.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUrban Planning for the City of the Future
Subtitle of host publicationA Multidisciplinary Approach
PublisherEmerald Group Publishing Ltd
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781804552155
ISBN (Print)9781804552162
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2023


  • Built heritage
  • Cultural heritage
  • Industrial school
  • Magdalene laundry
  • Sites of Conscience
  • Transitional justice


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