Home

By KEITH GLADDIS

 

Women who had their childhoods ‘stolen away’, locked up in Catholic-run workhouses received a qualified apology from the Irish government yesterday.

Over a period of 70 years, an estimated 10,000 were sent to the ‘Magdalene laundries’ to carry out unpaid manual labour under the supervision of nuns.

Some were sent because they were the children of unmarried mothers, others for crimes as minor as not paying a train ticket.

laundry

Slaved: An estimated 10,000 were sent to work for no remuneration in ‘Magdalene laundries’ over a period of 70 years

Anger: Magdalene survivors Marina Gambold, left, and Mary Smyth at the press conference in the Handel Hotel, Dublin rejected the Irish government's apology

Anger: Magdalene survivors Marina Gambold, left, and Mary Smyth, were sent to the laundries where they were were forced to work without pay. At a press conference in the Handel Hotel, Dublin, they rejected the Irish government’s apology

Demands: Survivors of the Catholic-run institutions have asked for a fuller and more frank admission from government and the religious orders involved

Demands: Survivors of the Catholic-run institutions have asked for a fuller and more frank admission from government and the religious orders involved

Incredibly the last of the ten laundries,  which washed clothes and linen for major hotel groups, the Irish armed forces and even the brewer Guinness, was in operation until 1996. They were established in 1922.

Irish prime minister Enda Kenny apologised for the stigma and conditions saying they were a product of a ‘harsh and uncompromising Ireland’.

The taoiseach expressed his sympathies with survivors and the families of those who died but stopped short of a formal apology.

His words drew scorn from victims’ groups, who insisted the institutions were worse than prison and demanded a much stronger statement.

The move follows an 18-month inquiry chaired by senator Martin McAleese which found one in four of the women sent to the laundries had been sent by the state.

Mr Kenny said: ‘To those residents who went into the Magdalene laundries from a variety of ways, 26 per cent from state involvement, I’m sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment.’

Pain: Mary Smyth (left) is overcome during the press conference held by Magdalene Survivors Together
Maureen Sullivan

Pain: Mary Smyth (left) and Maureen Sullivan (right) are overcome during the press conference held by Magdalene Survivors Together

Mary Smyth, Steven O'Riordan, and Maureen Sullivan were among the members of the group who rejected an apology from Taoiseach Enda KennyMary Smyth, Steven O’Riordan, and Maureen Sullivan were among the members of the group who rejected an apology from Taoiseach Enda Kenny

L-R Marina Gambold, Mary Smyth, Steven O'Riordan, Maureen Sullivan and Diane Croghan of Magdalene Survivors Together hold copies of the Government report(L-R) Marina Gambold, Mary Smyth, Steven O’Riordan, Maureen Sullivan and Diane Croghan of Magdalene Survivors Together hold copies of the Government report

But he added the report found no evidence of sexual abuse in the laundries, that 10 per cent of inmates were sent by their families, and that 19 per cent entered of their own volition.

Survivors quickly rejected his apology, and demanded a fuller and more frank admission from government and the religious orders involved.

Maureen Sullivan, 60, of Magdalene Survivors Together, and the youngest known victim, said: ‘He is the taoiseach of the Irish people, and that is not a proper apology.’

She was 12 when taken from her school and put in the Good Shepherd Magdalene Laundry  in New Ross, County Wexford, because her father had died and mother remarried.

Miss Sullivan said she was told it  would further her education, but  she never saw her schoolbooks again.

A Council worker shines a torch over debris on the floor of the corridor in the now derelict Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Magdalene Laundry in DublinA Council worker shines a torch over debris on the floor of the corridor in the now derelict Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Magdalene Laundry in Dublin

Chilling: The interior of the now derelict Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott St in Dublin's north inner city Chilling: The interior of the now derelict Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott St in Dublin’s north inner city

An inquiry found 2,124 of those detained in institutions suych as the now derelict Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Magdalene Laundry in Dublin (pictured) were sent by the authorities

Probe: An inquiry found 2,124 of those detained in institutions suych as the now derelict Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Magdalene Laundry in Dublin (pictured) were sent by the authorities

For 48 years she says she has been haunted by memories of a lost  childhood and slave labour and is demanding a full apology from the government and religious orders for stealing her education, name, identity and life.

‘I feel that they are still in denial, but other parts of this report clearly state that we were telling the truth,’ she said.

By day she worked in the laundry, was fed bread and dripping, and then made sweaters or rosary beads before bedtime. ‘It was long, hard tedious work,’ she said.

‘I remember being hidden in a tunnel when the school inspectors came. I can only assume this was because I should not have been working in the laundry.’

An estimated 10,000 young Irish girls were sent to the laundries where they were were forced to work without pay and were subjected to a strict regime at the hands of the nuns who ran the institutions

An estimated 10,000 young Irish girls were sent to the laundries where they were were forced to work without pay and were subjected to a strict regime at the hands of the nuns who ran the institutions

At the weekends, she was forced to clean the floors of the local church instead of having time off to play.

‘How come all this was taken from me?’ she said. ‘The nuns have destroyed my life and they never allowed me to develop as a young girl.’

‘PRISONS FOR THE DISAPPEARED’

Set up in the 19th century as refuges for prostitutes, the Magdalene Laundries became prisons for the ‘disappeared’.

Orphans with nowhere else to go, single girls who found themselves pregnant and hence abandoned in a morally repressive state, children whose parents could no longer afford to keep them and those judged by priests or the religious to be in ‘moral danger’ because they were too pretty or flirtatious.

Women were forced into Magdalene laundries for a crime as minor as not paying for a train ticket, the report found.

The majority of those incarcerated were there for minor offences such as theft and vagrancy as opposed to murder and infanticide.

Another survivor, Mary Smyth, also 60, said she was forced to follow in the steps of her mother who had also been one of the Magdalene women when she became pregnant.

She said she was treated like a slave and had her dignity, identity and life taken from her.

‘My name was changed, my hair was chopped off, all my possessions were taken from me,’ she said. ‘I didn’t eat for three weeks. I wanted to die.’

Miss Smyth has described her time in the Good Shepherd Convent in Sunday’s Well, Cork, as Hell and revealed she was afraid to have children as an adult in case she was locked up.

‘It was horrendous and inhumane. It was worse than any prison,’ she added. ‘It was soul destroying, it will never ever leave me,’ she said.

Senator McAleese’s inquiry found women were forced into Magdalene laundries for minor offences such as theft and vagrancy as opposed to major crimes such as infanticide.

Despite the stigma of being known as Maggies – a slang term for a prostitute – only a small number of the women were sent to them for prostitution.

In 2011, the UN Committee Against Torture called on the Irish government to set up an inquiry into the treatment of women in the laundries.

The McAleese inquiry spoke to more than 100 women and 40 per cent spent more than a year incarcerated.

In 2002, a film titled The Magdalene Sisters, written and directed by Peter Mullan, was released telling the story of three girls who were sent to ‘Magdalene laundries’.

The film’s director initially said that he had been inspired to undertake the project as the victims had never been given closure.

A plaque dedicated to Magdalane Laundry survivors in St Stephens Green in Dublin. Between 1992 and 1996 an estimated 10,000 young Irish girls were sent to the laundries where they were were forced to work without pay

A plaque dedicated to Magdalane Laundry survivors in St Stephens Green in Dublin. Between 1922 and 1996 an estimated 10,000 young Irish girls were sent to the laundries where they were were forced to work without pay

Plight: The Magdalene Sisters starring Dorothy Duffy (second front), Nora-Jane Noone (second back) and Anne-Marie Duff (back) told the harrowing story of three girls placed in one of the laundriesPlight: The Magdalene Sisters starring Dorothy Duffy (second front), Nora-Jane Noone (second back) and Anne-Marie Duff (back) told the harrowing story of three girls placed in one of the laundries

A scene from The Magdalene Sisters in which one of the girls is humiliated in front of a nun A scene from The Magdalene Sisters in which one of the girls is humiliated in front of a nun

The film's director initially said that he had been inspired to undertake the project as the victims had never been given closure The film’s director initially said that he had been inspired to undertake the project as the victims had never been given closure

A DAY IN THE LIFE: LAUNDRY SURVIVOR RECALLS THE TOUGH REGIME

In a 2011 interview for the Irish Mail, Sarah Williams who spent two years working in two different Magdalene Laundries gave a harrowing account of life in the institutions:

Rising at 6am the girls, heads shrouded in black veils, were marched to Mass in the cold convent.

Breakfast of cold watery porridge with tea and bread followed at 7am before returning to the chapel for a second Mass.

Then it was off to the laundry to wash, boil, mangle, dry, iron and fold. They were allowed one break for soup before 6pm.

At 7.30pm the girls, now locked into their tiny cells furnished with only a bucket and an iron bed, would be handed another mug of soup, frequently so cold that they’d try to heat it on the pipes in their rooms.

Recreation was a half hour listening to the radio after work. Work was conducted either in total silence or while singing hymns or reciting decades of the rosary.

At nights, the miserable girls cried themselves to sleep.

Simple offences like neglecting to wear the institutional hat or laughing would result in a belting on the head with a bunch of heavy keys by an irate nun.

‘Every night I cried and cried,’ recalls Sarah. ‘I could hear the traffic on the road outside and sometimes I’d climb up at the iron barred window to see if I could see anything of the street.

‘Our only exercise was half an hour walking in twos outside in the yard.’ The nuns’ authority was absolute, the girls had to ask permission even to go to the bathroom and if a girl stepped out of line, she was locked in her room on a diet of bread and water for days on end.

‘We didn’t work on Sundays so we were allowed to write letters which were then read by the nuns. I frequently wrote to my aunt begging her to come and get me but I don’t think she ever got my letters.

Any letters we got were read out in public by the nuns. We never got them into our own hands.

‘Once a month we were allowed visitors but my only visitors were the women from the Legion of Mary who’d remark that I was being looked after very well.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2273961/Ireland-says-sorry-10-000-women-slaves-Catholic-workhouses-locked-brutalised-nuns.html#ixzz2K5k0CPp7
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

http://www.andrewazzopardi.org

2 thoughts on “Ireland finally says sorry to the 10,000 ‘Magdalene Sister slaves’ of its Catholic workhouses who were locked up and brutalised by nuns | dailymail

  1. Pingback: Irish religious forced labour scandal | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Those pictures of the Convent-Laundry in Dublin bring back memories Andrew, as that’s precisely where I lodged for three years: in 1998 and then recently while I was doing my Masters at TCD! We lived in a rented three-floor wing of the old Convent pictured and used the lower half for a drugs-project for the young people in the area while we lived in the top floor.
    Everyone else who lived in the other side of the nuns’ convent in 1998-1999, separated from us just by an unlocked door on each floor, were old people: the surviving ladies and the nuns themselves. It’s difficult to imagine what the old regime was like… these were sweet old ladies, a bit cranky sometimes, but everyone was always treated kindly… nothing more than a hint of a troubled past survived.
    Then they built a modern old people’s home on the grounds and the old ladies were very well looked after as they had moved out of the convent. The place was ‘scheduled’ so they couldn’t just knock it down and had a big housing project planned for the area, incorporating things old and new. Then the recession came along and the building contractor went bust overnight. Everything stopped. All plans were scrapped. The economy went downhill and sadly, those lovely Irish people I spent seven great years of my life with have been going through hard times ever since. However there was a new young Ireland being born and it is theirs to create, hopefully retaining the best of their past and creating a promising future for the upcoming generations.
    Thanks for bring these memories back!

Many thanks for your comments...keep posting...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s